Lord Balfe: ‘We have failed Cyprus for 50 years – we must put this right’

The scars of conflict are still present, and it is these scars that are preventing Cypriots from moving forward from the frozen conflict that still holds such a tight grip over them. The ‘Cyprus issue’ is the embodiment of diplomatic failure.

Currently, Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot controlled “Republic of Cyprus” and the Turkish Cypriot controlled “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC). The division of the island can be traced back to two major events, both sparked by the Greek Cypriots.

Firstly, the official power-sharing government that was set up upon independence (1960) was shattered by internecine violence following the rejection of the Greek Cypriot attempts to enact constitutional change in 1963 and ejected the Turkish Cypriots from Government. This led to the authorities becoming fully controlled by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots becoming unable to leave their enclaves for fear of their safety. These enclaves were deliberately isolated, restricted and embargoed by the Greek Cypriot authorities.

Barely more than a decade later, a violent coup led by pro-Enosis (unification with Greece) partisans, with support from the Greek government overthrew the Cypriot government. Given the bloody history of those involved in the coup and the ongoing oppression of Turkish Cypriots, as well as the potential illegality of the Enosis attempts; Turkey invoked their rights as a guarantor nation and landed peacekeepers on the island to prevent further ethnic cleansing and the leaders of the coup carrying out Enosis.

The Turkish advance led to a UN enforced ceasefire and the partition of Cyprus along the UN-monitored Green Line. Turkey’s intervention was rejected by the international community and was viewed as an occupation of Cypriot land. Fortunately, following this attempt in 1974, enosis is no longer seen as possible in the international community.

This situation has been frozen in time for the past 40 years as successive attempts to resolve the breakdown in relations and restore a whole island government have failed. The main reason for this failure is a shameful lack of understanding or acceptance from the international community. For too long, Europe and the UN have been content to ignore the reality on the ground or to recognise the reasons that led to Turkey landing troops.

I doubt Cyprus will be a united island again – relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots are too damaged. The fallout of decades of intercommunal violence led to what was essentially civil war and Turkish Cypriots being forced into “fortified enclaves” for their own safety.

Given this backdrop and continued Greek Cypriot attempts to move towards Enosis with Greece, I am unsurprised that the Turkish Cypriot community declared independence in 1983 after seeing that their concerns were not being properly acknowledged. Yet, only Turkey recognises the breakaway nation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

However, despite the TRNC’s declaration of independence, it kept the door open for negotiations. The TRNC’s first President, Rauf Denktaş deserves great credit for his continued willingness to speak to his Greek counterparts despite the violence. Mustafa Akinci should also be credited with his enormous efforts to get a settlement for both communities. He went to the 2015-2017 Crans Montana full of hope but these hopes were dashed by the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot negotiators and their refusal to countenance a fair treaty.

The repeated breakdown of all negotiations show that the possibilities of a settlement barely exist. Turkey has already repositioned in its efforts to help the TRNC gain recognition. Through the Organisation Islamic States, we can already see those diplomatic efforts beginning to bear fruit as the TRNC begins to sign agreements with nations such as Azerbaijan.

Much like Turkey, Britain has a special responsibility to Cyprus. Within living memory, Cyprus was governed from Westminster, and we are one of the three guarantor nations of its independence. We have a long history of supporting oppressed ethnic groups in their attempts to gain independence. What makes the TRNC any different to Kosovan independence or that of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Even if this is still a step too far, we can at least end the ostracization and isolation of the TRNC. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots live in the UK and yet have limited options to visit families or vice versa. There are several practical steps that we can take – establishing a consulate in the TRNC or allowing direct flights from the UK. This would once again demonstrate our commitment to Cypriots and to a solution for Cyprus.

Politics.co.uk is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our free daily newsletter here.