Sooner or later, everybody who has worked with the Cyprus question becomes tired of it. 

US President Lyndon Johnson, in his letter to Turkish premier Ismet Inönü in June 1964, called it “one of the most complex problems on earth” and UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim said that Cyprus was the “most thankless and frustrating task” of his period of office. Now, it’s Ban Ki-moon’s turn. 

Cyprus-mapSince the collapse of the power-sharing constitution in December 1963, the island has become a political graveyard for five of his predecessors as well as countless envoys, including Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton Agreement.

Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, is noted for the failure of the comprehensive Annan Plan, which aimed to reunite the two communities in 2004.

Now the present round of talks, which began between the Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Ali Talat in September 2008, is on the verge of collapse.

Since November 2010, Ban Ki-moon has held five tripartite summits in an effort to find a solution, while continuing to stress that the process is Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led and that the UN’s role is that of facilitator.

The official parameters for the talks are the two high-level agreements between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots from 1977 and 1979 and Security Council resolutions, which stipulate that the aim of a Cyprus settlement is the creation of a bi-communal and bizonal federation with a single sovereignty and citizenship.

However, doubt was cast as to Turkish Cypriot intentions, when Talat’s successor, DerviÅŸ EroÄŸlu, in a letter to Ban Ki-moon in April 2010 spoke of “the principle of equal sovereignty of the two peoples”.

Ban Ki-moon, in a report to the Security Council in November 2010, noted that progress has been “frustratingly slow” and identified the core issues as property and territory. The Greek Cypriots consider these issues as linked, as a discussion on the transfer of territory will solve a number of property issues.

The secretary-general concurred at the Geneva summit in January 2011 but the Turkish Cypriot side refuses to discuss this issue of territory until a multilateral conference is convened.

Another sticking point is that of governance, where DerviÅŸ EroÄŸlu has reneged on the prior agreement reached between Christofias and Talat on a rotating presidency combined with a weighted cross-vote from both communities.

The chapter on citizenship also includes the issue of the vast influx of Turkish settlers since the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, so that it will be impossible to maintain the population ratio of 4:1 as agreed in the Treaty of Establishment.

Main issue: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots

The main issue is that of a conflict of interests between the two population groups. From the 1950s onwards,  the Greek Cypriots under the leadership of Archbishop Makarios were intent on enosis (union with Greece), whereas the Turkish Cypriots with the support of Turkey were set on taksim (partition).

Whereas Makarios’ views were tempered with the years, the Turkish Cypriots under the leadership of Rauf Denktash never lost sight of their objective.

The architect of the present Turkish government’s foreign policy, Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu, confirmed this when he wrote in 2001:  “Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk over there, Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus question. No country could possibly be indifferent to an island like this, placed in the heart of its vital space.”

At a recent meeting of Turkish ambassadors in Ankara DavutoÄŸlu also confirmed that in the event of a deadlock in the talks Turkey will abandon the bizonal bicommunal model and instead push for the creation of two independent states.

Turkey’s Europe Minister Egemen Bağış has also never failed to repeat the mantra: “Every morning when the sun rises over Cyprus, it rises on two separate states”.

Before Demetris Christofias left for the fifth tripartite meeting in New York in January, he was issued with a mandate from the Greek Cypriot National Council not to accept any deadlines, arbitration or an international conference unless both sides agreed on the internal aspects of the Cyprus problem.

In a statement issued after the meeting Ban Ki-moon spoke of “limited progress” and announced his intention to call a multilateral conference in late April or early May contingent on a positive review of the process from his Special Adviser, Alexander Downer. Accordingly, President Christofias is caught between a rock and a hard place.

In July 2011, 98 containers of ammunition kept in an open field since February 2009 at the Mari Naval Base in Cyprus exploded, killing 13 people and destroyed a nearby power station.

The munitions, which had been confiscated from a Russian freighter bound for Syria, had for political reasons not been destroyed, and a subsequent report found that the president had “failed miserably” in taking the necessary measures.

Demonstrations and calls for the president’s resignation were ignored and now the former foreign minister and minister of defence as well as six officers from the National Guard and fire services face criminal charges. But not the president, who enjoys immunity.

In addition, the outcome of the New York summit is generally regarded as a failure by the Greek Cypriots and Christofias has been called on to step down as negotiator.

On 1 July Cyprus takes over the EU term presidency, so time is running out.

Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış has stated that Turkey is not prepared to sit at the table with “a half state”. Here, he conveniently ignores the fact that unless a solution is found, Turkey will be left with a ‘non-state’ that few countries will be prepared to recognise.

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.