On April 11th, President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus decided to provide medicines and protective gear to the Turkish Cypriot community at the request of their leader, Mustafa Akinci (Xinhua). This emergency aid provided by the Republic of Cyprus will help the estranged Turkish Cypriot community to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a statement by the government spokesman said on Saturday. The government spokesman also stated that the gear requested by Turkish Cypriots will be dispatched next week (Xinhua). “The two leaders expressed their concern about developments in relation to the spread of coronavirus on the island. Anastasiades and Akinci agreed to be in constant touch about this issue and to strengthen the efforts of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Health,” the statementsaid. With both the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot declaring a state of emergency and more than 750 people infected, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the island of Cyprus. However, this pandemic also provides a great opportunity for bringing the separated island one step closer to reunification.
Cyprus has been home to the longest-serving peacekeeping mission in the United Nations history (Chan). The island of Cyprus has been effectively partitioned in 1974—the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots are separated by a buffer zone known as “the green line.” The partition occurred when Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island which was backed by the Greek government (BBC). Now, the Turkish Cypriots run the northern one-third of the island and the Greek Cypriots runs the Republic of Cyprus, which occupies remaining parts of the island.
There have been attempts to reunify the island. In 2004, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan brokered a peace plan between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots (Sachs). However, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots approved the United Nations plan “in the hopes of ending their international isolation and shaking off the effects of a 30-year economic embargo,” the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan (Sachs). The Greek Cypriots were critical of this plan mainly for security reasons. Northern Cyprus is stationed with 35,000 Turkish troops, which are superiorly armed and trained compared to the Greek Cypriot national guards (BBC). Many Greek Cypriots doubted whether the troops would leave as required (Sachs). If the troops do not leave, it is likely that the Turkish government would continue to instigate successionist sentiments of the Turkish Cypriots, which may intensify the internal instability created by the ethnic disharmony in a reunified Cyprus. As a result of this skepticism, the plan fell apart in 2004. In 2016, Mr. Anna’s successor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged for the unification of Cyprus (Chan). However, the Turkish Cypriots opposed this proposal on the ground that they would not feel safe under the Greek Cypriot’s rule (Sachs). During the 1950s and 1960s, the Turkish Cypriots were faced with discriminatory policies and even acts of violence from the Greek Cypriot community. ”Without the Turkish soldiers, which institution would protect me and make sure I still sleep in comfort?” said a student. As a result, the hope for unification dashed once again.
While the previous efforts have been fruitless, the present situation presents an opportunity to bring Cyprus closer to reunification. By responding positively to the Turkish Cypriots’ request for aids, the Republic of Cypriots is demonstrating their genuine concerns for the well-being of the Turkish Cypriots. Such a demonstration of goodwill boosts the Turkish Cypriots’ trust for Greek Cypriots, which ultimately lowers the ethnic tension between the two groups. This increase in the trust will also ensure the Turkish Cypriots critical of unification that their well-being will be protected under a unified government. At the same time, by standing together with the Greek Cypriots against the virus through the formation of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Health, a new sense of unity may arise between the two groups. Aristotle once remarked, “a common danger unites even the bitterest enemies.” In this case, the unity that can be created by the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots facing against the pandemic together may help to bridge the ethnic divide, establishing a critical foundation for a future reunification.
Although previous efforts of reunification have failed because of the Greek Cypriots’ concerns regarding the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and the Turkish Cypriots’ distrust as well as fear for mistreatment, the COVID-19 pandemic will help bridge the divide between the groups and ultimately bring them closer to reunification. As the situation continues to play out, there will likely be more cooperations between the two ethnic groups. While one may remain optimistic toward a reunified Cyprus, it is also important to consider a critical question: how much time is there left? As Northern Cyprus is enjoying more prosperity and modern developments, they are also becoming more dependent on Turkey’s investments (Harding). This dependency jeopardizes the potential for reunification. Although President Erdogan has focused primarily on Turkey’s domestic economic issues and the incursion in Syria, one cannot downplay Turkey’s ambition in Cyprus. It is also crucial to consider which type of government system would be used in a unified Cyprus. As Annan proposed, it could be a federal government with two constituent states. While this system ensures equal representation and democracy, it does not deliver the efficiency required for effective economic developments and growth. Thus, we must keep these questions in mind as the future unfolds.
Chan, Sewell. “Cyprus: Why One of the World’s Most Intractable Conflicts Continues.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/08/world/europe/cyprus-reunification-talks.html.
“Cyprus President Provides COVID-19 Med Supplies to Turkish Cypriots.” Cyprus President Provides COVID-19 Med Supplies to Turkish Cypriots – China.org.cn, www.china.org.cn/world/Off_the_Wire/2020-04/12/content_75920921.htm.
“Europe | ‘Failing’ Cyprus Talks Resume.” BBC News, BBC, 4 Oct. 2002,
Harding, Luke. “Turkish Cypriot Leader Warns Cyprus Is Facing Permanent Partition.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Feb. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/06/turkish-cypriot-leader-warns-cyprus-facing-permanent-partition-mustafa-akinci.
Sachs, Susan. “Greek Cypriots Reject a U.N. Peace Plan.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2004, www.nytimes.com/2004/04/25/world/greek-cypriots-reject-a-un-peace-plan.html.