The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has lost faith in the one-state solution as Greek Cypriots refuse to treat the Turkish Cypriots as equal partners, says Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu.
The Cyprus issue is a long-running political conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, two different ethnic and religious communities residing on the strategic Eastern Mediterranean island.
After decades of political deadlock on the status of the contested island and its residents, Turkish Cypriots no longer believe in the one-state solution, a political formula which has been dictated by the international community since 1960, when the Republic of Cyprus was formed as a bi-communal and bi-zonal union comprising both communities.
“We tried partnership. It didn't work. Why? Because Greek Cypriots could not accept the idea that Turkish Cypriots were their equals. So the partnership republic formula was tried and failed because the other partner didn't want it to work,” said Tahsin Ertugruloglu, the foreign minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in an exclusive interview with TRT World.
“So from now on, what we must accept is that if we cannot live together, then the most logical response is to live as neighbours. So the future, in my view, and in very realistic terms, is two sovereign equal states on the island of Cyprus living as neighbours, hopefully with good neighbourly relations, but not a united state,” said Ertugruloglu, an experienced diplomat.
The 1960s was a critical decade for the conflict as political tensions between the two sides had reached a tipping point. Despite the Greek Aggression from 1960 to 1974, Turkish Cypriots did their best to make the bi-communal union work. In 1974, Greece engineered a military coup through Greek Cypriots in a naked attempt to disenfranchise Turkish Cypriots, but Türkiye thwarted those plans by intervening militarily.
In 1963, three years after the Republic of Cyprus was established, Greek Cypriot aggression against Turkish Cypriots intensified, forcing Turkish communities to live in enclaves surrounded by Greek militias.
Despite numerous warnings from Turkish Cypriots, neither Greek Cypriots nor Athens showed willingness to treat them as equal partners and co-owners of the island state. In the end, following its 1974 military intervention, Ankara maintained its military presence in the region, clearing the island of Greek Cypriot militias and ensuring the security of Turkish Cypriots.
Even after 1974, both Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots continued to negotiate with Greece and Greek Cypriots to reestablish a political partnership. But the ongoing failure of the international community to address the Cyprus issue led Turkish Cypriots in the north to declare their own state, TRNC, in 1983, recognised only by Ankara. Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots see Greek Cypriot-controlled territory in the south as the Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA).
One island, two states
Under continuing Greek obstinacy, which refuses to recognise the Turkish reality on the island, both Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots no longer view a one-state solution as the ideal path forward, according to Ismail Bozkurt, a Turkish Cypriot politician who was the president of theTurkish Cypriot community’s assembly between 1973 and 1975, a crucial period in the disputed island’s history.
Ertugruloglu believes that Cyprus might pursue the Haiti-Dominican Republic model. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic are two independent states located on the same island in Central America.
“So the reality of the Cyprus island is, yes: one island, two states, two peoples. Two national entities, two democracies. So this is the only formula for the way forward,” says the foreign minister.
“Otherwise, if the international community is going to try to force us into a so-called ‘settlement’ or ‘federation’ or whatever they are going to call it, a joint state between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, it's a futile attempt. It's not going to work. It's been tried and it's failed,” he adds.
The foreign minister thinks that the UN, among other international bodies, has long chosen to be part of the problem, not the solution, because it made “the wrong diagnosis of the Cyprus conflict,” seeing the Turkish 1974 intervention as the root of the conflict.
While everyone agrees that there was a “Turkish military intervention” in 1974, the international community has a serious problem in recognising the fact that it was triggered by the violations of the political rights of Turkish Cypriots by Greek Cypriots , according to the minister.
Cyprus issue: a status problem
For both Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots, one core issue has always been the international community’s silence over the refusal of Greek Cypriots to recognise the island’s Turkish community as their equal partner. Another core issue for Ankara and Lefkosa is the international community’s recognition solely of Greek Cypriot sovereignty over the whole island.
According to the founding international agreement of the Republic of Cyprus, the legitimacy of the bi-communal, bi-zonal state was based on the continuation of the partnership. But if the partnership failed, the international agreement outlined, neither Greek Cypriots nor Turkish Cypriots would have the right to claim the island’s entire territory.
Since 1974, however, Greek Cypriots have pretended to have sovereignty over the whole island while Turkish Cypriots rule Northern Cyprus. Ertugruloglu believes that in contrast to the 1960 international agreement, the international community recognises Greek Cypriots as having a legal sovereign right to rule over the entire island — a critical violation of the founding document of the island state.
By solely recognising Greek Cypriot sovereignty over the whole island, the international community exercises an unmistakable and unfair bias, clearly showing that they see Greek Cypriots as “more equal” than Turkish Cypriots, according to the TRNC’s foreign minister.
Not a Hellenic island
One of the root causes of the Cyprus issue is laid upon dreams of the Greek Megali Idea, a political concept aiming to integrate so-called Hellenic lands with Greece. Since the Greek rebellion of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire, Athens has sought to expand its territories across both the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.
“There is an obsession with treating the island of Cyprus as if it's a Hellenic island within which Turkish Cypriots are not their equals,” said Ertugruloglu.
“Türkiye will never, ever allow this island to be a Hellenic island,” said the minister, indicating that the island had been under Ottoman rule for over three centuries. “Turkish Cypriots have never been a community of a Hellenic Republic in their history,” he pointed out.
“We didn't come to this island from the moon. Our ancestors came here from Anatolia. We are Turkish who happen to live on the island of Cyprus. There is no nation called Cypriots. You're either a Greek Cypriot or a Turkish Cypriot or one of the minorities, Armenian or Maronite.”