Hope for a peace settlement on Cyprus

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This past Sunday, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus celebrated the 40th anniversary of Peace and Freedom Day. On July 20, 1974, then-Turkish Prime Minister 

Bülent Ecevit greenlighted a military operation to protect a desperate Turkish Cypriot population from the brutal aims of Greek Cypriot coupists and prevent the annexation of Cyprus by Greece.

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For those unfamiliar with the history of modern Cyprus, the 1960 constitution accompanying our island’s independence from Great Britain enshrined an equal partnership dispensation that was supposed to prevent the Greek Cypriot domination of the Turkish Cypriots. Barely three years later, however, then-President of Cyprus Archbishop Makarios III initiated repressive and violent measures against us, which included our forceful expulsion from government.

After the military dictatorship in Greece in 1974 attempted an Anschluss with the active assistance of the new Greek Cypriot leadership — shockingly, these men found Makarios insufficiently reactionary — Turkey sent in military forces in accordance with the international Treaty of Guarantee and effectively put an end to the killings of Turkish Cypriot men, women and children.

It is important to note that Turkey had first sought joint British intervention to forestall the mayhem, but the latter was unmoved, forcing Ankara to act unilaterally. In a 1979 decision, the Athens Court of Appeal declared Turkey’s rescue mission legal, as did the Standing Committee of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Of course, our festivities aren’t confined to remembering the rescue. We also recall the perseverance in response to subsequent decades of Greek Cypriot efforts to delegitimize our existence as a people and keep us isolated from the rest of the world.

In 2004, Turkish Cypriots approved, by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, a U.N. peace plan put forth by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and backed by the United States and most members of the European Union that would have reunified the island under a federal state; unfortunately, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Nonetheless, we remain hopeful that the 50-plus-year-old dispute in the eastern Mediterranean might soon reach its conclusion, which would be welcome news for the United States, Europe and their strategic allies concerned about a region well-known for discord and instability.

We firmly believe that a fair and lasting settlement is within reach, not in years, but in a matter of months, and Turkish Cypriots are determined to work to make it happen. As a consequence of the latest round of U.N.-sponsored talks and strongly backed by Washington and Brussels, Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint declaration this February setting out a new road map for comprehensive talks aimed at reaching a just and lasting settlement. The text of the statement is an unprecedented achievement, as it successfully addresses long- and hotly contested issues, including sovereignty, citizenship and powers of the federation’s two constituent states.

Regrettably, Anastasiades’s interest in finding a mutually acceptable solution seems to be on the wane. Not only has his government failed to educate the population as to the importance of such an agreement, but there are now numerous, needless delays originating from the Greek Cypriot side. For example, in a newspaper interview this spring, Anastasiades’s negotiator, Andreas Mavroyiannis, sought to justify the stalling tactics and even called into question the underpinnings of the joint declaration that his own leader had signed weeks earlier.

We greatly appreciate the ongoing support of U.S. officials. Vice President Biden’s historic visit to both sides of the island in May — the first American VP to step foot on Cyprus since Lyndon Johnson in 1962 — was a strong indication that Washington doesn’t want this golden opportunity for peace and reconciliation to be squandered. Turkish Cypriots also recall Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s invaluable assistance in getting the sides to approve the joint declaration and urging us not to slow down. It is equally heartening that an increasing number of senators and representatives from both parties are interested in promoting efforts that will increase the chances of a settlement that promises a bright future for our children, whatever their ethnicity or religious affiliation.

Forty years ago, Ankara saved Turkish Cypriots from possible extinction and prevented the annexation of the island by Greece. For that, we are also eternally grateful. Meanwhile, we are actively working to find a just and lasting solution to create a bizonal, bicommunal federation guaranteeing equal political rights to the communities on the island, and call upon our Greek Cypriot neighbors to resume working with us on this critical endeavor.

Erdengiz is the Washington representative for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.