Four years after their last peace talks failed, rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders meet in Geneva this week to explore elusive “common ground” on the divided Mediterranean island.
“We go to Geneva … steadfastly committed to resuming negotiations for reunifying Cyprus in a bizonal bicommunal federation”, in line with UN resolutions, international and European Union law, said Nikos Christodoulides, foreign minister of the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus, an EU member.
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However, Tahsin Ertugruloglu, his counterpart in the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), held an opposing view.
“There is no common ground … The issue is ‘one island, two states’,” he said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by a military government that sought to annex the island to Greece.
On Saturday, Cypriots on both sides of the divide marched through the streets of the capital calling for a resolution of the issue, some holding placards calling for peace and reunification.
The routes stopped at semi-circles on either side at barbed wire thrown up decades ago when conflict split Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
“Cyprus belongs to its people,” demonstrators chanted, holding placards in Greek and Turkish.
The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have been on the ground since intercommunal clashes in December 1963-January 1964, is trying to mediate a settlement between the two entrenched sides.
Its mandate was expanded after the 1974 conflict, and to this day a buffer zone runs across the island, including through Nicosia – making the city the world’s last divided capital.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will oversee the Geneva talks from Tuesday to Thursday, wants to “show that he has exhausted all options”, said Kemal Baykalli, a Turkish Cypriot analyst and UniteCyprusNow activist.
Guterres “needs to hear officially that the two sides will not find an agreement within the framework currently proposed” of a decentralised federation, he said.
Talks held in July 2017 in Crans-Montana in Switzerland on the basis of reunification under the roof of a federal state failed, hitting roadblocks on the withdrawal of tens of thousands of Turkish troops and Ankara’s status as a guarantor power.
Turkey has also been invited to Geneva, along with Greece and Britain, the two other guarantors of the island’s 1960 independence from London.
The EU’s attendance, requested by the Greek Cypriots, is uncertain given strong opposition by Ankara.
Since the last talks floundered several factors have been added to the traditional sticking points over security guarantees, political equality, territorial adjustments, and the property rights of displaced populations.