Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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11 September 2012
Can a bi-zonal solution be found for Cyprus?
At a recent meeting at the UK Parliament a series of prominent speakers historically associated with the search to find a settlement in Cyprus, expressed disappointment that no solution had been found to-date on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, despite the best efforts of the international community

Alexander Downer (Special Adviser on Cyprus to the UN Secretary-General), Jack Straw and David Hannay (former British Special Representative for Cyprus) in particular expressed surprise that Greek Cypriots had not accepted the 2004 Annan Plan to carve up the island along racial and religious grounds and in doing so supposedly legitimised the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. At the meeting, representatives from Lobby for Cyprus questioned whether a settlement can be reached on the basis of a bi-zonal agreement that is consistent with international norms. To begin with, any settlement must respect basic human rights and international law. Turning a blind eye to Turkey’s well documented human rights violations*, is unacceptable. Refugees must be permitted to repossess their homes and land, the illegally settled Turkish colonists sent to change the ethnic balance must be compulsorily but humanely repatriated, and of course the Turkish army of occupation must go.

But there is perhaps today an even more cogent reason why any bi-zonal settlement is doomed to fail. Back in the 1950s when splitting the island along Greek and Turkish lines was first mooted, and even during the 1970s when the idea of a bi-zonal federal solution was first suggested, the demographic composition of Cyprus was relatively straightforward. In the 1960 census when Cyprus became independent 78.2% of the population was classified as Greek Cypriot, meaning Greek speaking and Christian Orthodox (the small Maronite, Latin and Armenian communities were included in this figure), 18.13% was classified as Turkish speaking and Muslim, and the remainder classified as ‘others’ and made up just 3.66% of the population.

Allowing minorities to form their own state or self-administered zone within a unitary state has no place in multicultural Europe

However in the 2011 census in the free areas of Cyprus unsurprisingly, the ethnic composition reflected a very different racial make up. Over 21% of the population, almost one fifth, is now made up of ‘others’. These include not only Eastern Orthodox groups such as Russians, Bulgarians, Georgians and Greeks but also 27,000 Brits, 10,000 Filipinos, 7,000 Sri Lankans and 7,000 Vietnamese. These results are unsurprising because Cyprus has simply followed the trend of other countries in Europe and genuinely developed into a multicultural society.

As to the occupied area, the exact population figures remain shrouded in mystery and conjecture but what is beyond doubt is that hundreds of thousands of Turkish colonists have poured in and swamped the Turkish Cypriots, forcing them to emigrate. And there are also thousands of Brits, other Europeans, and residents from other states living, probably illegally on stolen land, in the occupied area. What is clear however is that whilst the overwhelming inhabitants of the occupied area may now be Muslim, they are certainly not Turkish Cypriot.

The demographic composition of Cyprus is therefore not as simple as classifying its citizens as Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot and this makes a solution based on a Greek / Turkish split a nonsense. Unsurprisingly, no sensible settlement has been found. Those who pretend to be genuinely interested in a Cyprus settlement should take the trouble to evaluate why bi-zonality is unworkable and to understand the realities on the ground.

What type of precedent would such a solution set not only in Europe but elsewhere? In the UK for example what would happen if the major cities were to be split on ethnic and religious lines, as seems to be intended for Cyprus?

If Turkey succeeds in legitimising the division of Cyprus along racial and religious grounds how will this impact on the UK? Is it in the UK’s interests to support such a settlement?

The solution is obvious. Cyprus must be reunited as a unitary state with minority rights respected. To allow minorities to form their own state or have their own self-administered zone within a unitary state would be the thin edge of the wedge and has no place in multicultural Europe.

* See Council of Europe, European Commission of Human Rights applications 6780/74 and 6950/75 Cyprus against Turkey report of Commission, July 1976; European Court of Human Rights Cyprus v Turkey judgment, May 2001; Sunday Times ‘The terrible secrets of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus’, 23 January 1977.