The Cyprus Question is On the Table

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Nicosia, Cyprus © Efesenko

January 24, 2017 14:04 EDT

The Treaty of Guarantee has complicated the Cyprus issue and should be scrapped.

Since the end of 2016, there has been intense diplomacy over the Cyprus issue. The aim is to reach a new agreement by early 2017. The recent moves are part of a negotiating process that started in February 2014 with a common declaration of principles between Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades, who represents the Greek Cypriot community, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Eroglou. The replacement of Eroglou with Mustafa Akinci as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community facilitated the talks.

The most controversial issue surrounding Cyprus is the Treaty of Guarantee, which was discussed in Geneva on January 12 with the participation of Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom.


The Treaty of Guarantee is rooted in the peculiar way in which the Republic of Cyprus was born. From 1878 until the late 1950s, Cyprus was under British control. The population was split between a Greek majority and a Turkish minority, as well as small Maronite and Armenian communities. From the 1930s, Greek Cypriots demanded the unification of Cyprus with Greece.

But Britain objected over the possibility of withdrawing from Cyprus for strategic reasons. In order to balance the pressure from the Greeks, the UK involved Turkey on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot community, which was not in favor of the island’s integration into Greece.

When Britain changed its stance and decided to withdraw from Cyprus in exchange for retaining two military bases, the situation was no longer a simple case of decolonization.

Instead, the question had to be settled between Britain, Greece and Turkey in a mutually beneficial agreement to avoid a confrontation between two countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Greeks withdrew from their insistence on unifying Cyprus with Greece, while Turkey dropped its demand for partition. Common ground was found in an independent Cyprus that was governed in a consociational way by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Under the treaty of 1960, Greece, Turkey and Britain guaranteed the independence of Cyprus and agreed against the integration of the republic with another state or its partition. A defense alliance was also signed, which allowed for the presence of a Greek and Turkish military force on the island.

However, the inability of the two communities to find common ground regarding the distribution of powers led to the collapse of the agreement soon after 1963. This culminated in the Greek coup of 1974, in order to pave the way for its integration into Greece. In the end, Turkey invaded leading to a de facto partition of Cyprus.


Under the current talks, Greece and the Greek Cypriot community support the abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee and the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The Greek argument holds that the Cyprus issue is one of invasion and an illegal occupation on one half of the island.

President Anastasiades has recommended that the Treaty of Guarantee be replaced by a “treaty of friendship” between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, and that a European police force be assigned to ensure security for a limited period only. The president insists that Cyprus does not need guarantees from any other party and that its European Union membership is an adequate guarantee for the entire island.

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriots want the Treaty of Guarantee to remain in place, at least for the time being. On January 17, Mustafa Akinci stated that the treaty is needed for the Turkish Cypriot community, including the presence of Turkish troops. This is also the view of most Turkish Cypriots, as a poll concluded in October 2016. But, as per Akinci, the treaty can be reevaluated after a period of 15 years, according to a previous statement by the Turkish Cypriot leader.

Turkey, for its own part, has reiterated that it is a power broker in Cyprus. Cyprus is seen as strategically important for the security of Turkey’s southeastern coast. But under the current talks, a possible Turkish and Greek military withdrawal is on the table—this is what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan implied on January 13. However, since most Turkish Cypriots want the Turkish military to remain for security reasons, it is unknown as to whether Ankara really wants a military withdrawal.


The Treaty of Guarantee is flawed and has three problems.

First, the treaty contradicts international law. It is ambiguous regarding the way in which the guarantors could intervene to restore order in Cyprus or avert a possible unification or partition of the island. Article IV of the treaty does not clarify whether military intervention can be a guarantor’s choice or if it is to impose the status quo of the deal.

Such actions are in violation of the United Nations (UN) charter, which stipulates that any act of war should have the endorsement of the UN Security Council.

Second, if Cyprus is united, will its guarantors once again have the right to intervene militarily in the new state? Who would be in charge of protecting Cypriots if its guarantors stepped out of line? The fact that Turkey has been submerged in a political crisis with the resurgence of nationalism means it is an unpredictable regional player.

donate to nonprofit media organizationsFinally, the existence of a treaty in which a foreign state guarantees the application of another country’s constitution curtails the very sovereignty of the latter. As former Cypriot Foreign Minister Spyros Kyprianou stated at the UN in 1964: “The combined effect of the Constitution and the Treaty of Guarantee is that a situation was created whereby the constitutional and political development of the Republic has been arrested in its infancy and the Republic as a sovereign state has been placed in a strait jacket.”

The Treaty of Guarantee has complicated the Cyprus question rather than facilitated it. Its very existence has satisfied the interests of its guarantors instead of the security and independence of Cyprus.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Efesenko

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