Overview of the Conflict
In 1960, Republic of Cyprus proclaimed independence from British colonial rule when the Greek and Turkish communities living on the island reached a constitutional agreement on power sharing in all official institutions. The treaty signed by, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Kingdom of Greece and the Republic of Turkey of the one part and the Republic of Cyprus of the other part.
Three years later, Turkish Cypriots, fearing the growing push for enosis (unification of the island with the Greek state) among Greek Cypriots, withdrew from the bi-communal parliament after President Makarios proposed constitutional amendments that would revoke the power-sharing system. Inter-communal violence heightened between 1963 and 1964, leading to the institution of the UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus), a UN peacekeeping force, and the establishment of enclaves and a UN-patrolled Green Line ceasefire line between Famagusta and Morphou.
Despite the installation of the UNFICYP, conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot community endured for the coming ten years. On July 15, 1974, the Greek Junta initiated the coup d’etat against Makarios. In reaction, the Turkish military intervened the north of Cyprus under the pretense of protecting Turkish Cypriots against extremist nationalists and to restore/ reestablish the constitutional order which has first violated in 1963. While the Republic of Cyprus became a de facto Greek Cypriot state, Turkish Cypriots in 1975 proclaimed the north the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus (TFSC). In 1983, in response to Greek Cypriot demands for United Nations condemnation of the division, Turkish Cypriots declared sovereignty under the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Since any country other than Turkey does not recognize the state in the north, the Republic of Cyprus remains the sole recognized government for the entirety of the island.
During the intercommunal conflict of the 1960s many Turkish Cypriots had been displaced. In the wake of the 1974 war many Greek Cypriots fled to the south and Turkish Cypriots to the north. The result was the ethnic homogenization of the two parts of the island. According to the PRIO Cyprus Report on Displacement in Cyprus, over the course of two decades, more than 220,000 Cypriots lost their homes and properties. According to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, 493 Turkish Cypriots and 1,508 Greek Cypriots were reported missing by their families.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDP) constitutes one third of the island’s population. In the absence of local rule of law, IDP and relatives of missing persons have turned to the European Court of Human Rights. A pioneering case in 1996, the ECHR ordered Turkey to pay Titina Loizidou 915,000 dollars in compensation for the violation of her right to enjoy the property she owned in the north of Cyprus. Hundreds of cases have been filed since then. Domestically, IDP have seen some victories as well. In September 2004, the Greek Cypriot Supreme Court made a landmark decision by ordering the return of property to Turkish Cypriots living in the South prior to 1974. In 2011, Greek Cypriot children of internally displaced women gained the same rights as children of internally displaced men, giving them access to special tax and social benefits.
Despite UN sponsored and facilitated peace talks, the Cyprus conflict remains to be resolved. Over the past decade, contact and dialogue between the two sides has increased. In 2003, checkpoints along the Green Line opened allowing access across the entire island. An active civil society promoting reconciliation and the institution of human rights continues to grow.
Following Mustafa Akıncı’s election as the president in North Cyprus in April 2015, once again the piece talks will resume.
Civil Society Initiatives Dealing with the Past
While both sides have failed to come to an official settlement plan, various groups within Cyprus’ civil society contribute to the reconciliation process through their work that, in different ways, deals with the past and pushes for the institution of such human rights as the right to freedom of movement, the right to property and the right to return.
As early as 1964, Turkish and Greek language newspapers reported on demonstrations and hunger strikes organized by Association of Families of Missing Turks and the Union of Relatives of Greek Hostages respectively. In 1975, Turkish Cypriots established the Association of Martyrs’ Families and War Veterans, while Greek Cypriots set up the Organization of Relatives of Undeclared Prisoners and Missing Persons. Up to today, these two organizations remain the main organizations honoring those who went missing during the conflict and pressing the authorities to seek and share the truth about what happened. These early initiatives often focused on the missing persons on their side only and have taken different commemorative approaches. Families of Greek Cypriot missing persons annually organized the “Marathon of Love” and built memorials in honor of their loved ones, while Turkish Cypriots chose to collectively commemorate all who died in the conflict, integrating missing persons as they were assumed dead.
In 1981, inter-communal talks led to the creation of a collaborative, UN-led Committee on Missing Persons. In the 2000s, civil society groups started to take on a more inclusive and reconciliatory approach. In 2005, the Bi-communal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons was founded as the only organization that represents families of Greek as well as Turkish Cypriot missing persons. The initiative presents the stories of their missing or killed relatives at places ranging from academic conferences to community gatherings in small villages, emphasizing the connection between sharing these stories of past violence and the prevention of further conflict. Journalists like Makarios Drousiotis and Sevgül Uludağ have criticized the politicization of missing persons. In Oysters with the Missing Pearls, Uludağ shares the personal narratives of relatives of victims as well as witnesses from both sides, showing the commonality of pain and suffering they experienced.
Civil society groups have also actively contributed to the retrieval of bodily remains. In the summer of 1999, the organization Physicians for Human Rights started exhumations at Lakatamia, Saint Constantine and Saint Helen military cemeteries. A year later, families of 126 people buried at the Lakatamia cemetery were informed about the discovery of their relatives’ remains. Similar initiatives from the TC community can be added here.
The advocacy around missing persons is part of a growing call for truth seeking and awareness. Organizations like the PRIO Cyprus Centre and Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) push for an informed, open and inclusive debate on the Cyprus conflict. The PRIO Cyprus Centre, committed to providing the public free and open access to information, conducts research that is of public interest and presents it in an understandable language. Projects like the center’s informative website on displacement, entitled “Internal Displacement in Cyprus: Mapping the Consequences of Civil and Military Strife, enable the public to understand and discuss the conflicting perspectives and expectations and look for possible common solutions. Similarly, the AHDR aims to shape an open dialogue on the past, paying particular attention to the role of educators, youth and children in developing this debate. The Association provides teachers with training and supplementary education materials that promote a multilayered understanding of history. Towards this end, AHDR opened the Home for Cooperation in May 2011, as the first shared space on the island where Cypriots and citizens from different ethnic and religious background can engage in historical inquiry and advance understanding, dialogue and peace building. In addition to a research and educational center, The Home for Cooperation also houses a library, exhibition space and a workspace for NGOs.
Founded in 2002, Hands Across the Divide is a woman organization, which works for reconciliation. In addition, the Gender Advisory Team has done great works in past couple of years and surely has an important role in the establishment of recent Committee on Gender Equality)
The efforts of these civil society organizations are an important sign of the willingness of Cypriots to reconcile and an acknowledgement that one cannot move forward without dealing with the past.