It’s generated amazingly little discussion in the international press, but the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are sitting down and trying to resolve their 35-year-old-and-counting conflict.
The talks started about three weeks ago. They are moving slowly — the negotiators just took a break for two weeks, and they don’t expect to complete the discussions until early next year — but they’re serious.
Cyprus-watchers will recall the Annan Plan, negotiated five years ago in 2003-4. It was supposed to provide a fair and reasonable framework for reunification under a loose federal system. In March 2004, both sides subjected it to a referendum. The Turkish Cypriots approved it by about 4 to 3, but the Greeks rejected it by almost 3 to 1.
That killed reunification for the next four years, but in the last six months it’s jumped up and come to life again. The prime mover here is Greek Cyprus’ new President, Dimitris Christofias. I wrote about his election back in February:
Christofias has said that he hopes to restart talks with Turkish Northern Cyprus, which have been stalled since Greek Cyprus rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. I wish him luck â€” heâ€™ll need it. Even with goodwill on both sides, reaching a settlement will be difficult; the Turks are still resentful that the 2004 deal was rejected, a lot of Greeks are either apathetic or actively hostile to any negotiation with the north, and both sides will be vulnerable to nationalist attacks on their flanks. Iâ€™d say Christofiasâ€™ victory raises the chances of a successful settlement from â€œzeroâ€ to â€œvery slimâ€.
Still, itâ€™s an interesting development. Letâ€™s see what happens.
I still think it’s unlikely this will succeed. Even with good will on both sides, reunification is horribly complicated. Refugee return, property compensation, voting rights for Turkish immigrants, apportionment of power… it’s a real mess.
On the other hand, it’s moved farther and faster than I would have thought possible. And the lack of media attention may be a feature, not a bug: both sides seem to be taking the negotiations seriously, so neither is interested in making a spectacle.
And a successful reunification… well, damn. That would be awesome in about six different ways.
Watching with interest.