Letters from Cyprus: Notes from a Deeply Divided Island- Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 60, No. 2
Mr. Costello, a neutral on the American Arbitration Association panel, went to Cyprus for six months to introduce the “multi-door courthouse” to the judiciary in Northern and Southern Cyprus. Here are his colorful reports from that divided island in the Middle East, located a mere 40 miles from Turkey and 150 miles from Beirut. These reports have been edited from letters Mr. Costello sent from Cyprus. Copyright © Edward J. Costello.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
#1 January 22, 2005
My wife and I have been in Cyprus for two weeks. Preliminary impressions. The Fulbright Commission staff in Nicosia is wonderful. They gave us leads for housing, car, shopping, etc. and all turned out to be good. My work has been slowed by housing acquisition—short-term tenants no more welcome here than in America. So, I have only met a small handful of Cypriots from both sides, but patterns are starting to emerge: Cyprus is all politics all the time. The day to day life of the island is dominated by the fact of partition, at least in Nicosia. There are only a few places where one can traverse the “Green Line” between Turkish and Greek communities. A “Buffer Zone” staffed by UN peacekeepers since 1974, when Turkey invaded after the “generals” then running Greece staged a coup there, surrounds the Green Line. Two crossing points are in Nicosia proper, one of them a pedestrians-only crossing. But far more significant is the psychological separation, as the actual crossing is not that difficult once you get to a checkpoint. In Nicosia itself the Green Line runs right through the heart of the old city, which, ironically, is marked by remnants of a wall and moat defense completed by the Venetians during their rule on the island (1489-1571).
The current status quo between Northern Cyprus (called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or TRONC) and southern Cyprus (called the Republic of Cyprus or ROC) is the result of a cease-fire agreement from 30 years ago. That seems likely to continue as the “Kofi Annan plan” for confederation of the island’s two communities went to plebiscite last April—with the Turkish side overwhelmingly voting for it and the Greek side voting 75% against (90% of voters under 30 voted “no,” having never known anything other than the status quo).
Newspapers published in the ROC in English and Greek regularly refer to things Turkish as taking place in the “occupied territories.” This demonstrates the fear that any normal reference to Turkish control of Northern Cyprus might be viewed as a recognition of the legitimacy of the Turkish regime. The U.S. embassy puts the number of Turkish troops at 30,000, but no one knows for sure.
The ROC recently became a full member of the European Union (EU). The EU takes the view that Cyprus is an acquis communitaire, making further efforts to reunite the island and rid it of foreign troops (there are Greek military here, too) a matter for EU attention. Just yesterday, TRONC’S prime minister said that his country (not an EU member) would not recognize the EU role but would continue to work with the Annan Plan. As a matter of policy, the U.N., the EU and the U.S. have each decided to aid “the North,” as they refer to TRONC—even though they do not recognize it as a “nation.” It is the poorer of the two sides, having a gross domestic product per capita of about 25% of what the ROC has.
It is widely believed that TRONC is run by the Turkish Army, which itself has a shifting relationship with the elected government of Turkey. There are huge Turkish and TRONC flags constructed out of painted stones on a mountain range northeast of Nicosia. They can be seen—indeed they cannot be avoided—by all of Nicosia and its surrounding suburbs.