Cyprus reunification stalled in row over 1950 vote

22 February 2017
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Cyprus reunification talks were in disarray on Wednesday after reports the Turkish Cypriot side would not join this week’s meeting because of the commemoration by Greek Cypriots of a plebiscite on union with Greece more than 60 years ago.

Talks between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci were abruptly interrupted last week over a decision taken by the Greek Cypriot parliament to honor the 1950 “enosis” referendum seeking union with Greece.

The unofficial referendum, in which only Greek Cypriots voted and was carried by more than 95 percent in favor, presaged by more than 20 years the violent division of the island between ethnic Greeks and Turks. It was not recognized by Britain, which was Cyprus’s colonial ruler at the time.

Anastasiades and Akinci, engaged in peace talks for almost two years, were scheduled to meet once a week, with the next meeting planned for Thursday. But Akinci will not now be attending, Turkey’s NTV channel and a Greek Cypriot official said.

“Unfortunately we have just been informed by the United Nations that the scheduled meeting for tomorrow will not take place because of the refusal of the Turkish Cypriot leader to participate,” Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides wrote on Twitter.

There was no immediate response from the Turkish Cypriot side, which had been demanding the parliament vote be rescinded. Anastasiades, who runs an executive government, has conceded the vote was ill-timed, wrong and meaningless, but has said the Turkish Cypriot side overreacted.

The two sides had been making progress in talks to reunite Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation, but the plebiscite row underscores how fragile any progress is.

Cyprus was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Union with Greece, or ‘enosis’ is a deeply divisive subject in Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriots maintain the drive for union with Greece was a key source of tension which spilled over into fighting, driving the wedge which still exists between the two communities today.

The February 9 motion by the Cypriot parliament – comprised solely of Greek Cypriots – was submitted by a small Greek Cypriot party with ties to Greece’s Golden Dawn far-right party.

Although the left wing main opposition party voted against it, an abstention by Anastasiades’s Conservative party meant it got through, with votes from parties which have expressed misgivings about progress in talks.

Enosis, as a notion, was abandoned by Greek Cypriots decades ago. The island has been a member of the European Union since 2004, although the Turkish side is only recognized by Turkey.

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