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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

"Living Life in Quotation Marks": The Divided City in the 21st Century

Article by: Cat Carroll

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the Institute for Regional and International Studies National Resource Center (IRIS NRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with the De Facto States Research Unit of the University of Tartu, based in Estonia. The latter is the world’s only academic center dedicated exclusively to research on unrecognized states.

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the Institute for Regional and International Studies National Resource Center (IRIS NRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with the De Facto States Research Unit of the University of Tartu, based in Estonia. 

The 2023 Elections

In March 2023, Nikos Christodoulides assumed the presidency of Cyprus after receiving 51.9% of votes in a February runoff election. Christodoulides campaigned primarily on revisiting reunification talks with the Turkish-controlled northern part of the island, the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). While on the campaign trail, Christodoulides made his intentions of utilising the Republic of Cyprus’ European Union membership to its advantage. Specifically, he saw it as a tool to break the stalemate in negotiations with the North and Turkey that has persisted with for generations. As the only country that recognizes the TRNC as an independent state, Turkey has shown a frosty reaction to unification efforts in the past, demanding a two-state solution instead. Such a solution, however, was rejected by the EU, UN, the United States, and other countries as none of them recognised the TRNC to begin with and considered the Turkish invasion of Greece that helped establish the TRNC in 1974 illegal.

Elections Number Two

The De Facto States Research Unit of the University of Tartu found that in the In the North of the island, local elections held in 2022 led to heightened tensions and increased challenges. Turkish Cypriots expressed anger with their local governments due to a – real or perceived – lack of urgency surrounding discussions about the Municipalities Reform. The local government failed to speak on the needed reforms until just ahead of the elections. This resulted in the elections being delayed twice, It should of course be noted the TRNC operates differently than the Republic of Cyprus, having their own president who is elected to five-year terms.

Through the Lens of Dispute

On either side of the Green Line, the people of Cyprus face separation from each other. The capital, Nicosia is divided with barbed wire and military checkpoints just like Berlin was until November 1989. Two separate societies with people who face similar issues but hold different political views have formed on the island over the past five decades. As a result, the people on either side of the divided island place political importance on separate issues. In the South, despite the bilateral political discussions and negotiations between the northern and southern parts of the island, the divisive narrative passed on from one generation of Greek Cypriots to another often does not change, according to research from the University of Tartu De Facto States Research Unit. Meanwhile in the North, individuals are concerned about overreliance on Turkey and the decades-long uncertainty a de facto but internationally unrecognized state brings with it. Though a large portion of Turkish Cypriots do not hold strong pro-Turkey ideals, they acknowledge the role Turkey has played in their very ability to exist, as Thomas DeWaal from Carnegie Europe pointed out in this article. This ambivalence creates challenges for the people living in the TRNC – who ultimately will need to establish peace with both Turkey and the southern part of the island.

Diverging Hearts and Minds

Divisions between those living in the northern and southern parts of the island reach beyond just ethnic differences. Ever since the installation of checkpoints, interactions between people on either side of the island decreased drastically. The Green Line effectively is an EU external border. The societies have become so separated that many the people fear integration. And though there has been political talk about reunification, only a limited portion of those talks focused on reunifying the people of the island and, as a result, some do not feel they gain anything from living together.

The Surprising Views Held by Northern Cypriots

It is important to recognize the constant uncertainty the northern part of Cyprus sits in as multiple parties maintain control over it. Turkey funds the TRNC’s army, supports much of the government budget and even runs certain public agencies directly, such as the fire service. But because the EU recognizes the entire island as its member state, the EU could provide certain privileges to Northern Cyprus and its citizens, such as allowing them to move and work freely across EU member states and increasing the movement of goods and capital. Favourable views of the EU have increased among Turkish Cypriots in recent years. A 2015 Eurobarometer survey found that 57% of Turkish Cypriots held positive views of the EU, and only 8% expressed negative sentiments. However, unification efforts in Cyprus rely heavily on collaboration from the government of the TRNC, which will require negotiations with Turkey — leaving the northern part of the island in an awkward limbo.

Media can Bring People Together Where Politics Divides

In 2004, Turkish-Cypriot film director Dervish Zaim and Greek-Cypriot producer Panicos Chrysanthou worked together to create the Cypriot documentary film Parallel Trips. In the film, Zaim and Chrysanthou masterfully wove the narratives of both sides together to tell the story of what unfolded during the war of 1974. The film ends with peace and leaves the audiences at multiple film festivals thinking about the status of Cyprus, as well as other de facto states across the globe. Each de facto state faces its own set of unique challenges. For those interested, the University of Tartu has put together a large dataset on such challenges concerning demographics, military capabilities, years of existence, and other aspects of de facto states. But de facto states also share a set of similarities: Though many de facto states have their own governments, police forces and schools – which can make everyday life appear normal – they do not hold universal international recognition, and often cannot contribute to foreign relations. In their book Sovereignty Suspended: Building the So-Called State, Rebecca Bryant and Mete Hatay perhaps express living in a de facto state most succinctly:  “To live in an unrecognised state is to live life in quotation marks”.

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