July 20th is the 35th commemoration of the Turkish invasion and division of the island of Cyprus. On July 15, 1974 the military junta in Greece staged a coup against then Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III, a move perceived as provocative enough by Turkey to invade the island under the pretenses of Greece having violated the Treaty of Guarantees put in place when Cyprus gained independence from Great Britain in 1960. As a result the small island has become one of the most militarized regions in the world divided into the Republic of Cyprus in the south, the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" pseudo-state occupying 37% of the island in the north, and the roughly 3% of the island which serves as a UN administered buffer zone in between. This division lead to the large-scale displacement and separation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations as Greek Cypriots in the north were forced to move south and Turkish Cypriots in the south to move north- a status quo commonly referred to as the "Cyprus Problem."
While little blood has been shed on the island as a result of the conflict in recent years, the social, economic, and psychological costs of the island's division painfully persist for both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Homes, churches, and entire portions of cities have been forcibly abandoned for 35 years- left to decay or reoccupation. Priceless pieces of art have been stolen and sold abroad. Two communities who lived and worked together for hundreds of years have been driven apart for three and a half decades, altering the daily lives and culture of both communities.
A solution to the Cyprus Problem is in the best interest of the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots, and the greater global community -- a fact that nobody understands better than the Cypriots themselves. The ongoing division of the island destabilizes American security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, and obstructs Turkey's European Union accession efforts. For these reasons I strongly believe the United States should support the current Cypriot-driven efforts to find a solution without interjecting ourselves into the process or imposing artificial deadlines.
Last September the Republic of Cyprus's President Dimitris Christofias and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mehmet Ali Talat began a new round of weekly direct negotiations. A process some believe provides the best chance at resolving the issue in 35 years. In light of the rejection of the flawed UN-centric Annan Plan in 2004 by 76% of Greek Cypriot voters, these talks are entirely Cypriot driven and oriented around six chapters of negotiation key to the creation of a viable bi-communal bi-zonal federation.
The approximately 15 million Cypriots and tourists who have peacefully crossed the buffer zone to work and visit on the other side since checkpoints opened in 2003 are a testament to the ability of both communities to work and live together once again. Reaching a mutually acceptable resolution will not be easy, large issues regarding property disputes, the presence of the estimated 40,000 Turkish troops in the north, the structure of the bi-zonal bi-communal federal government, and the role of Ankara in the negotiations remain unresolved, but there is still a reason for hope, and a moral opportunity for the United States to support a solution of, by, and for the Cypriots.