A narrow line crosses the island, untouched by either side: an isolation zone. Grubby concrete barriers split the cit of Nicosia in two. Peering through a gap, there’s a bizarre sight: a street, abandoned thirty years ago and untouched ever since.  The cars look like something out of Sunday morning TV: drawn lace curtains, grey with dust.  
 Cyprus is close to Turkey, it’s only 75 km away across the sea, and its other neighbour Greece is a distant 600. If you ever travel there, you’ll find beautiful weather, friendly locals and mediocre beaches. You’ll also hear a lot about Nicosia, ‘the last divided city in Europe’. 
 Cyprus has been ruled by Phoenicians, Franks, Egyptians, Romans, Venetians and Crusaders.  After three hundred years of being ruled by the Ottomans, Cyprus was nabbed from Turkey by the British after World War I.  It became independent in 1960.
   The joys of independence! Now you are free of the brutal oppressor you can turn your attention to the noisy sod next-door. Cyprus is split between ethnic Greeks and Turks, 80% to 20%. Traditionally they have got on reasonably well, but each side has always seen themselves as being primarily Greek or Turkish, not Cypriot. To shorten a long story, the two communities didn’t (and still don’t) trust each other, and so they failed to negotiate a constitution that both worked and protected the rights of the minority. The result: a bitter low-level conflict, which involved both motherlands. When a military junta took control of Greece (1967), they encouraged EOKA-B, a terrorist group that committed atrocities against Turkish Cypriots. A main street of Greek Cypriot Nicosia is still named after EOKA-B’s founder, Grivas.
Now, take a step back. It’s the cold war. Two NATO members are squabbling over an island in the Middle East, upon which Britain maintains sizable military bases.  The leader of this country, Archbishop Makarios, is supported by the local communist party and plays a major role in the non-aligned movement (avoiding both the US and USSR).  He has also come into conflict with the Greek junta which is rumoured to be backed by the US.  In 1974, the Greek government, with the foreknowledge of the US State Department (headed by Henry Kissinger, a man with a reputation for hard-ball), topples Makarios, and replaces him with Nikos Sampson, famed for demolishing Turkish Cypriot houses with JCBs.   In response, Turkey launches a massive (and well-prepared) invasion, with the stated goal of protecting Turkish Cypriots.  The army succeeds rather well and ends up with 38% of the island.  Feel free to insert your own conspiracy theory here. 
Take that situation and freeze it, for thirty years. During that time the forced migration of several hundred thousand people has taken place, encouraged by the British.   The Turkish army has stayed, and Turkish Cyprus declared itself a republic, which nobody other than Turkey has recognised.  Meanwhile, the UN patrols the dividing line, where the lace curtains get dusty.
 Enter wealthy uncle EU. The EU negotiates with Greek Cyprus, led by Tassos Papadopoulos, saying, in effect: “You join, then unite with the Turkish Cypriots under the Annan plan (a revised power-sharing deal).  The Turkish forces leave, and we’re all happy bunnies.”  Papadopoulos concludes the negotiations, then campaigns vehemently against the Annan plan in a national referendum.  Turkish Cyprus votes in favour, Greek Cyprus votes against.  Cyprus joins but as a divided island, with Turkish Cyprus frozen outside. 
Murky waters.  Turkey is desperate to join the EU, and wants its troops off Cyprus as quickly as possible, but it needs to maintain its face. Greece also wants Turkey to join, since it minimises the chance of future conflict (which would most probably see Greece being creamed by  Turkey). The Turkish Cypriot ‘republic’, which has been ostracised internationally, is dirt-poor and likewise desperate to join.  Finally, the US also wants Turkey in the EU, since that stabilises the Middle East and (if you’re cynical) weakens EU political unity.  However, anybody in Europe who doesn’t want the Polish plumber replaced by the Turkish construction worker, breathes a quiet sigh of relief.
And Greek Cyprus? Comfortable. Wealthy, with EU membership and plenty of tourists. Morally superior victims of invasion. Finally, they don’t have to share power (and funds) with Turks. The government is outwardly keen to continue negotiations, but they’ve been going on for fifty years. It’s debatable whether the devil is in those details.
Solution? The EU needs to get its act together, present a united front on Turkey, and sit on the Greek Cypriot government’s head. Prognosis? It’s going to take time, enough for those embittered by 1960-74 period to leave politics, and it’s going to take a whole lot of EU money, but eventually they’ll wash those curtains.
 


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