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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Migration and the prospects for transitional justice in Cyprus

David Madden (Senior Member and Distinguished Friend of St Antony's College)

On 2 June, Dr Rebecca Bryant spoke on the subject “Forced Migration and the Prospects for Transitional Justice in Cyprus”. David Madden chaired.

Bryant explained that transitional justice consists of a number of measures intended to help post-conflict communities transition to peace. She observed that there are already aspects of transitional justice in Cyprus: the Committee on Missing Persons (though its mandate was limited), the cultural heritage committee, and inter-faith meetings being a few of those. But overall, divisive narratives of the conflict have not changed much on either side, despite the opening of the checkpoints. Moreover, surveys show that crossings to the other side, especially by Greek Cypriots, are few. There are large numbers of Greek Cypriots who have never crossed. There instead is a tendency to wait for a settlement to think about reconciliation.

Given around fifty years of negotiations and the leaders’ agreement on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, the outline of a settlement is already reasonably clear. Because that federation would be composed of two ethnically based states, it is clear that in any federal scenario Turkish Cypriots would be a majority in the north. As a result, not all Greek Cypriot displaced persons would return to the north, and those who return would be a minority. Polls also show that almost no Turkish Cypriots would choose to return to the south. Moreover, we know from other studies that post-conflict minority return tends to be problematic.

Bryant said that her premise and concern is that any political settlement of the Cyprus conflict would entail some remixing of populations, and that the goal in implementing that remixing must surely be to ensure that it will lead to peace rather than to further conflict. For this, she suggested that transitional justice measures may be helpful, and that such truth-seeking relating to displacement may make other transitional justice measures more effective. Her concern, she said, was a general misperception in both communities about potential movements of people in the event of a federal settlement.
Bryant suggested that prospects for achieving a federal solution are directly impeded by two different imaginations of how Cypriots’ displacement should and will be resolved. One is the Greek Cypriot ‘myth of return’, a way of imagining the future that is well known and has been studied. She suggested, however, that an equally strong ‘myth of remaining’, dominant in the Turkish Cypriot community, constitutes another way of imagining the future. Both of these are at odds with what is actually being negotiated, and with any potential solution. The myth of return contains a desire to recreate community that we know simply cannot happen after the passage of more than forty years. Equally importantly, however, it does not take into account that Greek Cypriots, in any possible federal solution, will be a minority in the island’s north. What the myth of return imagines as the return of a majority will actually be the return of a minority, and it needs to be looked at in this light.

The reason that it will be the return of a minority is that Turkish Cypriots for the most part will not return to the island’s south. While the myth of return imagines everyone returning, the myth of remaining imagines that in a potential solution everyone will stay put. And like the myth of return, the myth of remaining is contradicts Turkish Cypriots support for a federal solution.

From the 1890s to 1960, there had been a big reduction in mixed villages, and an increase in Turkish Cypriot-only villages. The late 1950s saw the first forced migrations of both communities. Some moved three times: 1958, 1963, 1974. Moving was often followed by the deliberate destruction of homes. Many Turkish Cypriots who lived through that period describe what happened as a betrayal: but that meant that there was something (relationships/friendships) to be betrayed. It is this betrayal that lies behind the Turkish Cypriot myth of remaining and makes their settlement in the north permanent.

The myth of return, however, sees Greek Cypriot as temporary, because of a narrative o peaceful coexistence before 1974 that was destroyed by Turkey. Because of this idea that all must return, and a denial of conflict before 1974, many Greek Cypriots have visited the north only once, many not at all.

Possible measures for transitional justice to address this disparity include:
  • Truth-seeking regarding displacement, including destruction of property
  • Mutual apologies for the way in which communities used displacement as a strategy
  • Mechanisms of material reparations as a foundation for interdependent return.
In answer to questions she added the following points:
  • Since 2002, the current Turkish government has generally shown that it wants to be rid of the Cyprus Problem. With the failure of the Annan Plan, however, Turkey has invested heavily in the north, e.g. hotels, the water pipeline, etc.
  • Annan V foresaw some 45,000 Greek Cypriots returning to their former houses, mainly under territorial adjustment. But the latest evidence from Morphou was that Turkish Cypriots living there were unwilling to move and would reject at referendum a plan that would include Morphou in territorial readjustment.
  • An increasing number of Greek Cypriots probably wanted a settlement, probably because of economic problems. Turkish Cypriots seemed more sceptical: but even they seemed to believe that ”something should happen”.
On the question of settlers, Bryant noted that there was a citizen population of 190,000 in Northern Cyprus, of whom 50,000 were of Turkish origin. In addition there was the Turkish army (35,000), students (up to 70,000, of whom some were Turks), and regulated and unregulated (mainly Turkish) workers and their families (70,000). In previous and ongoing negotiations, there didn’t seem to be any doubt that persons who were citizens in the north would remain and others would be subject to a new visa regime.

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