Peace talks have been front and centre of Cypriot news as negotiations between the Republic and the North reach higher levels than ever before. Away from politics, the preservation of cultural heritage island-wide is receiving much-needed attention, while the prospect of exploratory drilling on the island's offshore gas reserves is both a cause for economic optimism and a major divisive issue on the road to peace.
Road Blocks on the Way to Reunification
Since its division in 1974, talks to reunite Cyprus have taken place sporadically with little success. In April 2015, Mustafa Akinci came to power in the North on a proreunification platform, reigniting hope on both sides for the revival of talks and in May, leader-led, direct negotiations between the Republic's president Nicos Anastasiades and Akinci began.
Through 2015 and 2016, talks (assisted by UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide) between the two leaders continued with remarkable commitment from both sides to follow on despite failures to agree on several complicated issues. In November 2016, the two leaders met in Switzerland for a historic meeting where, for the first time, maps of potential territorial boundaries were presented and debated. Twenty months of talks culminated in January 2017's Geneva summit when Anastasiades and Akinci were joined by representatives of Cyprus' three guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey and Great Britain – to attempt to hammer out a final solution. Ultimately no deal was reached although both sides pledged to continue discussions and a new summit was tabled for spring 2017.
Unfortunately in February 2017 talks broke down after the Republic's parliament voted to pass a bill on establishing a new annual commemoration for the 1950 enosis (union with Greece) referendum. Although negotiations recommenced in April, in the background disagreements flared over the Republic going ahead with its hydrocarbon exploration program without first putting a plan in place to equitably share gas-reserve profits, along with rhetoric from both sides about the others' commitment to a deal. Despite this, both sides signalled their willingness to work towards a new summit in June.
By late May though, talks had stalled again with Anastasiades and Akinci disagreeing on the agenda that negotiations at the tabled new summit in Switzerland should follow. The deadlock was only broken when the two leaders met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in early June resulting in the announcement of the new Conference on Cyprus to be held at the Swiss ski-resort of Crans-Montana on 28 June. Whether this second historic summit manages to produce a comprehensive settlement ending more than 40 years of impasse, or yet again ends in a stalemate, remains to be seen.
Peace Building: One Brick at a Time
Away from the quagmire of the political negotiation table, many normal Cypriots are making their own efforts to promote peace. The most significant example is the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (www.cy.undp.org), a bicommunal committee dedicated to restoring culturally significant monuments island-wide. Led by Greek Cypriot Takis Hadjidemetriou and Turkish Cypriot Ali Tuncay, the committee has restored 18 monuments across the island since its establishment in 2008, including Apostolos Andreas Monastery on the Karpas Peninsula, two mosques and two churches in the Pafos district and Famagusta's Othello Tower. The work, which uses joint teams of builders, engineers and architects from both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, has been rightfully praised internationally for its role in confidence-building between the two sides. In 2015 Hadjidemetriou and Tuncay jointly won the European Parliament's Citizen Prize for their leadership of the committee.
In the Republic of Cyprus optimism remains high for possible future revenues produced from oil and gas deposits offshore. The Republic is negotiating with energy consortiums to commence exploratory drilling in the waters off Cyprus in the near future. However, tensions regarding the sharing of potential offshore energy-resource revenues are both a major factor in spurring on reunification negotiation efforts and a major stumbling block.
In the North, the opening of the Northern Cyprus Water Supply Project in 2015 looks like it has finally solved (at least, in the short term) the North's water-scarcity woes. The project supplies the North with water from Turkey, via an undersea pipeline, not only fixing Northern Cyprus' water-shortage issues but also, it is hoped, boosting the economy by providing agricultural irrigation. In an area long plagued by lack of development due to its isolation on the world stage, the project is seen as a sign of economic improvement. But the pipeline's opening was not without controversy, with disagreements between Northern Cyprus and Turkey about management of water distribution.