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Europe

28 Years of Division

Greek and Turkish leaders of the divided island of Cyprus began intensive talks on unification on Wednesday. But, as history shows, it hasn’t always been easy for the two sides to come together.

The history of the Cyprus conflict dates back to 1878 when the Ottoman Empire handed over the island in the eastern Mediterranean to British administration while still holding on to nominal sovereignty.

In 1914 Britain annexed Cyprus and made it a crown colony.

Dissatisfied with colonial rule, the Greek Cypriot EOKA guerrilla group launched an armed revolt against the British administration in 1955. Demands for independence became greater and more violent until in 1960 Britain granted Cyprus its independence. The constitution provided for the establishment of broad power-sharing roles between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Division

Three years later the Greek President Makarios proposed changes to the constitution, which effectively dissolved all power-sharing arrangements with the Turks. Violence erupted throughout the island.

In 1964 the Greek Cypriots formed a government excluding the Turkish neighbors. Upset with the single-ethnic rule, many Turks withdrew to regions patrolled by Turkish Cypriot paramilitary groups in the north. A UN peacekeeping force was established to prevent further fighting on the island.

In 1967 a military junta seized power in Greece. In 1974 the situation heated up. The Greek army backed a July coup against Makarios. Militants advocating union with Greece overthrew and tried to kill Makarios, but he escaped. Turkish troops landed in northern Cyprus and the two nations were on the verge of war. The coup and the Athens junta collapsed, but Turkish forces remained on the northern half of the island.

The situation was at a stalemate: the island was divided along ethnic and national lines, directly through the capital city of Nicosia.

In 1983 the government of Cyprus began EU accession talks.

In 1999 the EU accepted Turkey as a candidate for membership. In New York a new round of UN-brokered peace talks started. The Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides sat in one room while the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash sat in another.

2001

The year 2001 brought significant strides on the road to peace. Coupled with the prospects of entering the EU, both sides were willing to negotiate.

On June 6 Denktash said Cyprus’s prospective EU membership would upset power balances in the East Mediterranean.

On November 4 the Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Ankara could "annex" northern Cyprus if the island’s internationally recognized Greek-dominated government becomes an EU member.

On November 9 Denktash called for a "heart-to-heart" meeting with Clerides to head off any eventual crisis over the future of the island in the event of EU membership.

On November 12 Greece said there could be no EU expansion without Cyprus.

Three days later Clerides agreed to meet with Denktash.

Finally on December 4 the two sides came together in Nicosia and announced the resumption of direct talks in mid January 2002.

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