The Pyla crisis in Cyprus from a ex-diplomat’s perspective

The Pyla crisis in Cyprus from a ex-diplomat’s perspective
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UNSC Resolution 186 remains a cornerstone of this conflict. Whether one views it as right or wrong, it underlines the intricate dance of international relations and the enduring complexities of the Cyprus situation.

By Engin Solakoglu

International law's very existence and definition is a topic of much debate. A prominent testament to its existence is the United Nations (UN), an embodiment of the global order post-World War II. The most significant arm of the UN, with the power to make semi-binding resolutions, is the UN Security Council (UNSC). A fact often reiterated is that the UNSC consists of five permanent members: The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, the People's Republic of China, and France. These nations hold veto power, effectively allowing them to block any UNSC resolution that goes against their interests. The ten additional countries, elected biennially based on continental groupings, often hold a more symbolic role.

A significant authority vested in the UNSC is the deployment of peacekeeping forces. Comprising military troops from volunteering nations, these peacekeepers are dispatched to conflict areas with varying powers, contingent on the consensus of the five permanent members.

Though considered mundane by some, the conflict in Cyprus is a topic that doesn't quite resonate with many in Turkey. When Cyprus is brought up, it typically conjures two main themes in Turkey: conquest and gambling. But the narrative is much deeper, encompassing land rights issues, territorial disputes, and a complex history of negotiations and confrontations between the Turks and Greeks.

Contrary to popular belief, Cyprus is not merely divided between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. The United Kingdom also holds territories on the island known as Sovereign Base Areas. Additionally, the UN Peacekeeping Force controls a portion of the island, the Buffer Zone or the Green Line. The British Bases control 256 km2 of land, approximately 3% of the island's total area. There are nations in the world that cover less ground than this. The UN Peacekeeping Force (UNPROFOR)-controlled region, sometimes called the Buffer Zone and the Green Line, is the fourth sovereign territory after the Republic of Cyprus, the north, and the British bases. It is between 4 meters and 7 kilometers wide and 180 kilometers long.

Our story takes place in one of the British bases, in the Dhekelia (Dikelya) base area. The village of Pile is in this area. Legally, it is not in the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, nor is it in the territory of the (internationally unrecognized) TRNC. The village of Pyle is within the Dhekelia area, but it is also a buffer zone. In other words, it is under the control of the UN Security Forces. The village is the only settlement on the island where two peoples live side by side with their separate ethnic and legal identities. Pyla frequently makes headlines in Cyprus, primarily due to localized disputes that occasionally escalate, fueled by the nationalist media on both sides.

The recent dispute revolves around a roadway connecting the villages of Pergamos (Bergman, Beyarmudu) and Pyle. While the Greek Cypriot side expanded its portion of the road over time, the Turkish Cypriot side's request for expansion has faced hurdles. Despite its seemingly technical nature, this road dispute highlights the complexities of international diplomacy, power dynamics, and historical context.

According to what I have read, the TRNC officials requested that this route pass through the buffer zone, but they did not obtain a favorable response. There could be several technical reasons for this attitude, although I am unfamiliar with them. First, Greek Cypriots raised objections on the absurd grounds that "the road will be used for military purposes." The second is that the UNSC, to which the Peace Force is affiliated, has not decided on the matter or has done so ineffectively. This needs clarification.

Let's go back to our introduction. No resolution may be adopted or carried out without the approval of the UNSC's five permanent members. What might be the cause of this perception of the TRNC, then? First, it seems doubtful that the Pyla-Pergamos route will rank highly on the priority of the five nations, who are currently quite busy stumbling over one another around the globe. The truth could occasionally be difficult and depressing, but it is not.

Cyprus's history is filled with pivotal moments, including the event known as Bloody Christmas in 1963, leading to the establishment of a Peacekeeping Force. Despite the changing members of the UNSC over the years, its stance on Cyprus remains unchanged.

The UNSC convened over the events of Bloody Christmas and adopted a resolution on March 4, 1964, to send a Peace Force to Cyprus. The number of the resolution is 186. Resolution 186 has three interlocutors: Greece, Turkey, and the Republic of Cyprus, from which the Turkish Cypriots withdrew or were expelled (the result remains the same). Resolution 186 is the concrete document under international law that the UNSC recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as the representative government of the entire island. From then on, the official interlocutor of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus is the Republic of Cyprus, which has lost its status as a partnership but continues its legal existence. Therefore, the extension of the Peacekeeping Force's mandate is subject to the UNSC resolution and the approval of the Republic of Cyprus. It is also for this reason that every time this decision, which was taken every six months until recently and recently once a year, is announced, the TRNC and the Republic of Turkey make a statement and criticize the lack of approval of the Turkish Cypriot side for the extension with stereotypical expressions.

This is the essence of the fight over the Pyla road. The UN Peacekeeping Force is not obliged to consider the demands and decisions of the TRNC. This means that the two administrations are not equal in the eyes of the UN, and the source of this is UNSC Resolution 186. Therefore, the "they discriminate against us" argument is only a distraction for domestic consumption.

In conclusion, the Cyprus issue isn't merely about roads or territorial disputes; it's about international law, diplomacy, and the deep-seated history between the involved parties. UNSC Resolution 186 remains a cornerstone of this conflict. Whether one views it as right or wrong, it underlines the intricate dance of international relations and the enduring complexities of the Cyprus situation.

*On August 28, 2023, the article appeared on Haber Sol in Turkish. It has been condensed following the original and translated into English for Gerceknews.