The Majority-Minority Issue: The Essence of the Cyprus Problem

If there is a single factor we can identify as the main reason behind the “Cyprus Problem”, it’s not the existence of two different communities on the island; it’s rather the degree of difference between the populations.

The undoubted reason behind the Greek Cypriot dissatisfaction with the 1960 Constitution was the amount of rights given to the Turkish Cypriot community. The dominant argument of the era was that Turkish Cypriots had taken a disproportionate share of the state in comparison with their population and this was causing functionality issues for the state. The 13 constitutional amendment proposals of President Makarios aimed at correcting this perceived functionality issue by reducing the constitutional rights of Turkish Cypriots.

Based on the Zurich-London Agreements of 1959, an asymmetric power sharing was the backbone of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots were given 3 out of the 10 ministries, 30% of the positions in the public sector and the same percentage of the seats in the parliament.

If the number of Turkish Cypriots were less,

making up 10% or less of the total population, then the “minority status”, as it is defined by Greek Cypriot nationalists, would not be debated. Turkish Cypriots would not have any collective rights apart from the individual citizens’ rights. If we were talking about a 50:50 ratio, then a natural balance would emerge which could either lead to a successful, uncontroversial federal system or even a mutually-accepted division.

However, the 20:80 ratio presents a problematic situation between the “too little” or “big enough”. Being somewhere in the middle, this ratio allows Greek Cypriots to argue that this number is too small for Turkish Cypriots to be considered as politically equal as a community. On the other hand, Turkish Cypriots are faced with the limitation that their population is simply not big enough to justify a 50% demand from a federal system. That’s essentially the reason why the official demands seem difficult to bridge.

Obviously, governments of Turkey have been well aware of their potential weakness in terms of population size in supposedly claiming rights for Turkish Cypriots. The policy of populating the northern part with settlers and fiercely defending their existence on the island indefinitely at the negotiations, was designed to overcome the ratio problem.

On the other hand, many people within the Greek Cypriot community, including mainstream politicians, have the misconception that being the majority entitles them to “be the boss” on the island. This view completely disregards, deliberately or out of ignorance, the legitimate will of Turkish Cypriots for self-governance. Opponents of this view fail to understand that their insistence on a unitary solution model will never be accepted even by pro-reunification Turkish Cypriots.

The key to a successful solution lies in a formula that not only acknowledges the Greek Cypriots as the majority, but also addresses the security concerns of the Turkish Cypriot community that is rooted in the population ratio, which cannot be altered by legitimate means.

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