External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Cyprus on December 29-31 last year. His visit further cemented India’s close ties with this Mediterranean island nation since it achieved independence from Britain in 1960. Jaishankar met a number of Cypriot dignitaries but his principal discussions were with his counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) noted, in a media release, on January 3, “Both Ministers appreciated the excellent bilateral relations and close cooperation between India and Cyprus”. The Ministry went on to add “Both sides undertook a detailed review of bilateral ties, including political, economic, commercial and cultural relations. They also exchanged views on India-EU relations, regional as well as international issues of mutual interest”.
MEA’s media release mentions only three specific issues on which some concrete results were achieved: an MOU on Defence and Military Cooperation, a Declaration of Intent on Migration and Mobility and Cyprus’s decision to join the International Solar Alliance. The Defence and Military Cooperation MOU and the Declaration on Migration and Mobility require are interesting developments and deserve comment.
In December last year Cypriot Defence Minister Charalambos Petrides told the press that his country had developed “defence and security cooperation, including partnerships with the UK and US military”. According to Petrides, the objects of these Cypriot decisions were to “protect itself from increased Turkish provocations and asymmetric threats”. In addition the Cypriot minister also disclosed that his country had developed “bilateral and trilateral cooperation in the field of defence and security with 16 regional and European countries”. The India-Cyprus MOU of Defence and Military Cooperation is obviously a Cypriot initiative which has met with a positive Indian response. Prima facie, it seems to be really a political gesture because there is little that India could really add to Cypriot defences though it could offer training to Cypriot military officers and gain access to Cyprus ports for its naval vessels under the MOU.
The Defence and Miliary Cooperation MOU should also be seen in the light of Jaishankar’s reiteration of support for Cypriot positions on its relations with Turkey. The Indian EAM said a joint press conference, after his meeting with Kasoulides “I take this opportunity to once again reiterate our principled position on the Cyprus issue. The Republic of India reiterates its commitment for a Bi-communal, Bi-zonal federation based on UN Resolutions as the solution to the Cyprus issue”. In this context the MOU is a signal to Turkey which has traditionally has had a strong relationship with Pakistan and, in recent years, has articulated its support for Pakistani positions on sensitive issues. It is pertinent to note that India and Turkey have been on opposite sides on the Cyprus issue.
The problems in Cyprus are nowhere near resolution; they are rooted in history and are one of the continuing conflicts from the period of European colonialism. Cyprus was acquired by the British from the Ottoman empire in 1878. It was initially treated as a ‘protectorate’ but once the Ottomans entered the First World War as German allies the British first placed Cyprus under military occupation and thereafter in 1925 made it a Crown Colony. The majority of Cypriots were of Greek extraction and wanted Cyprus to be merged with Greece. However, Cypriots with Turkish roots naturally opposed such a move. The British also did not favour Cyprus to join Greece. The island gained independence in 1960 under a UN plan which provided for a power sharing arrangement between the Greek and Turkish communities. Archbishop Makarios became the President of Cyprus. He was committed to a united Cyprus. He developed close ties with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who like him was opposed to the division of countries on religious grounds. Violence between the Greek and Turkish communities continued and a UN peace keeping force was stationed in Cyprus in 1964 when all Turkish Cypriot members of the government resigned. The communal conflict did not abate.
Meanwhile Greece and Turkey, both NATO countries, kept up support for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots respectively. Greece, under the rule of the army, precipitated matters in 1974 when it supported a coup d’état that overthrew the President. The Turks responded by invading the island in July 1974 and effectively Cyprus got partitioned with the creation of a Northern area and a buffer zone. Movements of Turkish Cypriots from the Cypriot Greek majority areas to the Turkish zone and of Greek Cypriots living on the Turkish side of the island to the Greek majority areas took place. No country, except Turkey, has recognised the Turkish part as an independent entity. Talks have taken place from time to time between Cyprus and the Turkish entity but there has been no resolution. India has all along been for a united if federal Cyprus. The island country is a member of the European Union and will ensure that Turkey’s ambition, though weak and latent now, will not be achieved so long as the Cyprus problem continues to be unresolved.
Europe has become very sensitive to illegal migration which has taken place in large numbers from conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan especially over the past decade. Human traffickers also take Indians to European countries. These countries want that India should speed up the process of confirming the nationality of illegal Indian migrants and also be readily willing to take them back. The Migration and Mobility Declarations which India is signing with some European countries are designed to help this process. In return India has to ensure that its legal migrants which consist of professionals and skilled and semi-skilled persons who go to these countries are given a fair deal. This has not often happened. Also, India should show greater interest in the welfare of the Roma people in Europe who are of Indian origin.