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Cyprus Leaders Reach Truce

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February 16, 2004

The leaders of Cyprus’s two presidents have agreed to a United Nations plan to reunite into one country in time for the island’s entry into the European Union, on May 1.

The deal, brokered by Secretary General Kofi Annan, would end nearly 40 years of war between Greece and Turkey, both of which have claimed parts of the island. Tassos Papadopoulous, the president of the Greek part of Cyprus, and Rauf Denktash, the president of the Turkish part of Cyprus, have announced their support for the plan.

The plan calls for both sides to agree to a timetable for holding island-wide votes for reunification in April. If an agreement cannot be reached, then Greece and Turkey themselves will step in. If all else fails, then Annan has the power as Secretary General to make the necessary changes.

The island has gone through many ownership changes through the years. It was first known to be ruled by the Hittites and then the Greeks and Egyptians. The heirs of Alexander the Great ruled the island until Roman rule inserted itself into the Aegean as well as the Mediterranean area.

Cyprus was part of the Byzantine Empire for a very long time but found itself geographically at the center of the medieval struggle between Christianity and Islam. Beginning in 1571, the island was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, which handed it over to Great Britain in 1878. The title of British colony remained until 1960, when the Republic of Cyprus was formed.

Trouble loomed from the start, however, with the natural division of Greek and Turkish communities threatening harmony. The republic lasted only a short time. The gravest threat to all-out war came in 1974, when Greek soldiers tried to overthrow the government. Turkey sent in troops as well, and only intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the promise of the divided island averted war. After that, the island was carved into two pieces, the Turkish-Cypriot North and the Greek-Cypriot South.

The current agreement had its beginnings in 1989, when the Greek part of Cyprus petitioned to join the European Union. The Turkish part of the island wanted to get on the EU bandwagon as well, which led to what has come to be called “the Annan plan.” If it succeeds, Cyprus—one country, not two—will be the EU’s first Muslim nation.

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