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The Orphan Peace Plan: Kofi Annan's Proposal For a Reunited Cyprus



Ann-Sofi Jakobsson Hatay

TFF associate

The Turkish Daily News, 9 December 2002


According to one theory, parties engaged in protracted conflicts are so habituated to conflict that only a shock can induce the reorientations necessary for peacemaking. Whether or not the UNSG Kofi Annan was inspired by this notion when he tabled his recent outline for a settlement of the Cyprus conflict in all its complexities is unknown. Nor is it clear whether or not the rapid dissemination of the "Annan-plan" among the public that followed was intentional or resulted from unauthorized leaks. What is clear, however, is that the peace plan, Basis for Agreement on a Comprehensive Settlement of the Cyprus Problem, dropped like a bombshell on the divided island, sending shock waves through the two communities.

Presented to the parties on 11 November, together with a tight deadline, Annan's outline instilled a sense of urgency into a situation that ten months after the resumption of peace negotiations (in mid-January 2002) had slipped into a familiar deadlock.

The first stage of 'the solution', as it was called, was to be completed with the signature by the two leaders (Greek and Turkish Cypriot presidents Clerides and Denktash) of a Foundation Agreement, including the main articles of a constitution for a new Cyprus and a map delineating the boundary between its two 'component states'. The signing was to take place prior to the upcoming European Council meeting in Copenhagen (12-13 December). The final agreement would then be signed by the leaders 'not later than 28 February 2003' and be put to simultaneous referenda on both sides on 30 March 2003. In the meantime, the EU would have been saved from having to deal with the admittance of a still divided Cyprus as one of the new member states, a prospect that has given rise to considerable concern within the union.

Initially the parties were asked by Annan only to consider whether or not the outline constituted 'an acceptable basis for continuing negotiations', and return their replies within a week. Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, however, the proposal had strong undertones of a take-it-or-leave-it-offer, further reinforced by all those who had played a pivotal role in putting the plan together, whether centre stage (like the UNSG himself and his aide Alvaro de Soto) or on the sidelines (like US and UK 'special Cyprus representatives' Thomas Weston and Lord David Hannay). They all now appeared on stage, unisonly voicing the message that the parties had been offered a window of opportunity that would soon close. The refusal to engage in speculations about what the consequences would be if the parties failed to reach an agreement ahead of the EU summit was universal. As far as they were concerned, a plan B did not exist. In the meantime, Greek and Turkish Cypriots could be seen wandering around with the plan, downloaded from the Internet, in their hands, trying to understand its contents, the looks on their faces serious and puzzled.

If the plan indeed had been intended for public consumption at this stage of the peace process, the presentation of it to a wider audience had been completely overlooked. The document is of considerable length (145 pages), its text full of details (down to the holidays to be observed in the new Cyprus) and dense with legal intricacies and creative ambiguities. Even those possessing an adequate command of English &endash; although widely spoken on the island the mother tongue of neither community &endash; could be excused for failing to see the woods for all the trees.

It is therefore understandable that the initial discussions centred on the more easily accessible alternative maps that accompanied the plan. Territorial distribution being one of the most contested issues in the conflict, the maps were guaranteed to provide enough fuel for heated and bitter debate, particularly among those who either found themselves on the 'wrong' side of the demarcation line between the two 'component states', thus facing the prospect of having to leave their current dwellings, or those who would not &endash; as they had been repeatedly promised over the years by politicians eager for their votes &endash; be able to return to settlements they had had to leave as a result of the conflict. Offering visual clarity to the text's verbal cloudiness, the maps gave all Cypriots a glimpse of what the Annan plan might mean for them personally.

On both sides, the newspapers were quick to move in to fill the information gap left by the plan's masterminds. Offering their own translations of extracts of the plan, they predictably picked its most controversial elements. So when the plan finally &endash; after almost two weeks &endash; became available in the local languages in its entirety it had already superimposed another division on the divided island: between those who rejected the plan outright and those who were willing to accept it, at least as a basis for further deliberations.

The Greek Cypriots were first to subject the plan to the judgment of public opinion. In a poll commissioned by the Politis newspaper one day (!) after the presentation of plan, 52 per cent said no to further negotiations on the basis of Annan's proposals. 28 per cent said they approved while 20 per cent said that they either did not know or would not give an answer. In a second poll a week later, opposition had increased to 64 per cent.

When the Turkish Cypriots pollsters finally caught up with their Greek Cypriot counterparts, their results showed that Annan's plan had fared somewhat better north of the green line. A poll commissioned by the Ortam newspaper indicated that three weeks after its presentation 52 per cent of the Turkish Cypriots approved of the plan. 40 per cent said that they would vote no in a referendum while 9 per cent were undecided. A third Greek Cypriot poll carried out at the same time showed that the opposition had diminished somewhat: 59 per cent now said that they would vote no.

Meanwhile rejectionists on both sides, usually the more vocal, started to get mobilized. Displaced people unhappy with the prospect of being denied the right of return or with the amount of compensation that could be expected for property left behind, farmers about to lose the land they have been toiling, inhabitants of villages scheduled for 'relocation', made up the backbone of a predictable rejectionist lobby. While Turkish Cypriot sceptics were somewhat subdued by a perceived lack of alternatives to what the Annan plan offered, Greek Cypriot rejectionists, supported also by the influential Greek Orthodox Church, were the more vocal.

Most impressive among the expressions of support for the peace process was a "pro-settlement, pro-EU-membership" rally in northern (Turkish Cypriot) Nicosia on 27 November. Organised by the chamber of commerce, trade unions and other NGOs, the rally &endash; unrivalled in the Greek Cypriot south &endash; attracted 10.000&endash;15.000 people. In the meantime, however, plans were underway among the "Annan-plan-rejectionist" faction of Turkish Cypriot civil society to hold a protest rally (on 10 December) under the banner "Yes to Peace, No to This Plan".

In a rare example of a joint interethnic response, a group of academics from both sides produced a statement welcoming Annan's proposals as something that could lead to «a balanced solution». However, initial reactions indicated that advocates of the plan would indeed face an uphill struggle on both sides in order to secure the popular endorsement envisaged as the climax in Annan's settlement schedule, an example with precedents elsewhere.

Popular endorsement of peace agreements has increasingly been accepted as a crucial element of a peace process. Not only does such endorsement confer popular legitimacy on an agreement reached by political leaders by providing an avenue for expression of consent by those who are to live with it. The requirement of public consent is also believed to have a healthy moderating effect on the preceding peace negotiations. The prospect of having to submit the end-product of negotiation to the public, forces the parties to take also the other side's concerns seriously. Passing the test of public opinion becomes a common interest.

As recent peace processes show, popular endorsement can take several forms. In Northern Ireland, for example, the 1998 Belfast agreement negotiated in (almost) all-party negotiations and signed on Good Friday, was put to the people in a referendum six weeks later.

In an era where conflicts within states are far more numerous than conflicts between states, transition to peace is often accompanied by a simultaneous transition to democracy (South Africa, Mozambique, El Salvador, Guatemala, Cambodia, etc). In such cases, the new state of affairs is endorsed by the people indirectly, by the means of elections to new political institutions.

Irrespectively of the mechanism, however, the outcome has rarely &endash; if ever &endash; been predetermined. Even in favourable circumstances, people's approval generally requires some amount of persuasion.

So, for example, was the yes vote in the Northern Irish referendum preceded by an intensive lobby campaign where the political parties who were signatory to the agreement, together with the British and Irish governments, the Clinton administration, different local interest groups, civil society organisations, and the media. etc.. took it upon themselves to 'sell' the agreement to the public. With only one week to go, opinion polls indicated that the agreement would barely pass the test: 51 per cent said that they were going to vote yes, 24 per cent said no and 24 were still undecided. The campaign was intensified and at the end of the day 71.1 per cent voted in favour of the agreement.

This brings us back to the Annan-plan and its 'delivery' to the Cypriots (and again we do not know whether this was intentional or not). The important point is that while the Belfast agreement was put to the people after it had been endorsed by democratically elected leaders which in itself conferred on it an important element of legitimacy, Annan's plan was subjected to public scrutiny as a draft proposal in all its details before any agreement had been reached among the parties. Not only did this mean that any concessions in the continuing negotiations would be extremely difficult to make for both sides, as they would be there for anyone to see. It also meant that there was no-one there to sell it. And there could not have been at this stage of the peace process. Despite the heavy involvement of external actors in the settlement efforts, local sensitivities towards external interventions and impositions prohibit representatives of the 'international community' from coming out as open advocates of the plan for fear of undermining it. Moreover, the plan had not (yet) received the backing of the two communities' political leadership &endash; their preoccupation at this stage being rather on how to strengthen their own hands in the on-going bargaining game than on endorsing a plan that has unpalatable elements for both sides. And as both sides are hoping to 'improve' the plan to their advantage, anyone who would embrace it at this stage would render themselves vulnerable to accusations of undermining the bargaining position of their respective leaders. Thus, not only was the plan's delivery premature: the timing also ensured that it would be left an orphan.

If, despite the unpropitious circumstances, the plan survives, at the end of the day the peoples of Cyprus will, as they should, be given a chance to have their say. When this day comes, its advocates would do well to consider the following.

Transitions are times of uncertainty and insecurity. Even against a backdrop of a protracted conflict situation that everybody wishes to escape from, the decision to embark on a radical departure into the unknown &endash; in partnership with the former foe &endash; is bound to create considerable agony and distress.

Some concerns may be unfounded, others may be real. But in either case they have to be taken seriously as they otherwise may risk derailing the peace process. Accurate information delivered in a credible and accessible manner may help to dispel some worries. In Northern Ireland, the final peace agreement was delivered to all households ahead of the referendum. This may be an example to follow (provided that the agreement is distributed in the local languages) but the 'lesson learned' from this case is that there is also a need for other communication channels in order to help people make an informed decision: authoritative written summaries of the agreement, public hearings, seminars, videos and workshops may be some.

The Annan plan, if ever implemented albeit in a revised form, will mean a dramatic change in the lives of all Cypriots. These changes will be more painful for some than for others. A lot of people will be asked to leave the house they have been staying in for the last thirty years or to give up the dream of being able to return to a home they were once uprooted from. Somehow they will have to be persuaded to make this sacrifice. Appropriate mechanisms will have to be found to allay such understandable and legitimate concerns.

Ahead of the Northern Irish referendum, it was such painful individual concerns, rather than the constitutional elements of the agreement, that were foremost on people's minds. The prospect of release of prisoners convicted of 'terrorist' offences caused particular distress in a society where no-one had escaped the suffering caused by decades of violent conflict. In order to enlist the support also of the conflict's many victims special efforts were made during the campaign to reach out also to them. Preparations were already underway to establish a 'victims commission' "to look at possible ways to recognise the pain and suffering felt by victims arising from the troubles of the last 30 years".

In Cyprus, the provision of adequate funds for relocation and compensation is likely to play a similar crucial role when it comes to eliciting the support of affected segments of the population. Such funds would help to make a difficult transition smoother. This as of yet unsolved problem will have to be given particular attention in the coming months, that is, if the plan passes the thresholds ahead of it and the orphan finds parents willing to adopt it and able to nurse it.



Ann-Sofi Jakobsson Hatay is a peace and conflict researcher at Uppsala University, Sweden, who specializes in conflict resolution and the study of peace processes. She can be reached at the following email address:




© TFF & the author 2002  


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