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Cyprus reunification referendum, 2004
The two sectors of the divided island of Cyprus held a referendum on reunification on Saturday 24 April 2004. Voters in the Greek Republic of Cyprus (whose claim to sovereignty over the entire island is almost universally acknowledged) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (a breakaway state created following the Greek coup d'état and Turkish invasion of 1974 and recognised solely by Turkey) were asked to choose between ratifying or rejecting a United Nations proposal for reunification, the "Annan Plan".
|Areas of the Republic of Cyprus||Yes||No||Turnout|
|Occupied areas (Turkish Cypriots and illegal Turkish colonists)||64.90%||35.09%||87%|
|Free areas (Greek, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots)||24.17%||75.83%||88%|
|Legitimate Republic of Cyprus Citizens||Yes||No||% of Voters|
|Occupied areas (estimated Turkish Cypriots)||50,500||14,700||40%|
|Free areas (Greek, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots)||99,976||313,704||100%|
|Total legitimate ballots in free and occupied areas||150,500||328,500|
|Total legitimate ballots in free and occupied areas||30%||70%|
Since the Greek sector failed to ratify and implementation of the plan was dependent on its approval by both communities, the Annan Plan became null and void. That meant that, while officially the whole of Cyprus entered the European Union on 1 May 2004, the de facto EU border runs along the Green Line, dividing the country between the free and occupied areas. EU law is currently not applied in the Turkish controlled north. Had the plan been ratified by both sides, Cyprus would have entered the EU as the United Cyprus Republic and the Cyprus Issue would have remained unresolved in the long term since the Greek Cypriots would have had no other choice but to sue their own government in the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the Annan Plan did not provide immediate redress (1) and violated most articles of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Reasons for rejection
The main reason for the 75% "No" vote among Greek Cypriots in the referendum was the general perception that the Annan Plan was "unbalanced" and "excessively pro-Turkish" as well as being contrary to the EU Acquis and most human rights and democratic norms. Tassos Papadopoulos, President of the Republic of Cyprus, was openly against the plan and made his opinion known to the people of Cyprus through a national TV speech which brought tears to his eyes because he felt betrayed by the UN Secretary General. Two days before the referendums, Cyprus's biggest party, AKEL, decided to reject the Annan Plan because of its perceived bias. Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis decided to maintain a "neutral" position over the plan, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan endorsed it. The Prime Minister of Turkish Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, was also in favour of the plan's acceptance, while the president, Rauf Denktash, actively advocated a no vote.
In addition, perceptions of pressure from the US, the EU, the United Nations and by great part of the Greek political opposition, namely the PASOK party and its leader George Papandreou, also had a negative effect. Mr. Papandreou gave a TV speech directed to Cypriot People before the Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos did, which was considered unacceptable and provoking by a large part of the community.
Irrespective of this most Greek Cypriots had already made up their minds to reject the plan from the day it was first announced in 2002 (according to the House of Common Foreign Affairs Committee) since they knew it meant Cyprus would be permanently partitioned. Opinion poll's conducted over the entire period of the negotiations from start to finish had always shown around 80% opposition.
There were reservations over the fate of property or humanitarian disputes, which could no longer be brought before an International Court according to the plan, but would have to be settled by a third party set by the warrant forces. An embargo on weapon imports to the Greek Cypriot side, until the Turkish Cypriot side would be able to fully support itself also caused reservations among Greek Cypriots, in part because it didn't apply to the Turkish forces.
On top of this the finalised plan was not even made public until 24 hours before the referendum was due to take place so everyone was voting on something they had not even seen and whose consequences could not by fully analysed.
On the Turkish side, the Grey Wolves (a Turkish right-wing nationalist group belonging to the MHP nationalist party) actively advocated a no vote. There were some limited riots caused by the Grey Wolves party activists against yes supporters during the pre-vote period. At least 50 such activists had arrived in northern Cyprus during the pre-voting period.
Kofi Annan is reported to have confessed to Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos in private that he had deliberately tailored his plan to be acceptable to Turkey so that the Turkish Cypriots (and Turkish colonists) would be more likely to accept it, thus he was deliberately ignoring legitimate Greek Cypriot concerns for the sake of misguided political expediency.
Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktash responded to the referendum outcome by declaring that, with the Annan Plan rejected, his "no" campaign had reached its objective. He rejected calls for his immediate resignation, but announced the following month that he would not be standing for a fifth presidential term in 2005. His Greek Cypriot counterpart, Tassos Papadopoulos, emphasised that his people had rejected just the Annan plan and not all solutions to the Cyprus problem. "They are not turning their backs on their Turkish Cypriot compatriots," he said soon after the results were declared. "They have simply rejected this particular solution on offer."
There was varied reaction from Cyprus's Guarantor Powers, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he believed the result spelled an end for Turkish Cypriot isolation, and that by rejecting the Annan Plan, "southern Cyprus (was) the loser". A spokesman for the Greek government stressed that efforts to reunite Cyprus should not be halted, pointing out that in the EU framework it is "in the interest of everyone to continue efforts to reconcile Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots".
The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, "We will respect the choice which Greek Cypriots have expressed today. But I hope that they will continue to reflect on whether this choice is the right one for them." The general international reaction to the result was similar to that of Britain: one of deep disappointment, particularly among those bodies that had worked on the Annan Plan and on EU accession arrangments.
- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan: A unique and historic chance to resolve the Cyprus problem has been missed.
- European Commission: The European Commission deeply regrets that the Greek Cypriot community did not approve the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, but it respects the democratic decision of the people.
- US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher: We are disappointed that a majority of Greek Cypriots voted against the settlement plan. Failure of the referendum in the Greek Cypriot community is a setback to the hopes of those on the island who voted for the settlement and to the international community.
- European Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen: I feel cheated by the Greek Cypriot government... There is a shadow now over the accession of Cyprus. What we will seriously consider now is finding a way to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.
- UN Special Envoy Álvaro de Soto: This evening I'm biting my tongue.
Developments Justifying Rejection
(1) On 6 April 2005 the European Court of Human Rights decided that, "even the adoption of the plan would not have afforded immediate redress" of the Greek Cypriots property rights.
Loukis Loukaides the Cypriot judge on the European Court of Human Rights, has since called on the Greek Cypriot political leaders to stop backing the Annan Plan as a basis for negotiations, because its basic philosophy violates fundamental human rights and the EU acquis. (Cyprus Weekly 15 April 2005)
He recomends the following action be taken:
1 - The drafting of an official information bulletin on the violation of the EU acquis by the Annan Plan.
2 - To declare clearly that the Plan is incompatible with the European Human Rights Charter and other International Human Rights Treaties, which are already binding on us and also as a result of our EU accession.
3 - To cease at last to refer to the Annan Plan as a basis for a settlement, or negotiations. So long as this continues, foreign officials and organisations that could assist us achieve a good settlement, will not do so.
- The Annan plan: text and commentary from the UN
- No to the Annan Plan: campaign against the Annan Plan
- Oxi sto Sxedio Anan: campaign against the Annan Plan in Greek
- The UN Annan Plan Proposal For the settlement of the Cyprus question: legal analysis of the Annan Plan
- BBC News: prior to the vote
- BBC News: results coverage
- UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Press Release
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