“Reunification”: does this term apply to the Cyprus case?

FILE PHOTO: Ο Γενικός Γραμματέας των Ηνωμένων Εθνών, Μπαν Κι-μουν, ο Πρόεδρος της Δημοκρατίας Νίκος Αναστασιάδης, ο κατοχικός ηγέτης Μουσταφά Ακιντζί και ο κ. 'Αιντα στο ελβετικό θέρετρο Μοντ Πελεράν. Φωτογραφία Αρχείου, ΚΥΠΕ, ΚΑΤΙΑ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΔΟΥΛΟΥ

By Nicholas A. Ioannides


Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the term “reunification” was utilised in order to describe the new state of affairs in Germany. Undoubtedly, the termination of the long-standing division of the country was a landmark for Europe and the international community as a whole for it coincided with the end of the Cold War.

This development was, also, significant for the German citizens who had been deprived of the right to live in a united state and had been separated from friends and relatives for decades. Against this background, the term “reunification” entered the public discourse in Cyprus over the Cyprus Problem owing to the similarities, so the argument goes, between the cases of Germany and Cyprus. Of course, Germany was divided as Cyprus has been for the last 42 years; nevertheless, the factors generating division in these two states are totally different. Furthermore, according to the clauses of the pertinent treaty, the reversion of Germany to the status of a unitary state was far from being “reunification”. This brief piece examines the use of the term “reunification” with respect to both Germany and Cyprus explaining why this language does not apply when it comes to the resolution of the Cyprus Problem.

The German paradigm and Cyprus

In the aftermath of World War Two, Germany came under the administration of the Allied Powers -USA, UK, France and USSR- exercising jurisdiction jointly over Germany as a whole and separately over a Zone of Occupation under each state’s control. Nonetheless, a few years later this quadripartite government fell apart and the Western Allies (USA, UK and France) established the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in the territories under their administration in May 1949. A few months later, in October 1949, the Soviet Union created the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in its own Zone. These actions signaled the commencement of a protracted period of tension among the aforementioned powers, deteriorated by the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Notwithstanding the complicated statehood issues, both German entities were recognised as separate states and were admitted to membership in the United Nations in 1973.

Eventually, the division of Germany came to an end by virtue of the Treaty on the Establishment of German Unity (31 August 1990). Article 1 of the Treaty provides for the accession of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Hence, it is clear that no “reunification” took place in Germany, but, conversely, the German Democratic Republic was integrated into the Federal Republic of Germany so as to form a unitary state. A point confirming that there was no “reunification” is the fact that the post-Cold

War German state has retained the name of what once was West Germany, namely the Federal Republic of Germany. It is also, noteworthy that although both German entities were internationally recognised and member states of the United Nations, the united state of Germany was not a result of “reunification” and/or the establishment of a partnership by two independent states. What actually happened, as explained above, was the integration of the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany and the subsequent elimination of the international personality of the former. Therefore, from a legal perspective, the usage of the term “reunification” in respect of the procedure that led to the creation of the contemporary German state is mistaken and misleading.

Bearing in mind the above, it is difficult to perceive how the term “reunification” could be applicable to the case of Cyprus. Following the illegal military invasion of Cyprus in 1974 the northern part of the island has ever since been occupied by Turkey, which in 1983 established a “puppet state” in there, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). With respect to the international law aspect of the aforementioned Turkish actions, it is necessary to mention that, among others, the illegal military invasion was in breach of Article 2(4) UN Charter on the prohibition of the use of force, while the implantation of settlers transferred to Cyprus by mainland Turkey constitutes a war crime according to Article 49(6) IV Vienna Convention 1949 and Article 8(2)(viii) International Criminal Court Statute.

Given that the two independent German states were not “reunited”, but the one was absorbed by the other, it does not seem rational to talk about “reunification” between a sovereign state (Republic of Cyprus) and part of its territory which is under military occupation by another state. On the contrary, the solution plan should envisage full withdrawal of the Occupying Power (Turkey) and restitution of the sovereign powers of the Republic of Cyprus over the entire island. Thus, it would be more appropriate to speak of dismantlement of the secessionist “TRNC” and reintegration of the occupied territories into the Republic of Cyprus.


As expectations are high that the ongoing negotiations for the resolution of the Cyprus Problem will eventually result in an agreement, the Cypriot people and the international community should not be disillusioned. The Cyprus Problem is not merely a bicommunal strife; it is about the illegal military invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, the ensuing belligerent occupation, the expulsion of the local population from their homes, the implantation of Turkish settlers and the establishment of a breakaway regime in northern Cyprus. Taking into account the example of Germany, it is misleading to use the word “reunification” when it comes to the settlement of the Cyprus Problem. Insistence on the usage of the term “reunification”, either wanton or inadvertent, contributes to the concealment of the responsibilities and the cover up of the international crimes committed by Turkey in Cyprus. If the Cypriots truly desire to achieve a just and viable solution they need to seek departure of the Turkish troops and settlers as well as reintegration of the occupied areas into the Republic of Cyprus.

  • International lawyer
  • PhD candidate in Public International Law (University of Bristol)


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