The Referendum for the Annan Plan in the Turkish Cypriot Community


On 11 November 2002, the Secretary General of the United Nations handed to the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides a comprehensive plan for the settlement of the Cyprus Problem. The plan was labeled as The Annan Plan, named after Kofi Annan the then SG of the UN. This was the first ever plan that sought to address every detail in its 9000 pages, with only some left to be agreed and filled. It was based on talks in tens of meetings that took place in Nicosia, involving the two community leaders Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash.

The Annan Plan was an attempt on behalf of the international community to achieve a settlement, in par with the accession of Cyprus to the European Union in May 2004. Efforts were unfolding in parallel to the process of enlargement of the European Union with ten new members, Cyprus and Malta along with eight central and eastern European former communist countries. Specific deadlines lay ahead, first the European Council summit in Copenhagen, on 12 December 2002, when final decisions on enlargement were to be taken and then on 16 April 2003, the date the signing of the agreement between the EU and the candidate-countries.

UN efforts for an agreement both in December 2002 and in the Hague on 11 March 2003 failed because the Turkish side stated they were not ready to decide on the Plan.

In the meantime, in Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, with his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP), won the elections and became Prime Minister at the time the UN plan was presented. In the Republic of Cyprus, presidential elections and eventual a change of government was expected in February 2003. Indeed, a broad coalition supported and elected Tassos Papadopoulos to the presidency, defeating the moderate Glafcos Clerides, who sought re-election for a period of only 16 months in order to ensure an agreement on the Plan.

Kofi Annan arrived in Cyprus on 26 February 2003, in an effort to keep the momentum, with an amended version of the UN Plan. He met with the leaders of the two communities and continued his efforts in the Hague some days later, but to no avail. New president Tassos Papadopoulos said there that he was ready to sign provided that some gaps were filled, and clarified he had no intention to open again important issues. The Turkish side said it was not ready to accept the Plan, as they had serious objections to important provisions.

On 16 April 2003, in Athens, Papadopoulos signed Cyprus’ accession agreement and from thereon, it seemed as there were no chances for reviving the Plan. The rest of the year 2003 did not present any significant development in respect of the Plan, with the Greek Cypriot side doing nothing about it, while, in the Turkish Cypriot community, NGOs and political parties continued efforts to inform people about the Plan’s provisions and the benefits in accepting it.

In December 2003 and on 1st February 2004 Tayyip Erdogan visited Brussels; in early January 2004 he visited Germany and during the last week of January 2004 he visited the United States. For the first time, the long standing Turkish position on the Cyprus Problem that this had been settled following the invasion of the Turkish Army in summer 1974 shifted and Turkey appeared ready to seek a settlement. Efforts to promote the Annan Plan were suddenly revived when the UN Secretary General invited the parties involved to New York on 10 February 2004, where after intense negotiations it was agreed that the two community leaders would engage in intense negotiations in Nicosia from 19 to 22 March to reach an agreement. If these failed they would meet under the auspices of the UN SG in Burgenstock in Switzerland. If by the 31 March no agreement was achieved, the SG would present his final Plan acting as an arbitrator.

Indeed, no agreement, in fact no negotiating process took place and the final, “Annan Plan V” was presented on the night of 31 March to the parties and submitted for approval by the people in separate referendums on 24 April 2004. This was just one week before May 1st the date marked as the accession of Cyprus and the other nine countries to the EU.

The Turkish Cypriot community had already mobilised in favour of the plan with about 90 organizations, including political parties, trade unions, social and other groups rallying together. The first and most dynamic of the groups was the platform ‘This Country is Ours’. It initiated the campaign in favour of a solution and accession to the EU, with massive rallies in late 2002 and early 2003. The conservative forces incited people opposing the United Nations proposed Plan to organize and react. They failed though to gather the support of a significant mass of Turkish Cypriots, drawing mainly on the settlers from Turkey, who feared for their future on the island in the case of a solution. To defuse pressure, the Turkish Cypriot leadership in an unexpected and radical move decided to lift movement restrictions across the dividing line, on 23 April 2003, one week after the signing of the accession agreement in Athens.

Among political parties, CTP (Cumhuriyet Turk Partisi—Republican Turkish Party) of Mehmet Ali Talat was the first to take a positive attitude on 6 April. Talat stated the plan was the ideal and optimum the Turkish side could get and he appealed for a ‘Yes’ vote, ‘for Turkish Cypriots and for Turkey’, because it would guarantee the political equality and sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriots.

The BDP (Baris ve Demokrasi Hareketi—Movement for Peace and Democracy) was founded in June 2003 to support a solution and accession of all Cypriots to the EU. Political parties, trade unions and other organizations joined forces under Mustafa Akinci, former leader of the Communal Liberation Party. Within weeks, the movement organized as a party and secured 13 per cent of the vote in the December 2003 elections. Consistent with its basic values, it supported the Plan. The TKP (Toplumcu Kurtulus Partisi—Communal Liberation Party), the second important pole of the left-wing forces, was one of the BDP’s partners.

The CABP (Cozum ve Avrupa Birligi Partisi—Solution and European Union Party) appeared with the same spirit and goals as the Movement for Peace and Democracy, in September 2003.

CTP’s partner in government, the conservative DP (Demokrat Parti—Democratic Party) appeared very hesitant from the start. On 16 April, the party decided to reject the plan, but its leader Serdar Denktash, son of the community leader Rauf Denktash, claiming ‘low participation’ in the vote, called on the party supporters to consult their conscience prior to their choice. He stated his neutral position would protect his father from those willing to harm him.

The conservative and nationalist UBP (Ulusal Birlik Partisi—National Unity Party) of Dervis Eroglu had been in power for most of the period since its foundation by Rauf Denktash in 1975. The party supported the position adopted by Ankara since summer 1974, claiming that the Cyprus problem had been solved with the intervention of the Turkish Army. The UBP consistently opposed the UN proposals. It initiated the organization of rallies and meetings against the Plan and its decision, on 7 April, to say ‘No’, came as no surprise.

In the second semester of 2003, more conservative-nationalist formations made their appearance: the ABP (Adalet ve Baris Partisi—Justice and Peace Party) and the KAP—(Kibris Adalet Partisi—Justice for Cyprus Party). The ABP was the product of the merger of tiny nationalist parties, while the KAP’s founder was a veteran colonel of the Turkish Army, a factor that enabled it to ensure about 8 per cent of the settler vote and an overall share of 3.2 per cent. The two parties opposed the Annan Plan, with the KAP considering Cyprus to be territory of ‘motherland Turkey’.

The campaign was short in duration, hardly three weeks long, given that some days passed to allow parties to position themselves on the plan and organize.

The Referendum outcome was a ‘Yes’ vote by 65%, with abstention at 15.7%. The highest score in favour of the Plan was in the town of Nicosia (71.2%) and in communities that have been inhabited by Turkish Cypriots before the segregation of populations in 1963 and 1974 (70.9%). The group of communities with exclusively settler population voted against the Plan (40.7% ‘Yes’ vote). Interestingly, communities with mixed population, i.e. Turkish Cypriots coming from the south and settlers, voted ‘Yes’ at a rate ranging from 56.6% to 64.2%. The ‘Yes’ vote in Famagusta town was 63.3%. The lowest abstention rate was in communities with population displaced from the south (13.5%) and the highest in Famagusta town with 16.7%.

In contrast the Greek Cypriot community rejected the Plan with 76% voting ‘No’.