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Republic of Cyprus
Historical Overview

Cyprus, owing to its strategic position, was throughout its history colonized by some of the most influential colonial powers in the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1878 Britain was the last power to occupy Cyprus, taking over the island from the Ottoman Empire. The Cypriots, Greeks and Turks alike, had for centuries co-existed peacefully in mixed villages, towns and places of work.

Though the Greek Cypriots had always voiced their demand for national self-determination, it was a demand, which in the pre World War II international environment, the colonial power did not satisfy. Prior to World War II the policy of the leadership of the Turkish Cypriots could be summed up as opposition to the national aspirations of the Greeks. The first party of the Turkish Cypriot community, KATAK (Party for the Protection of the Turkish Minority), formed in 1943, supported the continuation of British colonial rule. The following year witnessed the foundation of the Turkish National Party, which drew its ideological inspiration from the Turkish Republic.

What came to be known as the Cyprus Problem appeared in the early post World War II years, which inaugurated the universal demand for self-determination and the ensuing crisis of the colonial system. In 1955, when all their demands for self-determination were ignored, the Greek Cypriots embarked upon a militant struggle to free the country from colonial rule. The British Government, unable to face the national liberation movement in Cyprus, began to exploit the Turkish factor and encouraged the intervention of Ankara. Turkey's declared policy toward Cyprus, which had until the early fifties been one of support toward the colonial status quo, began to shift toward a policy of partition of the island along ethnic lines.

What is more, officers from Turkey helped establish Turkish Cypriot clandestine organizations,Volkan and subsequently TMT. Their members were recruited primarily from the ranks of the paramilitary security force formed by the colonial administration and made up exclusively by Turkish Cypriots, for the purpose of fighting the Greek national movement. Aiming toward total influence amongst the Turkish Cypriots the TMT waged a campaign of murderous terror against their co-nationals in the Trade Unions, the major institutions in which members of the two communities co-operated for common social and political causes. The TMT leadership therefore sought conflict with the Greeks as the strategy for partition.

In 1958, following the eruption of intercommunal clashes and the proposal of a partitionist plan by the British Government the Greek national movement, led by Archbishop Makarios, accepted a solution of limited independence whose basic premises had been elaborated in Zurich by the Governments of Greece and Turkey.

The constitution in particular, categorized citizens as Greeks or Turks. Elected positions were filled by separate elections. Separate municipalities were established in each town and separate elections were to be held for all elected public posts. Posts filled by appointment and promotion, such as the civil service and police, were to be shared between Greeks and Turks at a ratio of 7:3. In the army this ratio rose to 60:40. The President was designated Greek and the Vice President Turkish, each elected by their respective community. The Turkish Cypriot community also enjoyed vetoes in both the executive and legislative branches of the government. The Turkish Vice President could block the decisions of the President whereas in the House of Representatives fiscal, municipal and electoral legislation required separate majorities.

The Turkish Cypriot leadership made full use of their constitutional privileges to block decisions of the government and render the administration of the young republic difficult and inefficient.

In 1963, after the Turkish members of the House of Representatives had rejected the budget, President Makarios decided to submit to the Turkish Cypriot Vice-President for consideration, proposals for constitutional amendment. Despite the fact that his proposals aimed toward removing certain causes of friction between the two communities and of the obstacles to the smooth functioning and development of the state, the Government of Ankara opposed the amendments outright, even before their consideration by the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriot leadership followed Ankara´s stand. In December 1963 tensions rose when police cars used by Turkish Cypriot policemen suspected of engaging in the distribution of weapons refused to submit to government inspection.

In December 1963 armed clashes broke out in Cyprus. Immediately the Turkish Cypriot leadership openly called for partition, Turkish policemen and civil servants withdrew from their posts en masse and Ankara threatened to invade. Facing a very grave threat to the Republic's existence the Government tried to contain the revolt but could do little to prevent armed civilians from both sides from taking part in the clashes. The instances when these irregulars failed to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants tainted the conflict with sectarian violence and loss of innocent lives in both communities.

These tragic but isolated events were utilised by the Turkish Cypriot nationalist leaders in their propaganda that the two communities could not live together, in spite of the fact that this leadership bore a heavy responsibility for the political situation. A large number of Turkish Cypriots withdrew into the enclaves, partly as a consequence of the hostilities that had taken place but mostly due to the efforts of their nationalist leadership to enforce a de facto partition of the island. In doing so the Turkish Cypriot nationalist leadership had turned against members of their community who stood for co-operation between the two communities.

The pattern of establishment of the enclaves did not necessarily follow the distribution of the Turkish population. The Turks attempted, with some success, to occupy strategic positions, such as the Kokkina enclave on the northern coast, through which military personnel and hardware were transported to the island from Turkey, and the medieval St Hilarion castle, commanding the road linking the capital to the coastal town of Kyrenia. The largest enclave was set up by the Turkish military contingent, which, in open violation of the Treaty of Guarantee, abandoned their camp and established themselves north of the capital, thus cutting the road between Nicosia and Kyrenia. For Turkey therefore these enclaves were primarily bridgeheads for facilitating the planned invasion. Indeed, when in August 1964 the Government attempted to contain the Kokkina bridgehead, Turkey's air force bombed the National Guard and neighbouring Greek villages with napalm and threatened to invade.

The other major purpose served by the enclaves was the political and physical separation of the two communities. Despite the Turkish leadership's claims to be motivated by concern for their community, the policy of forced segregation created very considerable economic and social hardship for the mass of the Turkish Cypriots.

Turkey found the pretext to impose its partitionist plans against Cyprus following the coup of July 15, 1974, perpetrated against the elected government of President Makarios by the Athens military junta. On July 20, claiming to act under article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee, the Turkish armed forces staged a full scale invasion against Cyprus. Though the invasion was in violation of all rules of international legality,including the UN Charter, Turkey proceeded to occupy the northern part of the island and empty it from its Greek inhabitants. By the end of the following year the majority of the Turkish Cypriots living in the areas left under the control of the Republic had also made their way to the part of Cyprus occupied by the Turkish army. Thereby, the policy adopted by Ankara twenty years earlier, of partition and forcible population expulsion, had been enforced. The human cost was immense. Thousands of Greek Cypriots were killed or maimed as a result of the actions of the invading Turkish army. Moreover, till today the fate of approximately 1500 persons is not known and they are still missing. 1493 of these cases were submitted for investigation to the Committee on Missing Persons, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations. 35.83% of the Republic of Cyprus territory, representing 70% of the economic potential came under the occupation of the Turkish military. One third of the Greek Cypriots became refugees in their own country and are to this day prevented from returning to their homes by the Turkish occupation authorities. In an effort to alter the country's demographic structure Ankara has brought into Cyprus 114,000 colonists from Turkish Anatolia. In view of the mass emigration of Turkish Cypriots from the occupied area the total number of Turkish troops and settlers is now greater than that of the Turkish Cypriots remaining.

The United Nations have in several resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council demanded respect for the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus, the return of refugees to their homes and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the island. All of these resolutions have been consistently ignored by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership. The basis for a solution of the Cyprus Problem has been set in two High Level Agreements. Both agreements, the first, between President Makarios and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr. Denktas, in February 1977 and the second, between President Kyprianou and Mr. Denktas in May 1979, were concluded under the auspices of the UN Secretary General and provided for a solution to the problem in accordance with UN resolutions.

The most striking evidence of Turkey's unwillingness to work for a solution in line with UN policy was given on November 15, 1983 when, in order to consolidate their hold over the occupied area the Turkish Cypriot leadership unilaterally declared that area an independent state, by the name of "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus". Despite the fact that this act has been condemned by the UN and that no country other than Turkey has recognised this illegal secessionist entity the situation continues.

Though since 1977 several rounds of talks under UN auspices have taken place, they have produced no result, given that Turkey refuses to abide by UN resolutions. In January 1989 the Government of Cyprus submitted "Outline Proposals for the Establishment of a Federal Republic and the Solution of the Cyprus Problem", which were in accordance with the UN resolutions on Cyprus and the two High Level Agreements. Another demonstration of the Government's willingness to work toward a just solution of the issue was given by President Clerides proposals of December 17, 1993, according to which the Republic was prepared to disband the National Guard and hand over all its weapons to the custody of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus.

Turkey continuously ignores international opinion on Cyprus and insists on pursuing a policy of legitimising the status quo it has imposed through the use of military might and which the international community deems as unacceptable. In doing so Turkey continues to violate the human rights of Cypriots and has thus run against judgement and opinion coming from the most authoritative international institutions. The European Court of Human Rights, in a judgement on May 10, 2001, in the Fourth Interstate application of Cyprus against Turkey, found Turkey guilty of mass human rights violations in the occupied part of Cyprus.

For more information about Cyprus Question such as

Please visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Cyprus Question section.

Read also about the:

Illegal declaration of the "TRNC" (pdf) in 1983. An act of aggression by Turkey against the Republic of Cyprus.

Towards a Unified Cyprus (pdf). The Cyprus question after the Annan plan

© 2011 - 2024 Republic of Cyprus,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Stockholm