I want to start this article with a seemingly simple question: Do you know that Cyprus is an independent state? You would be surprised how many people don’t recognize this and instead think that Cyprus is a Greek island like Corfu or Crete. However, Cyprus is not only sovereign but also has a very interesting history from a safety and security perspective. This leads me to another and slightly more difficult question: Do you know that Cyprus is a divided country and that this conflict still plays a major role in its society today? Most likely you don’t know that, and even I did not until I started to live in Nicosia for a few months. In this article, I will give you an insight into the Cyprus conflict including its development from the perspective of both conflict parties, the role of the UN, and a few personal daily-life experiences as I can see signs of the conflict every day by just looking outside my window.
To give you a short overview, I will show you where you can find Cyprus. On the map, you must look quite careful to not oversee the small island. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey in the North and Egypt and Israel in the South. In the East of Cyprus on the mainland are states that already belong to the Middle East, for example, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
So, the location of Cyprus is easy, but its history is much more complicated. Today the island is divided by a so-called demarcation line or “Green Line” separating the Turkish part in the North and the Greek part in the South. Both conflict parties, Turkey and Greece, present slightly different versions of how this situation came about, and I would like to present to you the views of both sides neutrally and without judging which one is correct.
The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs describes the Cyprus Conflict on its website as follows: Turkey illegally invaded and occupied the Northern part of Cyprus in 1974, which violates the UN Charter and several UN resolutions. This occupation by Turkish troops further violates “fundamental human rights and freedoms”, and the “illegal settlement” in Cyprus leads to the “destruction of cultural [Cypriot] heritage”. Moreover, it is stressed that the international community and various international organizations are “condemning the invasion” and “demanding a withdrawal” of Turkey from the island. In November 1983, Turkey declared the Northern part of Cyprus to be an independent state as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the Cypriot government urges all states to not recognize this illegal “pseudo-state”. The UN and the Greek government demand peaceful negotiations to reunite Cyprus; however, Turkey continues its “total internal Turkification of the illegal secessionist entity” and refuses to take steps to resolve the conflict.
As you can see by the marked words, the Greek government uses many words and phrases with very negative connotations when it describes Turkey and its actions. The description of the conflict is less about a neutral sequence of historical events that caused the conflict, but an emphasis on the illegality and viciousness of Turkey’s actions.
Cyprus was a British colony at the beginning of the 20th century and was inhabited by a Greek and a Turkish community. Greek Cypriots strived for an annexation of the island to Greece, which was refused by Turkish Cypriots who “rightfully sought equal say over […] Cyprus”. The Greek Cypriots started to riot against the British reign, but their attacks were “unfortunately […] also directed towards Turkish Cypriots, which […] led to the deterioration of relations between the two communities”. In 1960, the Republic of Cyprus was founded as an independent state based on the equal partnership between the two communities which managed their internal bureaucratic affairs independently. However, in 1963, Greek Cypriots added an amendment to Cyprus’ Constitution that degraded the “equal co-founder status of [Turkish Cypriots] to that of a minority”. After that, the Greek community “forcibly seized” the governance of the island, removed politicians of Turkish origin from their offices, and “confined” the Turkish community to a small territory in the North of Cyprus. After that, the Turkish community founded its own political administration to regulate its internal affairs, but the situation nevertheless caused much “deprivation, isolation, inaccessibility, fear and insecurity” among the Turkish population. In 1974, the Greek military in collaboration with a Greek terrorist group executed a coup to achieve the annexation of Cyprus to Greece. Turkey intervened militarily to avert the “imminent danger of further bloodshed” and to prevent “the threat of further violence and even greater loss of life”. After internal and international talks with the UN, it was agreed that Greek Cypriots were transferred to the South and Turkish Cypriots to the North of the island and the conflict parties should be separated by a “Green Line”.
Thus, Turkey presented a very different story of the conflict events and presented the Greek Cypriots as aggressive actors. Turkish Cypriots are described as victims of the Greek communities' illegal striving to control the island on their own.
The Civilian Point of View
The ongoing conflict and the separation of the island are still noticeable in the Cypriots’ daily lives. I have lived in Cyprus for just four months and even I noticed signs of tension between Turkish and Greeks communities and the presence of the UN soldiers. Nicosia as the capital city is also divided by the Green Line, and my student hostel is located right next to the barbed wire fence which marks the border. When I look out my window, I can see a UN base on a hill where heavily armed soldiers patrol day and night. Several times a week, UN military vehicles with their blue license plates arrive and transport soldiers or military equipment. Moreover, when I look to the left, I can see the Kyrenia Mountains with the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on it. The flag is 425 metres wide and 250 metres high and even listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest flag in the world. At night the flag is lit up by thousands of lights widely seen in Nicosia, and the Turkish writing on the left side can be translated with “Proud to be a Turk”.
However, the separation becomes most obvious if one wants to cross the border from the South into the Northern part of the city. We had to pass the border by showing our passports and vaccination certificates to the Greek and the Turkish police officers, and we were not allowed to take any goods we bought on the Turkish side back to the Greek side (our bags were checked almost every time). Furthermore, we had to change money because in the Northern part the Turkish Lira is the official currency. Finally, what further complicates the situation between the two parts, is that the Northern part does not belong to the EU because Turkey is also not a member. I only realized this fact when the officer at the airport Ercan on the Turkish side, where I arrived for the first time, put a visa stamp into my passport.
I hope that I could give you a little insight into an international conflict that still requires a very long-lasting UN peacekeeping mission but is still almost unknown by most Europeans. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop and whether both sides will approach a settlement.
Hellenic Republic - Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2022). The Cyprus Issue. Hellenic Republic - Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved January 3, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.mfa.gr/en/the-cyprus-issue/
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (2018, August 31). Historical background: Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved January 3, 2022. Retrieved from https://mfa.gov.ct.tr/cyprus-negotiation-process/historical-background/