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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus

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Cyprus Facts
Area:    9,250 sq. km.
Capital:    Nicosia
Total Population:    748,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The most recent attempt to resolve the conflict in Cyprus – the referendum on the Annan plan in 2004 – failed, with the majority of Greek Cypriots rejecting the plan and the majority of Turkish Cypriots supporting it. Given its failure, a long-term solution to the stalemate on the island is not likely in the near future. With the long history of tension between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and Greece and Turkey proper, it is likely that some form of Turkish Cypriot protests will continue, as will the inter-communal tension and periodic violence between Turks and Greeks. Because of the large international presence on and attention dedicated to the island, it is very unlikely that the Turks will resort to militant activity, although sporadic low-level violence is possible. Turkish Cypriots are not targeted with repression, and their present political isolation is self-imposed. Therefore, the factors that usually lead to militant action are not present, beyond a history of protest. The current period of relative calm and willingness to negotiate must be capitalized on to resolve the situation on the island of Cyprus in hopes of alleviating the long-standing tensions between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

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Analytic Summary

Cyprus is an island nation in the Mediterranean with a population of approximately 784,000. Turkish and Greek Cypriots are the largest ethnic groups on the island, but tiny minorities of Maronites, Latins and Armenians also reside there. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared by the Turkish minority on the island. Prior to that, tensions existed between the Turks and Greeks during the 1960s and 1970s, and United Nations Peacekeepers were deployed to the area in 1964. Though this republic is only internationally recognized by the Turkish government, a stalemate has existed between the Turks and the Greek Cypriot majority since its formation. The Turks are now almost completely isolated from the Greeks on the island (GROUPCON = 3; GC2 = 1). Greeks dwell almost exclusively in the south, and Turks make up the vast majority of the north’s population. Due to the extended length of time that both groups have lived on the island of Cyprus, each has a legitimate claim to the right to govern it. In the northern "republic," Turkish is spoken (LANG = 2), and the group's customs and Islamic faith are practiced (BELIEF = 2; CUSTOM = 1). The Turks are highly organized and very cohesive, as is expected due to the long history of conflict between Turks and Greeks over who should administer the island.

The island of Cyprus has long been inhabited by both Greek and Turkish settlers, and they have historically lived together in peace. Relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots deteriorated in the 20th century, culminating in the de facto partition of the island in 1974. Since the island’s independence from British rule in 1960, the United Nations has been involved in negotiating between the two communities. Since 1974, the UN has been involved in an almost constant process of mediating between the two sides in the conflict

The main issue between the Turk and Greek Cypriots has been one of control of the island. In the early 20th century, the Greeks on the island advocated for enosis, or reunion with Greece, while the Turks have long favored closer ties with Turkey. Violent confrontations between the two communal groups soon after independence can be viewed as an indication that no actual national Cypriot identity existed on the island. Rather, there were separate ethnonational identities tied to both groups’ respective motherlands. When the Greek government under President Makarios of Cyprus was overthrown by a military junta in 1967, Turkey became more concerned about its interests in Cyprus and decided to take action. The Turkish army invaded Cyprus in July 1974, effectively separating the Turkish north from the Greek south. In the invasion, thousands were killed, many of whom remain unaccounted for, and many more were displaced. Shortly after the invasion, the Greek military junta fell, and civilian leaders were reinstated in both Greece and Cyprus. However, Turkey was on the island to stay and maintains an army of approximately 35,000 (2006 figure) in Cyprus.

The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) has been under economic and travel embargos by European and other nations since almost its inception. The Greek Cypriots requested this embargo, and it continues through the present day. However, restrictions were relaxed in 2004, and the European Union finally approved a long-standing economic aid regulation for Turkish Cypriots in February 2006. Numerous United Nations resolutions have also been adopted which condemn the partition of the island and call for its reunification since its formation. The Republic of Cyprus has prospered since the division of the island, while the north has suffered under the trade and travel embargos and has relied on aid from Turkey to survive. The north remains less developed and poorer than the southern two-thirds of the island, and it has high unemployment and emigration rates.

In the late 1990s, one of the most contentious issues between the two communities was Cyprus’ negotiations with the European Union for membership. The Turkish Cypriots feel that without international recognition of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and its guaranteed rights as a separate entity, relations between the north and south will deteriorate further. Incidents of fighting and demonstrations between the two sides in the buffer zone, some of which have resulted in deaths, increased in the late 1990s, particularly around the anniversaries of previous uprisings or historically significant events. These confrontations were quickly quelled by UN peacekeepers or Greek or Turkish policemen stationed there. At the same time, however, some progress has been made in negotiations. For example, agreements have been reached for the freer passage of communities from one side of the buffer zone to the other in order to visit holy places or pay respect to the dead.

A plan for reunification of the island in a loose confederate structure – the Annan plan – was negotiated in 2004. In a referendum held on both halves of the island, the plan was rejected by the majority of Greek Cypriots and approved by the majority of Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus was admitted to the EU in the same year – without a resolution of the conflict.

The Turkish administration in the north continues to insist that the island’s two sides be joined in a confederation that would give the TRNC internal and international recognition as an equal partner to the Republic of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus’ administration insists that the two sides be reunited in a federation that recognizes the majority status of the Greek Cypriots. The two halves of the island engaged in an arms race during the 1990s.

Currently, the Turkish Cypriots continue to enjoy a relatively equal lifestyle as the Greeks due to assistance from Turkey, despite the economic embargo placed on the contested region. There is some migration from the island to Turkey by those who wish to further their economic status, which is not possible on the island. Politically, the Turks face an unusual situation. They are not discriminated against by the internationally recognized Cypriot government (POLDIS06 = 0), as their exile is self-imposed. They choose not to participate in the affairs of this government and as a result do not have representation, although they can vote in the national elections. They have their own government and parliament, which handle the affairs of their half of the island. The only restriction the Turkish Cypriots face is that of movement. There are checkpoints set up at the border of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that prevent movement across it. Economically, the Turkish Cypriots also experience no discrimination (ECDIS06 = 0). The Turks do not face any cultural restrictions, as their affairs are dealt with by their own government. While some Turks claim that a series of arrests were ethnically related, these arrests were actually related to drug possession. No other reports of government repression by the Greeks have been found. The Turkish soldiers stationed along the border ensure that no repression occurs. Tension continues between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot people. In 1999, a Greek fisherman was shot at, and in 2000 there were reports of Greeks being abducted by Turk soldiers. Similarly, in 2004, a Greek Cypriot man stabbed a Turkish Cypriot boy to death, while in 2006 a group of approximately 20 Greek Cypriot youths armed with clubs attacked a group of Turkish Cypriot students in the southern part of Nicosia. Because the overwhelming majority of the north is Turkish and the overwhelming majority of the south is Greek, however, there is little communal conflict within each half of the island.

The Turks are represented by a variety of political parties on the island, including the New Democracy Party, which was created in 2000. More established parties include the Democratic Party and the Republican Turkish Party (GOJPA = 2). As mentioned, there is a Turkish Cypriot administration and government that also promotes the interests of the group. This government is supported by the government of Turkey, who in addition to providing monetary and military assistance as mentioned above, also negotiates with the Greek and Cypriot governments on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey does periodically fly fighter jets over the island as a show of force. While some Turkish Cypriots seek equal status with the Greeks in a united Cyprus, nationalists demand the establishment of an internationally recognized independent Turkish Cypriot state (POLGR04-06 = 4).

Protests by the Turkish Cypriots began in 1960, the decade prior to independence (PROT60X = 3). These protests escalated after independence (PROT80X = 4), and lessened during the 1990s (PROT90X, PROT95X = 3). While large demonstrations ended in 1999 and 2000, verbal opposition, protest activity such as strikes and political organizing continue (PROT00-01 = 2,; PROT02 = 4; PROT03 = 2; PROT04-06 = 1). During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Turks engaged in militant guerilla activities. Since that time, no further militant activity has occurred (REB06 = 0).

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References

Cyprus: A Country Study. 1993. Washington D.C.: The Library of Congress.

International Crisis Group. 2006. "The Cyprus Stalemate: What Next?" Europe Report No. 171.

Joseph, Joseph S. 1997. Cyprus: Ethnic Conflict and International Politics. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kyle, Keith. 1997. Cyprus: In Search of Peace. London: Minority Rights Group.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1979-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006