The main purpose of this article is to give a clear and unbiased view of the Cyprus conflict between the Greek and the Turkish ethnic groups. It will be based on historical facts and will analyse the role played by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces In Cyprus (UNFICYP) in the search of solutions to the conflict.
The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has experienced during its history complex episodes of hostilities that have led to the division of the territory, which determines the current state of the conflict between the two opposing factions. But before analysing the latest disputes, let’s take a brief look back at Cyprus’ history to better understand the background of the conflict.
The first Greeks arrived to Cyprus in the 13th century B.C. However, due to the island’s geo-strategic position between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the territory was soon conquered by foreign invaders (Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Ptolemies, Romans and Venetians). In 1571, the Ottoman Turks arrived to the island and conquered it; under their rule, the Greeks and the Turks lived in harmony and eventually joined their forces to struggle against the oppressive and increasingly corrupt Ottoman rule. Notwithstanding, the traditional links of both communities to identify themselves with their Greek and Turkish “motherlands” hampered the creation of a common national identity.
After 300 years of Ottoman rule, the island’s administrative control was handed over to Britain under the Cyprus Convention (1878). In return for the administration of the island, Britain offered Cypriots protection from the menace of Russia. In 1925, Cyprus was proclaimed a Crown colony of England. It was then when the Greek citizens, who represented more than 80% of the island’s population, began to claim the annexation of Cyprus by Greece. As a result, a new political movement called enosis[i] arose, and nationalist organizations such as the EOKA[ii] started a guerrilla campaign against British colonial rule.
In order to solve the problem, Britain, Greece and Turkey, as well as the Cypriot community leaders signed the Zurich-London Agreements in 1959. This granted Cyprus independence, which came into effect in 1960. These agreements also designed the framework of the new constitution, which intended to solve the conflict by the political division of the two communities. However, the basis of the constitution was especially criticised by the Greek community who claimed that it bestowed excessive power to the Turkish minority and denied the Greeks the privileges generally given to majorities. Due to the strong disagreements and the clashes between the two communities, the United Kingdom and Cyprus’ government appealed to the UN Security Council, which established UNFICYP in Cyprus to restore law and bring peace back to the territory. In 1968 the two communities began dialogue, and during the ensuing years considerable headway was achieved. Nevertheless, this progress didn’t last long, as in 1974 Greek Cypriots attempted a coup d’état and five days later Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus. Following the defacto ceasefire, the United Nations established a buffer zone along the so-called Green Line, that divided Cyprus in two territories: a Turkish-Cypriot northern region and a Greek-Cypriot southern region.
Since then, the United Nations has been doing its best to prevent a recurrence of fighting and to create conditions for lasting peace. Apart from providing humanitarian assistance and maintaining the buffer zone under permanent watch, they have served as mediators to assist the parties in reaching agreements and have organized bi-communal activities to promote comradeship. Despite the fact that the situation is now calmer, UNFICYP presence in Cyprus remains indispensable, as maintaining the current status quo is not a real solution for the conflict. In 2004, Cyprus became a EU Member State, but it did so as a divided country. Nowadays, even though the international community recognises the island as a single country, the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey claim that the northern part of the island is a separate country: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which declared independence in 1983.
- UNFICIYP webpage. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unficyp/index.shtml
- BBC Timeline: Cyprus. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1021835.stm
- DIMARI, Georgina; VARNAVA, Marilena. “1960 Cyprus Constitution: Conflicting Interpretations and their Repercussions on Future Negotiations.” Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.
- ERCAN, Muzaffer. “Capturing the Complexity of the Cyprus Conflict” Balıkesir University.
[i] Enosis: The political union of Cyprus and Greece, as an aim of ideal of certain Greeks and Cypriots. Oxford Dictionary.
[ii] EOKA: A Greek-Cypriot liberation movement active in Cyprus in the 1950s and in the early 1970s, which fought for the independence of Cyprus from Britain and for its eventual union with Greece. Oxford Dictionary.