Historical background

Throughout its long history and due to its strategically important location, Cyprus had been conquered by the major colonial powers of the Eastern Mediterranean. However, from the 12th century BC, when the first Greeks colonized the island and through the centuries, the island’s Greek character has always prevailed. The last colonial power to occupy the island was Britain in 1878, succeeding the Ottoman Empire which had conquered Cyprus in 1571, a year marking the first presence of Turkish inhabitants on the island and the beginning of the creation of the Turkish-Cypriot community.

During British rule, Cypriots gradually began to voice their demand for national self-determination. However, due to the international political climate before World War II, Britain rejected this demand. In the early post-war years, when liberty movements surfaced globally leading to the crisis of the colonial system, the demand of the Cypriots became known as the Cyprus Problem. In 1955, after all their calls for self-determination had been ignored, the Greek-Cypriots embarked on a national armed struggle to liberate the country from colonial rule. The British Government, using its notorious policy of “divide and rule”, began to take advantage of the Turkish factor and encouraged the intervention of Ankara in Cyprus.

Turkey's declared policy on Cyprus, which until the early 1950s had been supportive of the colonial status quo, began to shift toward a policy of partition of the island along ethnic lines. In November 1956, Professor Nihat Erim, to whom Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes entrusted the formulation of a policy for Cyprus, prepared and submitted a memorandum proposing the geographical division of the island and the movement of populations. This proposal for a clear national separation would result in the establishment of two separate political entities, one Greek and one Turkish, each of which would proceed to a political union with Greece and Turkey respectively. Finally, the memorandum prescribed that Turkey should also participate in the security of the Greek sector of the island. It is worth noting that this approach remains the basis of Turkish policy on Cyprus to this day.

In line with the memorandum, officers from Turkey helped establish Turkish-Cypriot clandestine paramilitary organizations (Volkan – TMT) whose main goal was the extermination of Turkish-Cypriots who were fighting along with the Greek-Cypriots to promote common social and political goals. Their members were recruited primarily from the ranks of a paramilitary security force that was formed by the colonial administration and consisted exclusively of Turkish Cypriots, to fight against the national liberation movement. To gain total control over amongst the Turkish-Cypriots, the TMT waged a campaign of murderous terror against their fellow nationals in the trade unions, the major institutions in which members of the two communities cooperated for common social and political causes. Therefore, as its action shows, TMT strategically sought the conflict with the Greek-Cypriots in order to cause partition. The Turkish-Cypriot nationalist leadership had essentially turned into an instrument for implementing Turkish policy in Cyprus. The change of policy of the Turkish National Party was reflected in its new name: “Cyprus is Turkish”.

In 1958, following the eruption of intercommunal clashes and the proposal of a partitionist plan by the British Government the national liberation 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 in the civil service and police, were to be shared between Greeks and Turks at a ratio of 70:30. In the army this ratio was 60:40. The President was designated Greek and the Vice President Turkish, each elected by their respective community. The Turkish Vice President could block the decisions of the President exercising a veto right 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 causing constitutional crisis, President Makarios decided to submit to the Turkish-Cypriot Vice President for consideration, a number of proposals for constitutional amendment aimed at addressing certain causes of friction impeding the smooth functioning of the state. Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership opposed the proposals and continued to incite tension and secession, forcing the Turkish-Cypriots to resign from their positions in the institutions of the Republic of Cyprus. Immediately, the Turkish Cypriot leadership openly demanded for partition and Ankara threatened to invade the island

A large number of Turkish Cypriots settled into enclaves, as a result of the efforts of Turkey and their nationalist leadership to enforce a de facto partition of the island. For the same reason, members of the Turkish-Cypriot community who stood for cooperation between the two communities were targeted and murdered. Other than the physical and political separation of the two communities, Turkey these enclaves primarily provided a bridgehead for facilitating the planned invasion. Indeed, when in August 1964 the Government attempted to contain the Kokkina bridgehead, Turkish air force bombed the National Guard and neighbouring Greek villages with napalm and threatened to invade the island.

The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 186 (1964), at the request of President Makarios, established the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to avoid repeating the conflicts, to restore and maintain law and order and to facilitate the return to normal conditions in Cyprus.

Turkey’s policy of fostering tension and segregation continued in the following years. Turkey  imposed its partitionist plans against Cyprus using as a pretext the coup of the Athens military junta on 15 July, 1974 against the elected government of President Makarios. On 20 July, claiming to act under article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee, the Turkish armed forces launched a full scale invasion against Cyprus, taking over more than 36% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, banishing the Greek Cypriot rightful owners from their ancestral homes in violation of all rules of international legality, including the UN Charter.  

By the end of the following year, the majority of the Turkish-Cypriots living in the areas  under the control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus had also moved to the part  occupied by the Turkish army, as a result of the coercive policy of Turkey. Therefore, Ankara made real its long-time plans of national separation of the two communities and the final partition of Cyprus.


See also:

Turkish military invasion and occupation

Efforts to resolve the Cyprus question

Our vision for a reunified Cyprus