Cyprus Conflict


Cyprus (sī´prəs), Gr. Kypros, Turk. Kıbrıs, officially Republic of Cyprus, republic (2015 est. pop. 1,161,000), 3,578 sq mi (9,267 sq km), an island in the E Mediterranean Sea, c.40 mi (60 km) S of Turkey and c.60 mi (100 km) W of Syria. The capital and largest city is Nicosia. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Famagusta, Larnaca, and Limassol. The island is divided into a northern, Turkish Cypriot sector and a southern, Greek Cypriot sector. A thin buffer zone occupied by the United Nations Forces in Cyprus separates the two sectors. In addition, Great Britain retains sovereignty over two military bases, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, located on the SW and SE coasts respectively.

Land and People

Two mountain ranges traverse the island from east to west; the highest point is Mt. Olympus (6,406 ft/1,953 m), in the southwest. Between the ranges lies a wide plain, the chief agricultural region. Since the 1970s, diminished rainfall and increased population and economic growth have reduced local water supplies. Over three quarters of the population is Greek, generally residing in the southern sector of the country, and belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. Less than 20% of the people are Turkish Muslims, mainly living in the northern region. Religious minorities include the Maronites and Armenian Orthodox. In addition to Greek and Turkish, English is also widely spoken.


Agricultural products include citrus, vegetables, cereal grains, potatoes, olives, and cotton; in addition, the Greek sector grows deciduous fruits and wine grapes, and the Turkish side, where agriculture is more important, grows tobacco and table grapes. Poultry, hogs, sheep, goats, and some cattle are raised. Fishing is an important industry in the Turkish sector, and the Greek side has a strong manufacturing economy that produces building materials, textiles, chemicals, and metal, wood, paper, stone, and clay products. There is also food and beverage processing, ship repair, and petroleum refining. Mineral resources include copper, pyrites, asbestos, gypsum, and salt. Tourism is important for both areas; financial services are also important in the Greek sector. The Greek sector is considerably more prosperous than the Turkish side, which is heavily dependent on aid from Turkey. Exports include citrus, potatoes, pharmaceuticals, clothing, and cigarettes from the Greek side and citrus, dairy products, potatoes, and textiles from the Turkish side. Both sides import consumer goods, fuel, machinery, transportation equipment, and foodstuffs. The main trading partners are Greece, Great Britain, France, and Germany.


Cyprus is governed under the constitution of 1960. The president of Cyprus, who is both the head of state and the head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term. The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats; 56 are assigned to Greek Cypriots and 24 to Turkish Cypriots, but only the Greek seats are filled. Members are elected by popular vote to five-year terms. Administratively, Cyprus is divided into six districts.

The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is governed under a constitution adopted in 1985, but the TRNC is recognized only by Turkey. The TRNC has its own elected president, prime minister, and cabinet. The TRNC's unicameral Assembly of the Republic has 50 members, who are elected by popular vote to five-year terms.


Excavations have proved the existence of a Neolithic culture on Cyprus in the period from 6000 BC to 3000 BC; the earliest known settlement dates to the 10th millennium BC Contact with the Middle East and, after 1500 BC, with Greece greatly influenced Cypriot civilization. Phoenicians settled on the island c.800 BC Cyprus subsequently fell under Assyrian, Egyptian, and Persian rule. Alexander the Great conquered it in 333 BC, after which the island again became an Egyptian dependency until its annexation by Rome in 58 BC Ancient Cyprus was a center of the cult of Aphrodite.

After AD 395, Cyprus was ruled by the Byzantines until 1191, when Richard I of England conquered it. In 1192, Richard bestowed the island on Guy of Lusignan. In 1489, Cyprus was annexed by Venice. The Turks conquered it in 1571. At the Congress of Berlin (1878) the Ottoman Empire placed Cyprus under British administration, and in 1914, Britain annexed it outright.

Under British rule the movement among the Greek Cypriot population for union (enosis) with Greece was a constant source of tension. In 1955 a Greek Cypriot organization (EOKA), led by Col. George Grivas, launched a campaign of widespread terrorism. Tension and terror mounted, especially after British authorities deported (1956) Makarios III, the spokesman for the Greek Cypriot nationalists. The conflict was aggravated by Turkish support of Turkish Cypriot demands for partition of the island. Negotiations (1955) among Britain, Greece, and Turkey on the status of Cyprus broke down completely. Finally in 1959, a settlement was reached, providing for Cypriot independence in 1960 and for the terms of the constitution. Treaties precluded both enosis and partition. Makarios was elected president in 1959 and reelected in 1968 and 1973.

In 1961, Cyprus joined the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. Large-scale fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots erupted several times in the 1960s, and a UN peacekeeping force was sent in 1965. In Mar., 1970, there was an attempt on Makarios's life by radical Greek Cypriots. The government was also fearful of a possible coup led by Grivas, who favored enosis. Turkish Cypriots demanded official recognition of their organization (which exercised de facto political control in the 30 Turkish enclaves) and the stationing of Turkish troops on the island to offset the influence of the Cypriot national guard, which was dominated by officers from Greece. Greek Cypriots interpreted the proposal as amounting to partition. Acts of violence against the government increased and were met in 1973 by an effort to suppress the guerrillas by the national police force (which had been created by Makarios to counter the national guard). Grivas died in Jan., 1974, and although EOKA was split between hard-liners and moderates, it continued to be dominated by Greek officers.

On July 15, 1974, following a large-scale national police assault on EOKA, the Makarios government was overthrown by the national guard. Nikos Sampson, a Greek Cypriot newspaper publisher, acceded to the presidency and Makarios fled the country. Both Greece and Turkey mobilized their armed forces. Citing its obligation to protect the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey invaded (July 20) N Cyprus, occupied over 30% of the island, and displaced about 200,000 Greek Cypriots. The invasion precipitated the fall of the military regime in Athens and also resulted in the resignation of Sampson. He was replaced by Glafkos Clerides, the conservative Greek Cypriot president of the house of representatives.

A UN-sponsored cease-fire was arranged on July 22, and Turkey was permitted to retain military forces in the areas it had captured. Makarios was returned to office in Dec., 1974. In 1975 the island was partitioned into Greek and Turkish territories separated by a UN-occupied buffer zone. Makarios remained president until his death in 1977 and was succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou (1977–88). In 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared themselves independent from the Cypriot state; the resulting Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with Rauf Denktash as president, was recognized only by Turkey. Negotiations to end the division of the country continued intermittently and inconclusively in the subsequent decades.

George Vassiliou, a leftist, defeated Clerides in the presidential elections of 1988, but Clerides was elected president in 1993 and again in 1998. By the late 1990s it was estimated that over half the population of Turkish Cyprus consisted of recent settlers from Turkey. In 1998, Cyprus began membership talks with the European Union (EU), a move that was bitterly opposed by Turkish Cypriots, and Turkey insisted on a political settlement for the island prior to its joining the EU. Denktash was elected to his fourth term as president in 2000, but Clerides lost his bid for a third consecutive term in 2003, losing to Tassos Papadopoulos of the Democratic party.

In Apr., 2003, long-standing Turkish Cypriot restrictions on cross-border travel were eased, and the Greek south ended a ban on trade with the north. The United Nations sponsored renewed negotiations to reunify the island, and an accord establishing a federation was reached in 2004, but failed to win approval in a referendum in April. Although Turkish Cypriot voters approved the accord, the Greek population rejected it. Turkish approval of the accord, however, did result in many nations, including S Cyprus, ending or reducing the economic embargo the north had been under since the Turkish invasion.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but the north was excluded due to the failure of the referendum in the south. The Turkish Cypriot government subsequently fell, but elections (Feb., 2005) returned the government to power. In April, Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected to succeed Denktash as Turkish Cypriot president. Cyprus adopted the euro in Jan., 2008. In Feb., 2008, Demetris Christofias, the AKEL (Communist) party candidate, was elected president of Cyprus after a runoff; Papadopoulos was eliminated in the first round. Subsequently, Greek and Turkish Cypriots agreed to restart reunification talks, which began in Sept., 2008. Slow progress, however, led to popular dissatisfaction in the north, and in 2010 the nationalist candidate, Derviş Eroğlu, defeated Talat to win the Turkish Cypriot presidency. In subsequent years, reunification talks sometimes experienced prolonged interruptions.

In June, 2012, the government of Cyprus announced plans to seek loans from the eurozone bailout funds because of the country's exposure to the Greek economy, but a rescue plan, involving some €10 billion in aid, was not agreed on until Mar., 2013. Under that plan large depositors at Cyprus's two largest banks had significant losses, and the government imposed controls on currency transfers that were not lifted until 2015. The Feb., 2013, presidential election in Cyprus was won by Nikos Anastasiades of the conservative Democratic Rally.

The European Court of Human Rights in May, 2014, ordered Turkey to pay Cyprus €90 million as compensation for the effects of the Turkish invasion in 1974; the case had been brought by Cyprus in 1994 and had been decided in the country's favor in 2001. Turkey, however, said it would not make the payment. Mustafa Akıncı defeated Eroğlu to win the Turkish Cypriot presidency in Apr., 2015; Akıncı had promised to work toward reunification with greater urgency. Subsequently, unification talks resumed on a recurring basis, but a number of issues remained stumbling blocks. Anastasiades won a second term in Feb., 2018.


See G. F. Hill, History of Cyprus (4 vol., 1940–52); V. Karageorghis, Ancient Cyprus (1982); J. S. Joseph, Cyprus: Ethnic Conflict and International Concern (1985); I. Robertson, Cyprus (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Cyprus Conflict: Selected full-text books and articles

The Cyprus Problem: What Everyone Needs to Know By James Ker-Lindsay Oxford University Press, 2011
De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann; Henry Srebrnik Routledge, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "Under Turkey's Wings: The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, the Struggle for International Acceptance"
War in the Balkans, 1991-2002 By R. Craig Nation Strategic Studies Institute, 2003
Cyprus-The Geo-Strategic Dimension By Henn, Francis Contemporary Review, Vol. 289, No. 1685, Summer 2007
Cyprus at a Crossroads By Hasgüler, Mehmet; Tüzünkan, Murat Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall 2009
Cyprus: A Troubled Island By Andrew Borowiec Praeger Publishers, 2000
Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace By Timothy W. Crawford Cornell University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: "The First Cyprus Crisis, June-August 1964" begins on p. 112
Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism By Vamik Volkan Westview Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Two Rocks in the Aegean Sea: Turks and Greeks in Conflict"
The Savage Wars of Peace: Toward a New Paradigm of Peace Operations By John T. Fishel Westview Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Peacekeeping in Cyprus"
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