Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Cyprus

Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Cyprus

Article excerpt

Cyprus has a long history of discord, and this island in the eastern Mediterranean has once again hit the headlines. In what sounds like the plot of a James Bond film, commentators are warning darkly of hydrocarbon intrigue and the spectre of gunboat diplomacy.

Fundamentally, the row is between Cyprus and an increasingly assertive Turkey, which is eager to project its influence in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. However, it also involves Israel, Greece, the EU and the USA. At its heart lies an estimated 300 billion cubic metres of natural gas deposits under the seabed off Cyprus.

The row over the search for gas in Cyprus's waters has its roots in the island's history, and particularly the divisions between its Greek and Turkish communities, which represent 77 and 18 per cent of its 1.2 million people respectively. As part of the Ottoman Empire from 1870, Cyprus was home to a majority Christian population ruled over by a minority of Muslim Turks. Greek nationalism and the idea of enosis, or union, with Greece grew among the Christians during the early 19th century after centuries of neglect by the Ottomans, but a series of uprisings were unsuccessful. Greek Cypriots continued to push for enosis during the island's British administration from 1878, while Turkish Cypriots called for partition, or taksim, with both sides resorting to violence.

When Cyprus finally gained independence in 1960, the two communities signed a powersharing agreement. However, the fragile peace broke down in 1963 after the Greek Cypriots called for changes, and the following year, the UN deployed peacekeepers to man the so-called Green Line that divided the capital, Nicosia. Nevertheless, the unrest persisted, with the Greek and Turkish governments sending troops and launching air strikes respectively.

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The island was eventually divided in 1974, when Turkey sent troops in response to an attempt by Greece to occupy the island. The army established the partition that remains today. More than one third of the island's 9,251 square kilometres is part of North Cyprus, officially known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Thus far, Turkey is the only country to recognise the TRNC, which declared independence in 1983, and there seems to be little prospect of the schism being resolved soon. …

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