Cyprus Crisis Erupts

As Cyprus appeared to be reaching a mutually satisfactory solution to the long political conflict between its Greek and Turkish inhabitants, the military-led government in Athens intervened in the island’s internal politics with an eye to uniting Cyprus with Greece. In response, Turkey deployed its military forces in Cyprus, triggering both an international crisis and a redistribution of the island’s population.

Summary of Event

History and geography have worked at cross-purposes in forging the political environment of modern Cyprus. Greek settlement of the isle began more than three thousand years ago, and—despite the various hands through which the island has passed historically—the vast majority of those living there (80 percent in the early twenty-first century) have remained Greek in language and culture. Geographically, however, Turkey is five times nearer to Cyprus than Greece is (50 miles away versus 250 miles), and Turkey is far more militarily powerful than Greece. Moreover, during the island’s long rule by the Ottomans (1571 to the late 1870’s, when Cyprus essentially passed into British hands), a sizable Turkish community gradually developed there. Consequently, although Turkey was forced to renounce any claim to the island under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, Lausanne, Treaty of (1923) it continued to exercise an overseer role in regard to the interests of Turkish Cypriots, who constitute approximately 20 percent of the island’s population. Revolutions and coups;Cyprus
Cyprus;Turkish invasion
Turkey, invasion of Cyprus
[kw]Cyprus Crisis Erupts (July 15, 1974)
[kw]Crisis Erupts, Cyprus (July 15, 1974)
Revolutions and coups;Cyprus
Cyprus;Turkish invasion
Turkey, invasion of Cyprus
[g]Europe;July 15, 1974: Cyprus Crisis Erupts[01630]
[g]Middle East;July 15, 1974: Cyprus Crisis Erupts[01630]
[g]Cyprus;July 15, 1974: Cyprus Crisis Erupts[01630]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 15, 1974: Cyprus Crisis Erupts[01630]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 15, 1974: Cyprus Crisis Erupts[01630]
Makarios III
Sampson, Nikos
Annan, Kofi

Between 1924, when Cyprus officially became a British Crown Colony, and 1960, when Cyprus became independent, the island’s administrators often had to contend with outside meddling by Greece as relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots deteriorated on the island. In particular, during the mid-1950’s a Greek Cypriot terrorist organization supported by Greece, EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, or the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), National Organization of Cypriot Fighters launched a violent campaign on the island designed to end British rule over Cyprus. In turn, EOKA’s activity led to the establishment of Turkish Cypriot terrorist organizations, and by 1958 the island was in political turmoil. Casualties mounted in both communities as well as among EOKA-targeted British administrators.

The end of British rule came in 1960 in the constitutional framework of a bicommunal, unitary republic worked out through convoluted international negotiations in which Britain, Greece, and Turkey agreed, as participating parties, to support the island’s independence. In fact, however, the arrangement satisfied neither Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, who widely favored a federal arrangement if not a partitioning of the island, nor Greece and those Greek Cypriots who preferred to see the island absorbed into Greece.

The political truce between Cyprus’s two communities held for only three years after independence; conflict then erupted over reforms introduced by the island’s president, Makarios III, that were exceedingly prejudicial to the interests of Turkish Cypriots. Casualties ran high in the ensuing violence between Turkish Cypriot paramilitaries and Greek Cypriot forces. By late 1963, EOKA alone was reputed to have torched more than one hundred Turkish villages and to have killed more than five hundred Turks and driven thousands of others from their land. Order was eventually restored by the arrival, first, of British forces and, subsequently, in 1964, of United Nations peacekeeping troops, who patrolled cease-fire lines between the communities, including a line running through the middle of the capital of Nicosia.

In the aftermath, Makarios abandoned his proposed reforms, and an uneasy truce again emerged. A decade later, it too was broken. This time the fault lay directly in Greece, where in 1967 the military had seized control of the country, replacing the elected government with a dictatorial regime presided over by a set of colonels. Seven years later, on July 15, 1974, under orders from that regime in Athens, Greek army officers stationed in Cyprus as part of the Cyprus national guard launched a coup against the Makarios government, which seemed to be on the edge of finding a long-term solution to Greek-Turkish conflict on the island.

In ousting Makarios, these officers were backed by EOKA-B, the successor to the terrorist organization that had killed hundreds of British and Turkish Cypriots during its 1955-1960 struggle to drive the British out of Cyprus. In July, 1974, the members of EOKA-B pointed their guns at fellow Greeks, killing hundreds of Greek Cypriot supporters of the Makarios government. When the coup temporarily succeeded, it was Nikos Sampson, EOKA-B’s leader and the self-confessed killer of numerous British personnel in the 1950’s, who was installed as the island’s provisional president.

The coup in Nicosia ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity. Turkey initially demanded that Britain intervene, as it had in 1963, to restore Cyprus’s independence; however, when negotiations in London produced no immediate results, Turkey acted unilaterally. Citing its obligations under the 1960 agreement accompanying the island nation’s independence, on July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, raising fears of a Greco-Turkish war in the northern Mediterranean. Three days later, that danger subsided when the colonels’ regime collapsed in Athens. By then, however, Turkish forces were already securing control over wide portions of northern Cyprus. Indeed, despite the subsequent removal of Sampson from the presidency in Nicosia and the return of Makarios to power, a second invasion followed on August 14 after Greek Cypriot leaders rejected Turkey’s proposal that the island be reconfigured in a federal format.


Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus profoundly reshaped both the island’s demographics and its politics. By the end of the military operations and the accompanying tit-for-tat killings, which collectively claimed thousands of lives and forced the relocation of tens of thousands of people, Turkish forces in northern Cyprus were in control of approximately 37 percent of the island. Meanwhile, and in the immediate aftermath of the fighting, diplomatic efforts to keep the two communities of Cyprus living together under a common government continued to fail.

A Turkish army tank rolls through the Turkish section of Nicosia, Cyprus, in July, 1974, part of an invasion sparked by an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

As those efforts died away, Cyprus politics became increasingly polarized, as did the living arrangements of the two communities, which had once been geographically intermingled. Almost immediately, 100,000-150,000 Greek Cypriots who had lived in the north and once constituted a large majority there relocated to south of the Turkish-controlled region. The next year, approximately 50,000 Turkish Cypriots who had lived in the south moved north. In both instances, it was often only those who were oldest and least flexible in lifestyle who stayed behind. Consequently, by the early twenty-first century the numbers of Greek Cypriots living in the north had become negligible, as had the numbers of Turkish Cypriots continuing to dwell in the south.

Turkey’s impacts on the island’s demographics did not end there. Subsequently, an estimated 120,000 people from Turkey migrated to Cyprus to bolster the Turkish presence on the island. More important, as units of the Turkish military remained in the north and regular Greek army units remained in the south, the de facto partition of the island wrought by the events of July and August of 1974 became institutionalized. Greek Cypriots immediately assumed full control over the island’s official government in Nicosia, and Turkish Cypriots established their own state—confirmed by a referendum in June, 1975—in the island’s north. Originally called the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus, the region formally announced its secession as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on November 15, 1983. Its independence, however, remained nominal insofar as the TRNC was diplomatically recognized only by Turkey.

TRNC officials continued to engage intermittently in diplomatic negotiations designed to reunite the island, which ebbed and flowed into the twenty-first century. The tension between the government in Nicosia and that of the TRNC remained a constant of Cyprus politics, however, and the military forces of the two entities continued to face one another across a cease-fire line policed by U.N. peacekeepers. More than three decades after the Turkish invasion, the island remained divided despite a major initiative on the part of the United Nations aimed at reuniting Cyprus prior to its entry into the European Union. That effort failed convincingly when Cypriots in the south voted overwhelmingly to reject the U.N. proposal in 2004. Ironically, the supposedly independence-minded north voted in favor of unification in that referendum. Revolutions and coups;Cyprus
Cyprus;Turkish invasion
Turkey, invasion of Cyprus

Further Reading

  • Joseph, Joseph S. Cyprus: Ethnic Conflict and International Politics—From Independence to the Threshold of the European Union. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Good source for basic information on politics in Cyprus. Devotes substantial attention to Turkey’s invasion as the pivotal moment in the island’s recent history.
  • Ker-Lindsay, James. EU Accession and U.N. Peacemaking in Cyprus. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Provides authoritative analysis of politics in Cyprus and examines the paradox of a politically divided island being admitted to the European Union as a sovereign state.
  • Palley, Claire. An International Relations Debacle: The U.N. Secretary-General’s Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus, 1999-2004. Portland, Oreg.: Hart, 2005. More detailed than the Ker-Lindsay work cited above, but devotes similar attention to the importance of background events. Provides a particularly interesting perspective on the difficult nature of political bargaining in contemporary Cyprus.
  • Papadakis, Yiannis, Nicos Peristianis, and Gisela Welz, eds. Modernity, History, and an Island in Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. Multidisciplinary collection of essays explores past and contemporary Cyprus. Useful for understanding the nature of life on the physically as well as ethnically and politically divided island.

Greek Socialists Win Parliamentary Majority

Papandreou Leaves Office in Disgrace