The unresolved Cyprus problem

Cyprus, a European Union member and a recently discovered oil-rich resort, is plagued with a lingering issue: an unrecognised Turkish-Cypriot North. The Cyprus problem, also known as the Cyprus issue has become the symbol of a complex international conflict. The Cyprus crisis that unfolded in the summer of 1974 serves as daily reminder of a chronic forty-year-old wound. The unresolved Cyprus dispute still persists to torment the island’s future since it is so tied up in the politics of the past. Modern-day Cyprus remains a divided island. Nicosia is to this day the only divided capital in the world.

What exactly is the Cyprus Problem?


At the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilizations lies the sun-kissed island of Cyprus. Cyprus, the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, houses an innumerable common treasury of civilization. Settled by the ancient Greeks, the island later fell under the Ottoman Empire. The dichotomy of the growing communities was further accentuated by a stark juxtaposition of the concepts of “enosis” and “taksim”. Most Greek Cypriots wanted union with Greece (enosis) whilst most Turkish Cypriots wanted partition (taksim). Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans ceded Cyprus to Great Britain. The transition from Ottoman rule to a British colony paved the way for the island’s independence in 1960. It could be argued that the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 constituted a compromise formula that many people did not support- the concepts of enosis and taksim were deeply rooted. It seems that “independence” was a formula preferred by the then colonial power, Great Britain. The Cypriot Constitution of 1960 served as a double-edged sword; whilst the Turkish minority was given a considerable degree of administrative power, it was viewed as an unjust settlement and thus exacerbated the animosity between the two communities.

Inter-communal violence broke out on the island in late 1963 and centuries of peaceful coexistence collapsed. On the 15th of July of 1974, EOKA-B (a paramilitary group) directed by the Greek junta, overthrew the government of President Makarios with the aim of enosis. On the 20th of July 1974, Turkey, citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee as a legal basis for its actions, sent troops to Cyprus to allegedly protect Turkish Cypriots. To this day, Turkish troops still occupy 36% of the island’s overall territory.[1]


Recognition of States under International Law


The invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 resulted in the partitioning of the island, the North occupied by Turkey and the South by the Greek Cypriots. Since 1974, the last divided capital stands still in time. Some 180,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the South to escape.[2] The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus maintains a buffer zone between the two, commonly known as the “Green Line”. The demarcation not only serves as a scar but it has become a way of life. To justify the invasion, Turkey has argued that it was in line with the Treaty of Guarantee signed in 1960. Such allegations do not seem to have a sufficient legal basis; the operation constituted an illegal use of force and there was no justification for the Turkish occupation. From a legal perspective it has been argued that the choice of wording in Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee[3] and particularly the word “actiondoes not authorise the use of force or military action. Even if Article 4 was to be construed as authorizing the use of force, it is inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. The Treaty of Guarantee cannot take precedence over the UN Charter. Specifically, under Article 103 of the UN Charter[5], the Treaty of Guarantee is rendered void ab initio.

It is argued by the Turkish Cypriot community that the Turkish intervention of 1974 coming after the crisis that had erupted on the island, was not an illegal intervention because it is based on Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee under which Turkey, as one of the guarantor powers, had a right and obligation to intervene, reestablish the status quo and protect the Turkish Cypriots. They claim that the Turkish intervention was merely a response to prior Greek interventions.

The international community and the UN Security Council condemned the proclamation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983; the proclamation was declared to be invalid. Turkey is the only country to recognise its existence and alleges that the TRNC was not established as a result of the Turkish intervention but much later in 1983 by the Turkish people of Cyprus in the exercise of their right to self-determination. Any arguments, however, claiming the legality of the Northern self-proclaimed Republic are rather dubious under the scope of international law. The TRNC was created as a result of Turkish military intervention; the recognition of an entity as a state that is created by the unlawful use of force is forbidden under international law.[6]As a result, there is no international recognition for the TRNC. The TRNC still exists as a de facto state with its population living on its territory, governed by its own democratic government. Therefore, two different administrations exist on the island, one de jure and one de facto.

Violation of International Law


It is a general rule of international law[7] that every state has full and exclusive sovereignty over its airspace. Flights to the TRNC are thus a breach of the Convention on International Civil Aviation.[8] The Government of the Republic of Cyprus has declared the two airports in the north of the island as illegal border crossing points and therefore run contrary to all principles and objectives of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.[9] The Republic of Cyprus authorities can hold persons arriving in Cyprus via airports in the north criminally liable for breach of the entry regulations of the Republic of Cyprus even if they later enter southern Cyprus. Furthermore, the inability of Cypriot airlines to enter the Turkish airspace, since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, was forcing the Cypriot Government to use the Greek airspace as the only available routing from Cyprus to Europe’s airspace.

It is an undeniable truth that both communities on the island have suffered. Since 1981, there has been a Committee for Missing Persons [10]in Cyprus, which includes members of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. Following the Turkish invasion of 1974, there had been a clear violation of the Rule of Law, an incontestable blow to democracy and an undeniable trampling on human rights. Many people from both sides lost their homes whilst others were killed or remain missing until today. Over the years, many cases have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A landmark ruling was made in the case Loizidou v Turkey in 1995[11]. The ECHR found that the displaced Greek Cypriots remained the lawful owners of their properties in Northern Cyprus and nothing adopted by the TRNC had validly affected their rights as lawful owners. Nonetheless, many are concerned that the ECHR rulings are likely to have a negative impact on the island’s reunification talks.

A negotiated solution?


Today, the peace-talks are all the more critical. A re-unified Cyprus could bring about some incontestably prosperous benefits for Turkey. For Turkey, the newfound oil-rich wealth in Cyprus waters serves as a tantalizing motivating catalyst for unification whilst simultaneously, this could constitute a direct accession to the EU and the Eurozone. Many plans and strategies have been tried over the years in attempts to bring peace to the island, most notably the Annan plan of 2004.[12] According to the Annan Plan, the Greek Cypriot National Guard was to be dissolved whilst Turkey had been given the right of unilateral military intervention and would be allowed to keep a large number of troops in Cyprus even after a settlement. Uneasy with security concerns, it is not surprising that the Greek Cypriots, by a popular referendum, rejected this Plan.

Turkey’s recent sending of the Barbaros research vessel into Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ) provoked alarm in Nicosia and Athens and resulted in the suspension of reunification talks. The Barbaros incident highlighted the inherent difficulties whilst trying to establish a clear foreign policy course when the region is full of uncertain neighbours. Furthermore, it was made apparent that the Barbaros’s presence in Cyprus’s EEZ is part of Turkey’s objection to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which it does not recognise. The presence of the Turkish vessel also created a series of legal complications because Cyprus’s EEZ is still considered international waters and other countries’ vessels are able to enter the area as long as they are involved in peaceful activities.

For a swift resolution to the decades-old conflict, everything seems to point to the withdrawal of the occupiers and military presence. The dispute remains an expensive one and is burdensome from a financial perspective with decades of military spending. Finding a solution that pleases both sides will be a herculean task whilst it seems almost impossible to please both sides when the conflict has remained unsolved for so long. The situation in Cyprus is not only pivotal to relations between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey but it is also crucial to the integrity of the EU. However, forty years later and it is still impossible to grapple with the reasons that make the Cyprus dispute so extraordinary so as to still remain unsolved.

Christina AVGOUSTI


[1] <>

[2] Ibid. note 1

[3] “…In so far as common or concerted action may not prove possible, each the three guaranteeing Powers reserves the right to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the present Treaty.” Available at <>

[4]All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” UN Charter available at: <>

[5]In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.” Available at: <>

[6] Robert Kolb, “The International Court of Justice,” Hart Publishing (2013)

[7] Bin Cheng, “Studies in International Space Law,” Clarendon Press (1997)

[8] Convention on International Civil Aviation done at Chicago on the 7th day of December 1944, <> For the Republic of Cyprus, the Convention entered into forced on 16 February 1961

[9] International Civil Aviation Organisation, <>

[10] Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, <>

[11] <{« itemid »:[« 001-57920 »]}>


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