Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cyprus: The Long Decline of International Law

Ethnic map of Cyprus, 1960

Today is the 37th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Henrik Ræder Clausen has written an essay for the occasion that analyzes the history and current status of the standoff between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The article below was originally published at Europe News. Readers should visit the original for the illustrations and source links.

Cyprus: The long decline of international law
by Henrik Ræder Clausen

Today, July 20th 2011, marks the 37th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. While invading countries is generally held to be illegal (and rightly so), Turkey has gotten away with the invasion and the ensuing occupation with remarkably few consequences. This is in great extent due to the non-application of international law and fundamental principles in the matter. Conversely, a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem can be found in classical international law, common sense that is actually not too hard to understand.


Cyprus has a traceable archaeological history dating back more than 10,000 years, and while having been under a variety of rules over the last millennia, was never divided until the 20th century.

The Ottomans invaded Cyprus in 1570, finally beat the Venetian stronghold of Famagusta in 1571, and ruled over Cyprus for more than three centuries. This took place in a relatively civilized manner as compared to the Ottoman rule in the Balkans and elsewhere, but they did introduce a Turkish minority later to be the seed of trouble.

In 1878, Cyprus was leased to Great Britain in return for Britain helping the Ottoman Empire hold back Russian influence.

In the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which established the modern Republic of Turkey, all Turkish interests in Cyprus were written off, a fact that Turkey faithfully upheld until 1954. In 1925, Cyprus became a British crown colony, one of the last additions to the British Empire.

This frustrated many Cypriots hoping for the independence granted to other countries freed from Ottoman rule. In 1931 Cypriots (of all ethnicities, notably) rioted against the colonial rule, which unfortunately descended into violence and arson, led to the suspension of normal colonial rule. Allegedly, this also made the British decide to construct more mosques in order to strengthen the Turkish identity of the Muslim Cypriots, so that Britain could maintain colonial rule there.

After World War II, which many Cypriots had participated in, there was a renewed hope for independence and union with Greece (‘Enosis’), like that Crete had obtained. A 1950 referendum organized by the Church of Cyprus showed a 95.7 % vote in favour of union with Greece. Application of the Woodrow Wilson 14 Points of self-determination of the peoples would imply that enosis would be the honest goal to pursue, with the protection of non-Greek minorities in Cyprus being a practical task to solve for that to work out. But applying that principle to Cyprus was not on the British agenda, possibly in part because giving Cyprus full independence would endanger the two British Sovereign Base Areas on the island.

Getting Turkey involved

Britain, however, was not keen of simply leaving Cyprus to become an independent country like Ireland, India, Pakistan, Israel and other countries previously under British rule had accomplished. Instead the British government pushed Turkey to violate the terms of the Lausanne Treaty and in 1954 declare that if the British were to leave Cyprus, it should be “given back to its rightful owner”, that is, Turkey. This constituted the first of many major violations of international law and treaties.

Turkey, never late to seize an opportunity, examined the matter internally and in line with the 1956 report by Niham Erim adopted a policy of seeking division (‘Taksim’) of Cyprus, to establish permanent Turkish influence there.

Their first major step was to establish the TMT underground army of roughly 10,000 Turkish Cypriots, armed and directed from Turkey. That would prove useful to Turkish interests in the years to come. The unspoken acceptance by Britain that Turkey could establish a proxy army in a neighbouring country was a serious violation of international law, principles of international relations and straight common sense.

Formal independence: The 1960 Constitution

On April 1st 1955, EOKA opened a guerilla war against the British colonial regime — explicitly not against the Turkish Cypriots or their interests. That led to a variety of British-led negotiations and conferences, demanding both Turkish and Greek participation, again disregarding the Lausanne Treaty terms that Turkey had no interest in Cyprus.

The result was the 1960 Constitution, which is still in force in south Cyprus, a Treaty of Alliance, and a Treaty of Guarantee granting Britain, Greece and Turkey rights of intervention in Cyprus with the intent of upholding the Constitutional order. The Constitution and the treaties were signed in 1959 and entered into force the following year.

Remarkably, military intervention in Cyprus according to the Treaty of Guarantee was merely a right, not an obligation, and thus the ‘guarantee’ component of the latter treaty was quite weak. As later events would show, it was more a liability than an asset for the Republic of Cyprus, marking another failure of international law to be upheld in good faith.

The 1960 Constitution was burdened with ethnic quotas granting the Turkish Cypriots special privileges, veto powers and disproportionate representation in the civil services (30 percent), army (40 percent), parliament (30 percent), government and a powerful Turkish Cypriot vice president, rights not granted to the other ethnic minorities in Cyprus. Apart from the corruption-prone concept of having quotas in the first place, and the dangerous emphasis on ethnicity they created, the fact that the Turkish Cypriots constituted only 18 percent of the Cypriot population granted them an disproportionate and unjustifiable share in government power, not a good foundation for stability.

The Turkish minority made frequent use of their veto right with the predictable result that after three years, they withdrew from the parliament in late 1963, ostensibly protesting a set of 13 proposals from President Makarios to change the Constitution of Cyprus. In hindsight it would probably have been better not to have implemented ethnic/religious quotas at all, focusing instead on Cypriots being Cypriots, ethnicity or religion being irrelevant in the context of political rights. For the law should apply equally to all.

The Turkey-sponsored separatists

Simultaneously there were increasing armed clashes between Greek- and Turkish-minded Cypriots, with the TMT and their leader Rauf Denktas urging Turkish Cypriots to leave their homes in the south and seek segregation in north, even if they’d have to live in tent camps. As described by United Nations Secretary General U Thant:

The Turkish Cypriot leaders have adhered to a rigid stand against any measures which might involve having members of the two communities live and work together, or which might place Turkish Cypriots in situations where they would have to acknowledge the authority of Government agents. Indeed, since the Turkish Cypriot leadership is committed to physical and geographical separation of the communities as a political goal, it is not likely to encourage activities by Turkish Cypriots which may be interpreted as demonstrating the merits of an alternative policy. The result has been a seemingly deliberate policy of self-segregation by the Turkish Cypriots.

The TMT underground army was flexing its muscle, backed by an implicit promise from Turkey to back them up if need be. On August 10th 1964, following the Battle of Tylliria, where Cypriot forces neutralized a Turkish position, Turkey made good on the implicit pledge by napalm airstrikes. A Turkish invasion of Cyprus was narrowly evaded, but conflicts continued during the decade. The Lausanne Treaty and the abolishment of Turkish interests in Cyprus was now buried deep in history.

TMT managed, in the course of six years (1958 -1964) to first silence all moderate Turkish-Cypriot voices (usually by gunshot), among others:

  • Ahmad Sadi, Director of the Turkish office of the Pancyprian Workers federation.
  • Fazil Onder, chief editor of the weekly newspaper “Inkilapci”.
  • Ahmet Yahya of the progressive Turkish Cypriot Athletic cultural centre.
  • Hasan Ali of the Pancyprian labour federation.
  • Ahmet Ibrahim and Arif Hulusi Barudi, for expressing pro-coexistence views.
  • Dervis Ali Kavazoglu, unionist in favour of peaceful coexistence.

The TMT took Cyprus from peaceful coexistence among its minorities to a state of civil war requiring UN intervention, in order to make world that peaceful coexistence was not an option. Their sponsors in Ankara certainly got a good return on investment here.

The invasion

On July 15th 1974, radical Greeks supporters of Enosis, supported by the junta regime in Athens, staged a coup against Cypriot President Makarios, who narrowly escaped from the presidential palace. The Turkish response was swift and powerful, with a naval assault on July 20th capturing the seaport of Kyrenia and establishing a corridor to the Turkish-Cypriot enclaves near Nicosia, gaining control of 3 % of the area of Cyprus, expanded during the ceasefire upwards to 7 %. The invasion was codenamed “Attila 1”, and triggered not only a collapse of the coup in Cyprus, but also a collapse of the 7-year junta regime in Greece proper. Neither the coup, nor any mistakes made by either party in Cyprus, could justify what was to follow.

For based on the premise of the Turkish invasion and the references made to the Treaty of Guarantee, one should think that after the Greek-supported had collapsed, Turkey would declare “Mission accomplished”, pack up their army and leave. For, as the Treaty of Guarantee states:

In so far as common or concerted action may prove impossible, each of the three guaranteeing Powers reserves the right to take action with the sole aim Of re-establishing the state of affairs established by the present Treaty.

But Turkey had other plans: On August 14th, the second phase of the offensive (“Attila 2”) commenced, capturing a full 38 % of the island, including the most fertile and developed parts, including the best of the farmland, most of the industry and the best developed tourist areas, as well as an extensive and unique cultural heritage of more than 500 orthodox Christian churches, monasteries and more.

This constituted an abandonment of some of the most sacred principles of international law, dating back from the Peace of Westphalia, including that international aggression is fundamentally illegal, and requires a solid and well-defined reason to take place.

That the Turkish invasion could take place without objections from Britain or the United States might seem puzzling, but Turkey had secured support from US Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger, and Britain stuck to the wording of the Treaty of Guarantee, that it had only an option, not an obligation, of military intervention with the aim of restoring the 1960 constitutional order. The United Nations Security Council reacted strongly with Resolution 353:

[The Security Council] calls upon all States to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Cyprus.

  • Calls all parties to cease fire.
  • Demands an immediate end to the foreign military intervention in the Republic of Cyprus that is in contravention of point 1 above.

Given that the United States was in quiet approval of the Turkish invasion, their resolutions had no teeth to halt the Turks. International law had entirely given way to political expediency.

With the United States bogged down by the war in Vietnam, recession at home and the 1973 oil crisis only months behind, antagonizing a major NATO ally over problems on a small, remote island was not desirable to the US. With the US in quiet support of the invasion and Britain not keen on engaging in military action in the issue, the UN resolution was all bark with bite. Turkey knew that the invasion would not be countered by force, and could safely proceed to disregard international law, invade and occupy a major part of Cyprus.

Why NATO was not an option

One may wonder why Cyprus wasn’t simply permitted to join NATO, both to ensure the security of the island itself and to provide the alliance with an important base in the eastern Mediterranean. As recently as February 2011, a vote in the Cypriot parliament favoured closer ties to NATO, but was vetoed by the Communist President Christofias. It is doubtful, of course, whether Turkey would have accepted an application from Cyprus, as no major decisions in NATO take place without their consent. It is already bad enough that Turkey occupies over 1/3 of a foreign country — making that country an alliance partner would make the Turkish position look even more illegal.

NATO is but one of the international organisations that Cyprus would like to join, but is being barred from by Turkey. The list also includes the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Open Skies Treaty, the International Energy Agency, OECD and more. Permitting Cyprus to join these fairly mundane organisations would constitute a de facto recognition that the Republic of Cyprus is the legitimate government of Cyprus, as agreed upon in the 1960 Constitution and Treaty of Guarantee, and would further expose the illegality of the Turkish occupation. Thus, political expediency and dodging the thorny legal issues are quite obviously better options for Turkey than respecting international law.

The European Union, Cyprus and Turkey

As early as 1972, Cyprus signed an Association Agreement with the European Union, the normal precursor to a membership application. The Turkish invasion halted progress in that direction, but the pace picked up again in 1987 with the signing of the second phase of the Association Agreement, and the formal application for EU membership was submitted in 1990. Cyprus became a full member of the European Union in May 2004. Interestingly, the membership applies to the entire island of Cyprus, but the practical implementation in the north is temporarily suspended due to the Republic of Cyprus being unable to exercise its authority there. Other issues than the occupation itself, like Turkey not respecting the customs union it has signed, illustrate the hopelessly strained relations between Cyprus and Turkey.

European Commissioner Olli Rehn has repeatedly stressed that “good neighbourly relations” is one precondition for becoming a candidate country to the European Union. The position of Turkey towards Cyprus can hardly be considered “good neighbourly relations”, but as in so many other cases, political expediency trumps international law and lofty principles. Such principles may be good for public declarations intended to build public confidence in the work of politicians and civil servants, but are all to frequently set aside in practice.

The Cyprus problem alone, wholly apart from the problems inside Turkey proper, and the conditions for EU membership should exclude Turkey from any notion of becoming member of the European Union. For, as the European Parliament report dryly states, the Parliament:

calls on the Government to facilitate a suitable climate for negotiations by starting to withdraw its forces from Cyprus immediately.

This would be principled and forward-looking, and in line with international law. Unfortunately there are no signs that Turkey is currently contemplating such a move.

A path forward

The problems in Cyprus have been ongoing for more than five decades now, and although having a lower profile than oft-repeated (and oft-broken) promise to bring peace to the Middle East, still attracts the attention of international bodies seeking to solve the conflict on behalf of the Cypriots. The latest major attempt was the so-called Annan Plan, which UN General Secretary Kofi Annan gave his name to. The plan was rejected by 76% percent of the Greek Cypriot population in a referendum on April 24th 2004.

Apart from the strange fact that the plan was still modified up to April 23rd, it is also quite easy to see why the Cypriots did not accept it: It would de facto legitimize the invasion of their country and the ensuing occupation, solidify rather than abolish the division, and severely weaken the property rights of the 200,000 Cypriots driven out of the north by the Turkish invasion. Some even say it was built to fail, in order that the Turks and the European Union could blame the Greek Cypriots for the failure.

With the political expediency of the Annan Plan laid to rest by a referendum that (according to its own text) rendered it “null and void”, there is now some breathing space to look for a solution based solidly on international law instead. One of the main reasons that political expediency tends to beat international law in matters Cypriot is that the foreign players involved are so much larger than Cyprus itself. Great Britain, Turkey, and the United States of America all have a variety of interests and priorities that do not automatically align with the interests of the Cypriots.

The need for independent analysis

To analyse things more clearly in the light of international and European law, one needs to turn to independent experts. One such expert is Alfred de Zayas, who in a series of articles and lectures outlined proposals for a principled and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem and end to the Turkish occupation. A solidly legal solution would adhere to several fundamental principles, including:

1. The Peaceful Settlement of Disputes
2. The Sovereignty, Independence and Equality of States
3. The Prohibition of the Act and Consequences of Aggression
4. Respect for Human Rights
5. Democracy
6. The Rule of Law
7. Respect for property rights

Alfred de Zayas in his articles explains eloquently why the Annan Plan fails on all of these accounts, identifies issues that need to be addressed in a proper solution, and sets forth proposals for how to proceed. His articles are neither overly long or difficult to read, and are highly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the core issues of the Cyprus problems and the need to address them in good faith with the aim of obtaining a legally correct, fair and lasting solution. Key to that is placing responsibility where it belongs, restoring property to its proper owners, and paying reparations for any neglect, looting or destruction that has taken place, in particular to the property of the Church of Cyprus.

Genuine progress is on the ground

In a remarkable decision, the property rights of the 200,000 Cypriots expelled in the 1974 invasion were upheld in the case Apostolides Vs. Orams. It is an interesting twist that the Orams were represented by Cherie Blair, wife of long-time Turkey supporter and British prime minister Tony Blair. The European Court of Justice upheld the property rights of Mr. Apostolides as not being invalidated by the Turkish invasion, and in turn ordered the Orams to compensate him for the illegal use of his property. Thus, all Cypriots displaced by the Turkish invasion, and their heirs, have a legal right to their property in the north.

But probably the most significant progress was the opening of passage between north and south that started carefully in 2003, in 2008 included the highly symbolic Ledra Street Crossing, and is now firmly established routine. Any EU citizen is free to pass between north and south, and only when passing into the Turkish-occupied zone one is requested to show personal papers. It was feared that violence would resume due to old antagonisms resurfacing, but after 15 million passings and no incidents of the kind, it is now proven that such violence-inducing antagonism does not exist, and thus one of the main Turkish justifications for the continued occupation is null and void.

Particularly remarkable is the attitude of the Turkish Cypriots, now outnumbered in their own part of the island by Turkish soldiers and illegal settlers. At least three major demonstrations were held in 2011 in protest against the Turkish regime in the north, with many carrying the flag of Cyprus (incidentally designed by a Turkish Cypriot, İsmet Güney) as a sign of their desire to have the Turkish occupation lifted and the island reunited. They do not desire more ‘Turkishness’, but rather a Cyprus freed from Turkish dominance. The Turkish government has recognized the problem and seeks to rebuild good relations with the Turkish Cypriots.

In conclusion

The Cyprus problem is a long series of failures to uphold international law, in letter, in spirit as well as in principle, due mainly to the great powers with interests in and around Cyprus choosing political expediency over legally solid solutions. While this may seem to work in behind-the-scene deals, it becomes disgraceful when exposed to rational criticism. For a just and lasting solution to be found in Cyprus, international law and its vital principles cannot reasonably be ignored.


europyre said...

I must admit my relative ignorance on Cyprus.

I am disturbed to recognise typical "divide and rule" Empire tactics used by my own country.

This is a very useful primer on the recent history of Cyprus so I thank you for your efforts.

It is clear that many of the Cypriot people have suffered grave injustices.

jeppo said...

"The Cyprus problem alone, wholly apart from the problems inside Turkey proper, and the conditions for EU membership should exclude Turkey from any notion of becoming member of the European Union."

Yes, and frankly the division of Cyprus is a small price to pay to keep Turkey out of the EU.

Beware of any reunification plan with a quid pro quo that would lead to Turkey joining the EU. The Turks must be kept out of Europe at all cost, even if this perpetuates the illegal division of Cyprus.

Rocha said...


What you propose is just the continuation of the treason by the west to the greeks...

Rocha said...

The treason by the west against the Greeks and Slavs is old...

But even forgetting constantinople, there are 1877, 1905, 1912-1913, 1922, 1960, 1974...

It's easy to be mad to the greeks now but our debt is bigger and older...

jeppo said...


What you propose is just the continuation of the treason by the west to the greeks..."

No, I hold the Greeks in the highest esteem as the founders of Western civilization. Ideally I would like to see the unification of Cyprus, all the post-1974 Turkish settlers sent packing, and eventual Enosis with Greece if Cypriot voters so choose.

However, I am very leery of any future deal where Turkish concessions on Cyprus are the trade-off leading to Turkey finally being allowed to join the EU. The traitorious and dhimmified Euro-elites are all in favour of Turkish membership, but the only thing holding them back from realizing their dream is the illegal Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus, rightly opposed by the legitimate Cypriot government.

So as long as Cyprus stays divided, Turkey will be blocked from joining the EU. And keeping Turkey out of the EU should override all other concerns, including the temporary division of Cyprus. Hopefully one day the island will be reunited, but never at the cost of Turkish membership in the EU.

1389 said...


I've blogged about Cyprus off and on for awhile (see category link). The issue has mostly drifted off the European radar screen, which is particularly bad with the resurgence of both Islamic and nationalistic expansionism in Turkey.

I don't trust Turkey whatsoever - not even under its short-lived and now-crumbling guise as a "secular state."

Henrik R Clausen said...

Noone in their right mind trusts Turkey...

1389 and others: As usual, my essays are free to republish and translate. There's a German version out already.

Henrik R Clausen said...

The Turks must be kept out of Europe at all cost, even if this perpetuates the illegal division of Cyprus.

Now, isn't that an interesting question..?

My take is that standing firm on Cyprus is the most effective way to make the Turkish EU ambition collapse.

Professor L said...

On a completely unrelated note, am I mad to see in Cyprus a fairly close geographical representation of the United States of America?

Sheesh, I think I need to get more sleep.

whatever said...

As far as we Turks are concerned, Cyprus is just a nuisance. If they had not tried to kill Turks there we would not bother to invade the country.

However, now that they tried and paid the price, they should not play the innocent here. They brought this on themselves.

jeppo said...

From the GoV news feed:

"The ongoing dispute over divided Cyprus may escalate problems between Turkey and the European Union after Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to freeze EU relations when the Greek Cypriots take on the rotating presidency in 2012. The move only serves to further disqualify Turkey’s plans to join the EU, German conservatives say. Greek southern Cyprus, a European Union member since 2004, is set to assume the EU’s rotating presidency in July 2012. But if the Greek Cypriots don’t agree to a deal ending the three-decade division from the Turkish northern part of the island, Turkey will refuse to recognize their EU leadership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.

“Nobody should expect us to consider the administration of Southern Cyprus as an interlocutor,” Erdogan said during a press conference after meeting with Dervis Eroglu, the president of northern Cyprus. “We will never consider them as (an) interlocutor and sit at (the) table with them.” Erdogan’s two-day visit marks the July 20 anniversary celebration of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, which ultimately led to the island’s division. Turkey remains the only nation to recognize the internationally isolated Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where it maintains a military presence. The situation is a major stumbling block to Turkey joining the EU. While the Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of reunification in a 2004 referendum, their southern neighbors rejected the measure, a perceived insult that has prompted stiff Turkish resistance to further efforts at finding a solution."

Divided Cyprus = Turkey-free European Union

Henrik Ræder said...

But if the Greek Cypriots don’t agree to a deal ending the three-decade division from the Turkish northern part of the island, Turkey will refuse to recognize their EU leadership.

This is just so twisted...

The Cypriots - Greek and Turkish alike - both agree on a simple, legal and effective deal:

Ending the Turkish occupation!

But I give it to Erdogan and the Turkish government: They really are masters of putting the blame elsewhere, even if it flies straight in the face of facts and common sense.

Rocha said...

"But if the Greek Cypriots don’t agree to a deal ending the three-decade division from the Turkish northern part of the island, Turkey will refuse to recognize their EU leadership."

That's so lame a excuse that it will hold for just a few years!
Do you think that the elites that are planning to make Eurabia will stop because of Cyprus? You will get a few years, just that. If the paradigm don't change the E.U. will be the one invading Greek Cyprus to hand it to the Turks...