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Turkish Conflicts

Cypriot culture is among the oldest in the Mediterranean. By 3700 BC, the island was well inhabited, a crossroads between East and West. The island fell successively under Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman domination. For 800 years, beginning in 364 AD, Cyprus was ruled by Byzantium. After brief possession by King Richard I (the Lion-Hearted) of England during the Crusades, the island came under Frankish control in the late 12th century. It was ceded to the Venetian Republic in 1489 and conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571. The Ottomans applied the millet system to Cyprus, which allowed religious authorities to govern their own non-Muslim minorities. This system reinforced the position of the Orthodox Church and the cohesion of the ethnic Greek population. Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the three centuries of Ottoman rule remained when control of Cyprus--although not sovereignty--was ceded to Great Britain in 1878. Many left for Turkey during the 1920s, however. The island was annexed formally by the United Kingdom in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I and became a crown colony in 1925.

Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom and established a constitutional republic in 1960, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group that desired political union, or enosis, with Greece. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president.

Shortly after the founding of the republic, serious differences arose between the two communities about the implementation and interpretation of the constitution. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government. In November 1963, President Makarios advanced a series of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate some of these special provisions. The Turkish Cypriots opposed such changes.

On December 21, 1963, serious violence erupted in Nicosia when a Greek Cypriot police patrol, ostensibly checking identification documents, stopped a Turkish Cypriot couple on the edge of the Turkish quarter. A hostile crowd gathered, shots were fired, and two Turkish Cypriots were killed. As the news spread, members of the underground organizations began firing and taking hostages. North of Nicosia, Turkish forces occupied a strong position at St. Hilarion Castle, dominating the road to Kyrenia on the northern coast. The road became a principal combat area as both sides fought to control it. The confrontation prompted widespread intercommunal fighting in December 1963, after which Turkish Cypriots ceased to participate in the government. Much intercommunal fighting occurred in Nicosia along the line separating the Greek and Turkish quarters of the city (known later as the Green Line). Turkish Cypriots were not concentrated in one area, but lived throughout the island, making their position precarious. Following the outbreak of intercommunal violence, many Turkish Cypriots (and some Greek Cypriots) living in mixed villages began to move into enclaved villages or elsewhere. Vice-President Küçük and Turkish Cypriot ministers and members of the House of Representatives ceased participating in the government.

In January 1964, after an inconclusive conference in London among representatives of Britain, Greece, Turkey, and the two Cypriot communities, UN Secretary General U Thant, at the request of the Cyprus government, sent a special representative to the island. After receiving a firsthand report in February, the Security Council authorized a peace-keeping force under the direction of the secretary general. Advance units reached Cyprus in March, and by May the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) totaled about 6,500 troops. Originally authorized for a three-month period, the force, at decreased strength, was still in position in the early 1990s.

Severe intercommunal fighting occurred in March and April 1964. When the worst of the fighting was over, Turkish Cypriots--sometimes of their own volition and at other times forced by the TMT--began moving from isolated rural areas and mixed villages into enclaves. Before long, a substantial portion of the island's Turkish Cypriot population was crowded into the Turkish quarter of Nicosia in tents and hastily constructed shacks. Slum conditions resulted from the serious overcrowding. All necessities as well as utilities had to be brought in through the Greek Cypriot lines. Many Turkish Cypriots who had not moved into Nicosia gave up their land and houses for the security of other enclaves.

In June 1964, the House of Representatives, functioning with only its Greek Cypriot members, passed a bill establishing the National Guard, in which all Cypriot males between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine were liable to compulsory service. The right of Cypriots to bear arms was then limited to this National Guard and to the police. Invited by Makarios, General Grivas returned to Cyprus in June to assume command of the National Guard; the purpose of the new law was to curb the proliferation of Greek Cypriot irregular bands and bring them under control in an organization commanded by the prestigious Grivas. Turks and Turkish Cypriots meanwhile charged that large numbers of Greek regular troops were being clandestinely infiltrated into the island to lend professionalism to the National Guard. Turkey began military preparations for an invasion of the island. A brutally frank warning from United States president Lyndon B. Johnson to Prime Minister Ismet Inönü caused the Turks to call off the invasion. In August, however, Turkish jets attacked Greek Cypriot forces besieging Turkish Cypriot villages on the northwestern coast near Kokkina.

In July 1964, veteran United States diplomat Dean Acheson met with Greek and Turkish representatives in Geneva. From this meeting emerged what became known as the Acheson Plan, according to which Greek Cypriots would have enosis and Greece was to award the Aegean island of Kastelorrizon to Turkey and compensate Turkish Cypriots wishing to emigrate. Secure Turkish enclaves and a Turkish sovereign military base area were to be provided on Cyprus. Makarios rejected the plan, because it called for what he saw as a modified form of partition.

Throughout 1964 and later, President Makarios and the Greek Cypriot leadership adopted the view that the establishment of UNFICYP by the UN Security Council had set aside the rights of intervention granted to the guarantor powers--Britain, Greece, and Turkey--by the Treaty of Guarantee. The Turkish leadership, on the other hand, contended that the Security Council action had reinforced the provisions of the treaty. These diametrically opposed views illustrated the basic Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot positions; the former holding that the constitution and the other provisions of the treaties were flexible and subject to change under changing conditions, and the latter, that they were fixed agreements, not subject to change.

Grivas and the National Guard reacted to Turkish pressure by initiating patrols into the Turkish Cypriot enclaves. Patrols surrounded two villages, Ayios Theodhoros and Kophinou, about twenty-five kilometers southwest of Larnaca, and began sending in heavily armed patrols. Fighting broke out, and by the time the Guard withdrew, twenty-six Turkish Cypriots had been killed. Turkey issued an ultimatum and threatened to intervene in force to protect Turkish Cypriots. To back up their demands, the Turks massed troops on the Thracian border separating Greece and Turkey and began assembling an amphibious invasion force. The ultimatum's conditions included the expulsion of Grivas from Cyprus, removal of Greek troops from Cyprus, payment of indemnity for the casualties at Ayios Theodhoros and Kophinou, cessation of pressure on the Turkish Cypriot community, and the disbanding of the National Guard.

Grivas resigned as commander of the Greek Cypriot forces on November 20, 1967, and left the island, but the Turks did not reduce their readiness posture, and the dangerous situation of two NATO nations on the threshold of war with each other continued. President Johnson dispatched Cyrus R. Vance as his special envoy to Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus. Vance arrived in Ankara in late November and began ten days of negotiations that defused the situation.

Following this outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed. Greece agreed to withdraw its forces on Cyprus except for the contingent allowed by the 1960 treaties, provided that Turkey did the same and also dismounted its invasion force. Turkey agreed, and the crisis passed. During December 1967 and early January 1968, about 10,000 Greek troops were withdrawn. Makarios did not disband the National Guard, however, something he came to regret when it rebelled against him in 1974.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:25 ZULU