February 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

CyprusWho lives there?: About a million people. As we will go on to discuss Cyprus is divided in half: the southern 60% (by area) is de facto ruled by the Republic of Cyprus, which is recognised as the de jure government of the entire island by most international bodies, including the EU, of which it is a member. The northern 40% is de facto ruled by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, whose sovereignty is only recognised by Turkey. Since its impossible to talk about the one in isolation to the other, I’m going to do them both together. To avoid political connotations I’m just going to call the two halves north and south.

Census taking in Cyprus is deeply political, and these hasn’t been a census everyone agreed on since 1960. It is more or less agreed that 80% of the population is Greek Cypriot or Greek and 20% Turkish Cypriot or Turkish. Whilst it is a divide primarily based upon language, it is also the case that these two groups map almost exactly to the Eastern Orthodox and Sunni Muslim populations of the island. As you can see from the demographic map below, whilst Cyprus used to be fairly segregated, it wasn’t along the lines of the partition. However, since partition there has been a deal of moving around and so now almost the entire population of the south is Greek Cypriot or Greek, and the north Turkish Cypriot or Turkish.

There are roughly 750,000 people living in the south and roughly 300,000 in the north. Of those in the north, about half (150,000) are viewed by the south as illegal immigrants. That is, they were allowed to immigrate from Turkey by the northern government, which the southern government does not recognise. As such the southern government both refuses to recognise these people as citizens, and wants them deported.

There is a considerable Cypriot diaspora – mostly living in Turkey, Greece, western Europe and the USA. It is thought to number about two million in total; a full one million of these are Turkish Cypriots, meaning there are somewhere between 3 and 8 times as many Turkish Cypriots outside Cyprus as in it.

In addition there are three small religiously based minorities: Armenian Christians, Latin Rite (Catholic) Christians, and Maronites (Catholics of the Syrian catholic church, who speak their own language based upon Arabic). Whilst each of these groups are very small in number (numbering about 5,000 each) they all – and particularly the Maronites – totally dominate certain enclaves of the island, making them powerful political forces. All these groups got to vote at partition whether to be considered politically part of the Greek or Turkish community; all chose the Greek and almost all now live in the south.

ethnographic map of Cyprus

Meanwhile the British operate two enormous military bases on the island and, as such, have sovereignty over quite considerable parts of it (3% of the island) – and the UN administer a buffer zone which covers a further 8%

Partition of Cyprus

How does the system work? (the theory): The south is a presidential republic. The President holds executive power and is elected by two round FPTP for a term of five year’s duration – there is a two term limit. The President is supposed to appoint a Turkish Cypriot vice president but, as the Turkish Cypriot community has operated an almost total boycott of all the south’s institutions of state, one hasn’t been appointed since 1964.

Legislative power is vested in the unicameral House of Representatives. In theory this has 80 full members and 3 observer-members. However no-one has been returned for the 24 seats in the north of the island since 1964 and so in practice the house has 59 members (56 full members). 56 are elected by largest remainder (hare quota, open list) PR (with a 1.8% threshold) whilst the 3 observer members are elected by FPTP by members of the Armenian, Maronite and Latin communities respectively. Terms are for five years.

The south has divided Cyprus into six districts. However all of one, almost all of another, and significant parts of two more lie in the north- so for these areas the arrangements are purely nominal. Each of the districts is administered by a civil servant appointed by the centre

Below this level the south has vibrant local government – at least in urban areas. The south has 36 urban municipalities and 549 rural communities. Each has a directly elected Mayor (urban) or President (rural) and local council. The Mayors enjoy fairly wide ranging autonomy, whilst the Presidents have less direct power but a degree of influence.

Meanwhile the north has a similar system, although the northern president is less powerful – sharing executive power with a Prime Minister appointed by the legislative. Presidential elections are also held using two round FPTP, and terms are also for five years, with a two term limit.

Elections to the legislative also similar to arrangements in the south with 50 MPs elected from 5 constituencies (10 per constituencies) by open list PR. The open list works by allowing people either to vote for a party (in which case they can further vote on the order of preference for the candidates within that party), or simply for a number of individuals from different parties. The votes cast for each party are counted up (so someone simply voting for one party is counted as having cast 10 votes for that party, whilst those splitting their votes are counted as having voted for various parties weighted in accordance with their ballot – this is called panachage) and, subject to a 5% threshold, the seats are then allocated between the parties by PR. The lists are then ordered by the number of votes and preferences each individual within the party list received.

As with the south, the north is split into districts whose leaders are civil servants appointed by the centre. They are further subdivided into urban municipalities (with a directly elected mayor and council) and rural village commissions (who just have the council).

Meanwhile the British Sovereign Base areas are governed by an administrator appointed by the British MOD. The UN buffer area is governed by southern government but with the law administered by the UN mission. The buffer zone has a population of merely 10,000 and has become a de facto national park.

How does the system work? (the practice): Perhaps surprisingly both halves of the island have absolutely model democracies with freedom of speech being guaranteed. Many Turkish Cypriots in the south boycott elections, but some don’t. Meanwhile most Greek Cypriots and other minorities in the north don’t vote in the north but do get absentee ballots for elections in the south.

How did we get here?: This is a very contentious issue. “It was their fault” is the fairly predictable refrain from all sides. I’m going to try and be as fair as I can. The question of who got there first is kind of redundant – there were waves of Hellenic settlement every few hundred years from 1400BC and waves of settlement from Egypt, the Levant and, Asia Minor before during and after then. In other words, insofar as the terms have any meaning, it had a mixed Greek/Turkish ethnic, linguistic, and religious makeup since before the creation of modern Greece or Turkey.

Cyprus was fought over by various groups from the Greek and Turkish areas from that point on, but we won’t miss much if we skip forward to the 1570 invasion and conquest of Cyprus by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. They did two things to cement the current dynamic. Firstly they introduced the “millet” system of rule (the Ottomans couched their rule in it – sorry), whereby each religious group would be governed by the religious leaders of that group. This placed the substantial Eastern Orthodox community directly under the control of the Greek primate, so increasing links with Greece and making the Greek state the main rival to Turkish power. The second thing they did was appallingly misrule Cyprus.

This led to several uprisings against Ottoman rule. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots took part in these uprisings but, because of the millet system, and because Eastern Orthodox Christians were in the majority, these uprisings often became closely linked with Greece – to the extent that Greek nationalism quickly became synonymous with resistance to Ottoman rule.

The 1878 Russo-Turkish War – itself in some ways the aftermath of the Crimean war – ended with Turkey having to make various concessions. One of them was to hand over administration of Cyprus to the British. In 1914 Britain formally annexed Cyprus and in 1925 Turkey dropped its claim to it. But these developments did not end Greek nationalism, indeed it became stronger and stronger. In 1955 Greek nationalists launched an armed struggle for unification with Greece: “Enosis”. Meanwhile Turkish Cypriots, concerned with how they would fare in a Greek governed Cyprus led their own armed struggle for partition. The British suppressed both revolts fairly violently.

By 1960 however the position was untenable. Talks were held in Paris between the Governments of Britain, Greece, Turkey, and representatives of both sides. The result was that the request to join Cyprus with Greece was refused because of the fears of the Turkish community, but Cyprus would be given full independence, along the lines of a constitution which is still in force in the south. In addition the Turkish community was to be given a parliamentary veto and civil-service jobs were to be strictly quotad. Archbishop Makarios III became the first President of Cyprus.

Things went well for three years but by 1963-64 there were severe ethnic problems: Turkish Cypriots were concerned that they were being forced into enclaves. Inter communal violence led to a UN mission being deployed, but by 1964 the situation had deteriorated to the point where all Turkish Cypriot politicians had pulled out of the institutions of state. The veto and quota requirements were therefore dropped, further hardening divisions.

Meanwhile in 1967 a right wing military junta seized power on mainland Greece. They disliked Makarios III who they regarded as soft on Enosis. In 1974 they struck, organising a coup which deposed him in favour of the nationalist fanatic Nikos Sampson. Sampson declared Makarios III dead, although it later transpired he had actually fled to London aboard a British helicopter.

Sampson may go down in history as the worst head of state of all time: so disastrous was his rule that it lasted a mere 8 days, and when it came down it brought the Greek Junta down with it. However those 8 days were to have a profound effect on the politics and history of the island. Turkish Cypriots were terrified of Sampson, and not without reason, Sampson later admitted “Had Turkey not intervened, I would not only have proclaimed Enosis but I would have annihilated the Turks in Cyprus as well.”

On day 4 of Sampson’s rule (July 20th 1974) the Turkish army invaded in force to protect Turkish Cypriots. Sampson’s government, aided by the Greek army, managed to hold them at the “green line” (now the line of partition) and a general ceasefire was called when, four days later, both Sampson’s government and the Greek government collapsed.

But Turkey refused to leave the land it had captured – ostensibly for fear of reprisals against the Turkish community (whilst only four days long, it had been a bloody war with many civilians dead on both sides). Opinions differed as to the legality of Turkey’s actions and as to what should happen next. The international community in general refused to recognise Turkish sovereignty over the north and instead imposed sanctions on Turkey. In 1983, with Turkish backing, Northern Cyprus declared independence, but this was not internationally recognised.

And that was how things stayed until the Annan plan, in 2004. The plan came about because of a number of things: firstly moderate, broadly pro-reunification (with each other, not with Greece or Turkey) governments were in power in both halves (the plan was hatched just after the Republican Turkish Party took power in the north, and just before the Democratic Rally lost it in the south). Secondly it was hoped that EU accession could be used as a carrot to entice both sides to accept reunification. Talks did break down, and in the end both sides rejected elements of the final deal – but they went far enough for something to be put to both sides by the UN in a referendum.

But this is where the deal floundered. For whilst EU accession, and an end to economic isolation, provided a powerful incentive for the north to drop its historic objection to reunification, this was not the case for the south. As the officially recognised half, the south would get all of the perks of EU membership regardless of whether they voted yes or no. But if they voted no, they would get to keep all those perks to themselves. And so it came to pass that whilst the north voted for reunification by 65% to 35%, the south voted to reject their offer by 75% to 25%.

This stuck in many people’s craw, both in the north and in the wider world. There was a feeling that the north was being punished for the south’s poor behaviour, and the south was being rewarded for the north’s good behaviour. This was summed up by European Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen, who said, “I feel cheated by the Greek Cypriot government”. This marked something of a departure for the international community who, until this point, had tended to blame northern and Turkish obstructionism for the lack of progress (up until this point, not without reason). However as the treaties were already in place the international community had no choice but to honour their part of the deal and give economic support and EU membership to the south only.

Of course the reasons on both sides were a deal more complicated than that, and it is not the case that the south merely voted no out of spite. In one of Wikipedia’s better pages they lay out all the arguments that were used on both sides. Predictably, the result of the failure of the Annan plan was that the pro-reunification party lost power in the north.

Who’s in charge?: The south has one of the only two democratically elected communist governments in the world (as of 7 days ago, Nepal is the other) and is the only communist member of the EU. The Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) had been growing in support at every election for the last 20 odd years, and in 2008 they won the Presidency outright for the first time. The AKEL supports a federal and independent unified Cyprus and emphasises rapprochement with Turkish Cypriots in the name of international worker’s solidarity – but in general it has tended to campaign on economic factors rather than on the national question. This can be seen by the fact it allies itself with a party it agrees with economically but disagrees with on the question of the north; and against one for which the reverse is true.

Southern Cyprus has a three party system: the centre-right and pro reunification Democratic Rally, and the centre-left anti reunification Democratic Party being the other two parties.

The 2008 presidential elections were incredibly close. On the first round the Democratic Rally’s Ioannis Kasoulidis won 33.51% to AKEL’s Dimitris Christofias‘ 33.29% (just 0.22% in it) whilst the Democratic Party’s Tassos Papadopoulos missed out on the runnoff by just 1.5% – his 31.79% not quite being enough. This as a surprise as Papadopoulos was the incumbent, having won the election of 2003 on a hard-line anti-reunification policy made popular by his Democratic Rally predecessor’s negotiation of the Annan plan.

The second round was also close but not quite a nail-biting: Christofias beating Kasoulidis by 53% to 47%.

Parliament was meanwhile last elected in 2006 and likewise is split 3 ways. The AKEL and Democratic Party have jointly enjoyed a majority (just) for some time, and have actively worked together in parliament since at least 2001. In that time the AKEL has overtaken the Democratic Party and they now have 18 seats to the Democratic Party’s 11.

The opposition Democratic Rally meanwhile have 18 seats and minor parties share 9 seats between them.

The largest of these is the EDEK with 5 seats. The EDEK is centre-left but everything else about it is unclear: it was founded by Vasos Lyssaridis, a prominent Greek nationalist – but since then has been kind of moderate on reunification, and supported Makarios III. Indeed the head of their youth wing at one point tried to kill Lyssaridis.

Meanwhile three seats are held by the European Party, a splinter of the Democratic Rally regarded by some as right wing populists who support Enosis, but by most as centrists who are merely pro-greater integration with the EU. Finally one seat is held by a  Green.

political parties in cyprus

Meanwhile the north has a much more straightforward two party system. There is the left-wing (veering between centre left and Marxist) pro-reunification Republican Turkish Party, and the centre-right Turkish nationalist National Unity Party who refuse to have any dealings with the south. National Unity was the natural party of power for many many years, yet the Republican Turkish Party had been gaining gradually and finally won power in 2003. However, as this led to the Annan plan, and as the Annan plan backfired on the north, the Republican Turkish Party’s population took a sharp dive.

The National Unity Party won back the presidency in 2010 in the first round: their candidate Derviş Eroğlu avoiding a runnoff by just 0.3% of the vote. Mehmet Ali Talat, the Republican Turkish incumbent (running as an independent in the hope of gaining bipartisan support) came second with 42% of the vote.

The National Unity Party had already won back Parliament and the Prime Ministership in 2009 winning 26 seats. The Republican Turkish Party have 15, and minor parties have 9. Of these the centre-right Democrat Party have 5 and two centre-left liberal parties have 2 each: the Communal Democracy Party and the Freedom and Reform Party.

political parties in north cyprus

Outside of politics the Orthodox Church exercises quite a lot of power in the south, whilst Sunni Imams exercise a smaller degree of power in the north. Trade Unions are powerful in the south, the main ones being: the Cypriot Workers or SEK (which has a pro-western outlook), the Confederation of Revolutionary Labor Unions or Dev-Is (which is not closely aligned to any philosophy), and the Pan-Cyprian Labor Federation or PEO (which is strongly communist). Far right Turkish groups like the Grey Wolves occasionally come to Cyprus looking to stir up trouble

What does it look like?: It’s very Mediterranean.


What are the issues?: Everything is linked back to the debate over reunification.

In the south there is the issue of reunification itself, and all its constituent issues (as I said before, the wikipedia article above has an excellent summary of most of these) of which the most contentious is the insistence by the south that the 150,000 or so Turkish immigrants allowed in by the northern government should be deported. Then there are issues such as foreign policy and economic policy which are also tied to the issue of reunification: how integrated with the EU to be? How much should we trade with Turkey? etc etc …

In the north the main question is whether to co-operate with the south. Until recently there had been almost total non-cooperation, but under the Republican Turkish Party rule this had lessened somewhat. Then, after Annan, non-cooperation resumed, but with the very real impact economic isolation is having on the north of the island there is a question as to how affordable this policy is.

A good source of impartial information is: There is a very good free press in Cyprus on both sides, but this is of course a polarised discourse. Cyprus Weekly is the English language weekly.

A good book is: There is a very good, brand new book out on Cyprus: The Government and Politics of Cyprus. There is also a very good article on Cyprus in Nations and Nationalism. I don’t know anything about Reunifying Cyprus: The Annan Plan and Beyond or The History and Politics of the Cyprus Conflict but I imagine they’re worth a read.

The next elections are: the south has Parliamentary elections in May and Presidential elections in 2013. The north has Parliamentary elections in 2014 and presidential in 2015.


§ 5 Responses to Cyprus

  • […] has a great profile of Cyprus which talks about the history and other details. Cyprus is a presidential republic, with the head […]

  • MyLove Skyturk says:

    how ironic, that to start with it would not be the right of anyone to place ownership to physical matter as their property in the galactical eternity. However, if it is to be so, than, what right would anyone people have, be it greek, english, sicilian, romans, byzantians, venicians (whom are all incidentaly, part of the NWO – ZION – CRUSADE ) etc to place claim onto the island?. it seems the turks and, damascus people, were there from 9,000 – 13,000 years ago. surely, if the principals of enosis is anything to go by than it would be unification to mainland turks and or syrians the island should go to. THE BRITISH (ZION) were playing a dirty yet simple game with the turks along with the greeks with the whole cyprus issue from the word go.

  • Michael says:

    Article is beyond ignorant. Many parts biased pro-Turkish nonsense. For instance, you claim that between July 15 (coup) and July 20 (Turk invasion) many died on the Turkish side. This is a complete lie.

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