Cyprus - Political background

Cyprus has played a major role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its prehistoric settlements date to the sixth millennium BC . Early in the second millennium BC , the Greeks established their first city kingdoms on the island and introduced their language and culture. The Turkish Cypriot community established itself following the Ottoman conquest of 1571. The island was ceded by the Ottomans to the British Empire in 1878, and remained a crown colony until 16 August 1960, when it became an independent state. The Constitution of Cyprus was drafted on the basis of a political compromise reached in 1959 by the governments of Britain, Turkey, and Greece.

The 1960 Constitution required the election of a Greek Cypriot to the presidency and a Turkish Cypriot to the vice presidency, by separate communal electoral rolls. The Turkish community was granted disproportionate representation in all branches of the government along with extensive veto powers and separate voting majorities. Constitutional lawyers have described the Cypriot Constitution as "unique and unprecedented." Difficulties in the implementation of this Constitution and the unwillingness of the Turkish Cypriots to accept amendments led to intercommunal clashes late in 1963. In January 1964, the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the government of Cyprus.

The interference of Greece and Turkey in the affairs of Cyprus hampered the talks sponsored by the United Nations (UN) from 1968 through 1974, which sought revisions to the Constitution. Following a coup against the elected president of Cyprus by the junta ruling Greece at the time, Turkey invaded Cyprus on 20 July 1974. Turkey claimed a right to intervene militarily under the Treaty of Guarantee, which was one of the independence treaties. Since then, nearly 39% of Cyprus remains under Turkish army occupation. The two communities had co-existed throughout the island, but were forced to relocate by the Turkish army. Nearly 50% of the population of Cyprus became refugees. Turkey introduced some 85,000 Turkish settlers in the occupied areas. Turkish troops, estimated at 35,000, control a dividing line that runs roughly on an east-west direction from Famagusta to the east, through the capital city of Nicosia, to the town of Morphou on the northwest of the island.

The government of Cyprus, under the control of the Greek Cypriots, retains international recognition and membership in all international organizations. The Turkish Cypriots have established separate political and administrative institutions in the area occupied by the Turkish army. In 1983, following a unilateral declaration of independence, the Turkish Cypriots established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has been proclaimed illegal by UN Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) and by all other major international organizations. This "state" is not recognized by any nation except Turkey. Since the Turkish invasion of 1974, the government of Cyprus and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Rauf Denktash, have undertaken talks to amend the Constitution of Cyprus and to reunify the island. These talks have been held under the "good offices" of the UN secretary general. The Turkish Cypriots seek the establishment of a loose bizonal confederation, with minimal contact between the two communities. The government of Cyprus hopes to establish a functional and viable federation in which all Cypriots enjoy rights guaranteed by European conventions. In November 2002, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a comprehensive peace plan for the island, envisaging a Swiss-style confederation of two equal component states, presided over by a rotating presidency. In December 2002, the European Union invited Cyprus to become a member on 1 May 2004. It was hoped that accession would take place for a united Cyprus, based on the UN plan. Because a settlement was not reached, however, the EU stipulated that negotiations would begin with the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. In February 2003, responding to a 28 February deadline set by the United Nations of for the Greek and Turkish halves of the island to be unified, Greece and Turkey agreed to talks. Within weeks of the announcement of talks, the presidential election (held 16 February) resulted in a surprising upset of incumbent Glafcos Clerides when Greek Cypriot Tassos Papadopoulos was elected. In the election—contested by 10 candidates—Papadopoulos had the support of his own Democratic Party (Diko), as well as the communist Restorative Party of the Working People (Akel) party, and the Social Democrats Movement (Kisos). Papadopoulos won 51.5% of the vote to Clerides's 38.8%.

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