The 1974 Crisis and Division of the Island

Cyprus Table of Contents

Pressures mounting within the Cypriot communities and within the military junta ruling Greece converged in the summer of 1974. Greek military officials, angered by Makarios's independence from Greece and his policy of nonalignment, backed a coup d'état by Greek Cypriot National Guard officers intent on enosis. The coup imposed Nicos Sampson as provisional president.

The Turkish response was swift. On July 20, Turkish troops reached the island and established a beachhead in the north. A ceasefire was reached two days later, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies of Greece and Turkey working urgently to avoid an intra-alliance confrontation. Peace talks were hastily convened in Geneva, but those talks did not satisfy Turkish concerns. On August 14, the Turks began a second offensive that resulted in their control of 37 percent of the island. The ceasefire lines achieved after the extension of Turkish control formed the basis for the buffer zone manned by the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which has been in place since 1964.

The events of 1974 dramatically altered the internal balance of power between the two Cypriot communities and coupled their prevailing political and institutional separation with stark physical and geographical separation. In a grim historical echo of the widely praised 1930 Greek-Turkish exchange-of-population agreements, roughly a third of each community, displaced by the war, was transferred to the side of the island that its community controlled. As a consequence, in 1990 nearly a third of the people of Cyprus lived outside their birthplaces or places of residence in 1974.

Institutionally, Turkish Cypriots simply consolidated what had been a separate administration run out of Turkish Cypriot enclaves across the island into the northern third, made secure by Turkish troops. That presence altered the political life of the Turkish Cypriots, however. Many decisions affecting the life of the community had a security dimension, and the economy of the small entity has been dependent on Turkish subsidies and trade. Thus, the extent of the real autonomy of Turkish Cypriot authorities from their mainland protectors and benefactors was the subject of continued speculation and uncertainty.

More about the Government and Politics of Cyprus.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress