Changing Perceptions: Cyprus, An Illegally Partitioned Island

Cyprus should be regarded as an island which has been illegally partitioned by Turkey despite the opposition of the majority of its people—a majority which includes many Turkish Cypriots.

In the struggle to control perceptions which began in the 1950s, the Greek Cypriots have lost a lot of ground. Cyprus used to be generally regarded as a Greek island with a sizable Turkish minority, but since Britain set about trying to justify keeping possession of the island, and Turkey set about trying to claim the island for itself,[1] it has come to be seen as an island shared by Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

This is of course the case, but it is also the case that the majority indigenous population, which is “Greek-speaking, Greek-thinking, Greek-feeling, Greek”,[2] makes up four fifths of the total population of the island, whereas the Turkish Cypriot minority is less than one fifth.[3] This fact is often wilfully downplayed or ignored in accounts of the Cyprus Issue, with the result that one often comes across people who think that, in terms of population figures, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are more or less equal.

What I did not realise was that the Turkish Cypriot population on the island was not even 19% of the total population. When one reads about Cyprus today it could be reasonably accepted that the ratio between Turks and Greeks is about 50-50%. I think we tend to forget this when thinking about the problem.[4]

Moreover following the Turkish invasion, Cyprus has come to be seen, erroneously, as made up of a Greek South Cyprus and a Turkish Northern Cyprus. However it is wrong to identify the northern part of Cyprus which is currently occupied by the Turkish Army as Turkish, and equally wrong to identify the south as solely Greek. Prior to the Turkish invasion there was no large area of Cyprus that was purely Turkish or Greek. There were Greek and Turkish villages, as well as mixed villages, scattered all over the island, but everywhere the Greeks were in the majority.

The impression on the young British diplomat Anthony D. Parsons, seeing the island for the first time in 1958, was of a predominantly Greek countryside:

“The casual visitor can travel from end to end of the island completely unaware that Turks existed there. Very occasionally a mosque can be seen or a broken-down advertisement in Turkish. But the overwhelming impression is Greek in towns and villages—churches, roads, advertisements, place-names.”[5]

When the Turkish Army illegally and brutally partitioned the island in 1974 by forcing the majority Greek Cypriot population of the north to flee to safety and abandon homes, towns and villages, more Greek Cypriots become refugees in their own country than the total number of Turkish Cypriots on the island. Turkey’s action created an anomalous demographic state of affairs which has yet to be rectified.

Turkey claimed a right to intervene militarily in Cyprus based on the Treaty of Guarantee.[6] However Turkey's actions in Cyprus went well beyond anything sanctioned by the Treaty. In the Treaty, the guarantor powers Britain, Greece, and Turkey “recognise and guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus”, and are granted the right “to take action” for the purpose of ensuring “observance” of the Provisions of the Treaty, and “with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the... Treaty”. By failing to make any effort to re-establish the 1960 Constitution, Turkey rendered her military “intervention” illegal.

Furthermore the Treaty of Guarantee expressly prohibits “any activity aimed at promoting, directly or indirectly, either union of Cyprus with any other State or partition of the Island”. By imposing partition, Turkey violated the Treaty in its entirety, for it was created and agreed to by Britain, Greece, and Turkey specifically in order to rule out partition and enosis.

The Turks have in the last decade or so taken to calling the invasion a “peace operation”. This is a blatant and cynical use of misinformation, indicating a profound contempt for accepted standards. When presenting the secret report of the European Commission of Human Rights on the atrocities committed by the Turkish Army in the course of the invasion, the Sunday Times Insight team was in no doubt as to the nature of the Turkish military action—for them the report revealed “The Terrible Secrets of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus”.[7]

Pavlos Andronikos


[1] For an example of the spurious arguments used by many British and Turkish commentators, see the propaganda leaflet Cyprus Has Never Been a Greek Island, Vergi H. Bedevi, Cyprus Turkish Historical Association, 1963 (14 pages).

[2] Ronald Storrs, Orientations [London: Nicholson & Watson, 1943] pp. 469-470. 1st edition: 1937. U.S. edition: The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs.)

[3] Turkish Cypriots do not like to be described as a minority: “The Turks ruled Cyprus for three centuries and they have never become accustomed to being treated as a minority. In 1882, for example, shortly after the British took over the administration of the island they proposed the creation of a legislative council based on proportional representation, comprising nine Greeks and three Turks.... The Turks protested because they saw it as undermining their rightful position and status as former rulers.” Reed Coughlan, in a letter to The London Review of Books (vol. 30, no. 8, 24 April 2008, pp. 7-16). Available at

[4] Bruce Coleman, 1 April 2004 at

[5] Anthony D. Parsons, “Impressions of Cyprus”, 24 March 1958, FO371/136286, RGC1019/1.

[6] Treaty of Guarantee.

[7] Sunday Times [London, England] 23 Jan. 1977: 10. Also at The Sunday Times Digital Archive.