The Role of the UN in Cyprus Conflict

Cyprus is a strategic island located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Its closest neighbors according to their proximity are Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Greece. The geographical location of Cyprus holds a great strategic prominence which resulted in continuous invasions from various sides throughout its history. This study will portray the role of the United Nations in the conflict between Turkey and Greece that broke out in the first half of the 20th century due to the Turkish and Greek populations living in Cyprus and caused the Turks to interfere with the Island in 1974.

Cyprus was under the rule of Ottoman Empire from 1571 until 1878 when Britain took control. When Britain formally annexed the island and made it a crown colony in 1914, the island’s inhabitants were composed of a majority of Greeks and a minority of Turks. The Greek and Turkish Cypriots accumulated and lived together in diverse neighborhoods in terms of ethnicity. However, after experiencing British control and both world wars, two communities split based on their nationalistic and religious loyalties. Hundreds of people along ethnic lines were assassinated by the radical political organizations. The island proclaimed its independence in the year of 1960 and up until then it was under British control. When Cyprus gained independence from Britain, also some colonial tensions were relieved. However, unity of Cyprus was tainted due to many years of internal conflict (Aksu, 2003, p. 130; Spooksandooks, 2017).

Turkish and Greek societies had their own plans for the island; taksim and enosis. Britain, on the other hand, had assumed a so-called mediation role in order to content both sides in this situation. Enosis, in its shortest form, was the name given to the Greek Cypriots’ desire to unite with Greece. Britain opposed this idea and Greek Cypriot’s most active and powerful organization, called EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston: National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), founded against Britain; vowing to first leave Britain and gain independence, and then unite Cyprus with Greece by force. On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots wanted Cyprus to be divided between Turkey and Greece; this partition plan was called taksim. The TMT (Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı: Turkish Resistance Organization) was the most important organization that advocated this idea and was founded against EOKA (Aksu, 2003, p 131; Bozkurt, 1999, p. 217; Theophanous & Christou, 2014, p. 74).

Conflict between the Turkish and Greek communities was widespread between the 1950s and 70s. Greece brought the matter to the United Nations (UN) demanding enosis while Turkey opposed it in 1950. Both nations were part of NATO and thus negotiations resulted in deadlock. Representatives of the all concerned parties met in 1959 hoping to resolve the problem between Turkey and Greece. Britain agreed to withdraw from Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus was proclaimed the following year. However, the Constitution of Cyprus, which is approved by the Zurich agreement that was signed between Turkey, Greece and Britain, was not able to bring peace to this inter-communal violence in Cyprus (Aksu, 2003, p. 130; Theophanous & Christou, 2014, p. 74). According to this constitution, the president of Cyprus had to be elected among the Greeks and also by the Greek population, and the vice president had to be a Turk who was elected by the Turkish population. Both president and vice president would have the veto power. Thirty percent of the cabinet ministers and state officials would be Turk, and both Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities would have high autonomy from each other (Bozkurt, 1999, p. 217). Accordingly, the Turkish, Greek and British armies established their own military bases on the Island as the guarantors of the independence of Cyprus.

The privileges that are provided to the Turkish Cypriots did not content the Greek Cypriots; therefore, violence presented itself multiple times until the 1960s. The death toll reached 364 Turkish Cypriots and 174 Greek Cypriots in 1963. Alongside the deaths, 109 Turkish Cypriot or mixed villages were destroyed and approximately 25-30 thousand Turkish Cypriots were displaced. America’s diplomatic intervention and direct talks between Turkey and Greece calmed the tension and prevented Turkey’s interference which Turkey was on edge at the time in order to save the Turkish Cypriots who were living in the Island. Because the violence did not end, the UN was forced to set up a peacekeeping force on the Island in 1964 (Kings and Generals, 2019).

Enosis and its necessity was cooled down by the Greek Cypriot leader Makarios by time of 1974. However, Greece started to lose faith in the president of Cyprus, Makarios. On the other hand, Greece, ruled by a military junta at the time, was promoting the enosis and cooperated with the local pro-enosis forces such as EOKA in order to encourage them. Therefore, Greece staged a coup and Makarios’ government was overthrown in 1974 by the Cypriot National Guard forces led by Greek officers. Nikos Sampson was declared the new president of Cyprus, who was a member of EOKA and a vehemently pro-enosis nationalist and anti-Turkish person. In return, Turkey issued a list of demands to Greece through America as the negotiator; which included, the immediate removal of the Nikos Sampson from presidency, the withdrawal of 650 Greek officers from the Cypriot National Guard, the admission of Turkish troops to protect their population, equal rights to both populations, access to the sea from the northern coast for Turkish Cypriots, and Britain would ensure the neutrality of Cyprus as one of the guarantors. However, Britain did not fulfil its role and refused to be the guarantor, and thus Turkey started to plan an operation on Cyprus (Kings and Generals, 2019).

In 1974, five days after Greece’s military junta backed a coup d’état of the new Cyprus government to assert more influence over the island, in response Turkey interfered Cyprus and captured nearly half of the territory. Turkish interference of Cyprus, also called the Cyprus peace operation, took place on 20th of August, 1974, under the Article 4 of the Guarantee Treaty and the North side of the Island was taken under control of Turkey. In subsequent battles over dominance thousands of Cypriots from both sides had died and were displaced. During the war, the Turks lost up to 3500 men, while Greek losses amounted to 6000 men (James, 1989, p. 494-495; Kings and Generals, 2019). Soon after, the UN stepped in to broker a cease-fire deal, which led to the creation of the Buffer Zone between both sides in 1974. The island was divided by the so-called Green line and Turkish Cypriots live in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is declared and only recognized by Turkey. A reciprocal population exchange deal was agreed upon. Greek refugees, amounting to 160 thousand people, left for the Greek controlled parts of Cyprus called the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), while Turkish refugees moved to the part controlled by Turkey. Once Turkey threatened all-out war, Greece then rescinded virtually any claim over Cyprus. Since then, Turkey has not left Cyprus. The Island is still divided and ruled by different governments. To this day, TRNC is still not recognized by the international community (Bozkurt, 1999, p. 216; James, 1989, p. 494).

To soundly understand the United Nations’ role in this peace making process in Cyprus, it is necessary to comprehend the nature of the organization’s working structure. UN is an intergovernmental organization whose ultimate aim is to achieve a world where peace and security are maintained and are the core of the diplomatic relations among the nations. Thus, its main motto “Peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet.” It was established after the second world war in 1945, as a successive formation of the League of Nations whose original plan was also the peace and order maintenance however proved to be unsuccessful with the beginning of the second world war (Wikipedia, 2021).

The UN’s mission was also under threat with the cold war after 1945 and doubled with the decolonization period after the 1960s. In accordance, the Cyprus issue was on the tightrope depending on its being one of the ex-colonies of Britain. The UN had several unsuccessful interventions throughout the past decades and this ineffectiveness of the UN is based on its Security Council’s and its five permanent members’ own interests (Konstantinidis, 2003, p. 325; Ertuğ, 2001, p. 1).

In 1950, when Greece first moved the issue to Un, the basis on which it based the Enosis argument was ‘the ability of a nation to determine its own future.’ But this demand was not justified by the fact that Enosis was a cover up that served Greece’s own national interest. Despite being unsuccessful in the first attempt, this banner of self-determination card was played by Greece multiple times in the 1950s. The president of Cyprus Makarios presented to Greece in 1950 the results of the plebiscite for enosis in Cyprus, and Greece transmitted these results to the UN in the hope of self-determination. In 1954 Greece’s request was finally dealt with and got rejected again. The Greek Cypriots who failed in international diplomacy started their enosis propaganda in Cyprus through EOKA and tried to force Britain to accept their enosis goals. Because of this campaign, which led to violence and internal turmoil in Cyprus, Britain had this Greek terrorism issue dealt with again at the UN in 1956 and the Cyprus problem was discussed again (Ertuğ, 2001, p. 2).

In 1960, a compromise was reached and the independent Republic of Cyprus was jointly established. This compromise was commemorated as the fruit of the decolonization efforts of Turkish Cypriots. Unfortunately, the 1960 republic, which was the fruit of this reconciliation that lasted only three years, was destroyed due to the enosis demands of the Greek Cypriots. Later, the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Greek Cypriots against Turkish Cypriots and the brutality it brought along were also recorded in the UN annuals. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was established, however considered to be unsuccessful and ineffective (James, 1989, p. 487; Theophanous & Christou, 2014, p. 76). According to the Resolution 186 of the Security Council adopted in 1964, the Republic of Cyprus would be composed of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, in other words it would bi abi-national government. However, the Greek Cypriots’ armed revolt against the Turkish Cypriots and overthrew the Constitution was undermined by the UN while approaching the Cyprus problem. Because, according to the Western parties forming the UN council, the continuation of the stability in Cyprus was more important than the protection of the rights of the Turkish Cypriots and the rule of law. In this case, the UN was used as an instrument to justify what is seen as stability in the short term (Bozkurt, 1999, p. 215; Ertuğ, 2001, p. 2-3).

Twenty years after the Constitution was destroyed by Greek Cypriots and about ten years after Turkey’s operation in Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established on 15 November 1983 due to the inability to reach a compromise. According to resolution 541 adopted by the UN in 1983, the TRNC was considered illegal and urged all countries not to recognize it. According to UN resolution 550 that was adopted in 1984, the exchange of ambassadors between Turkey and the TRNC was also condemned. According to this attitude, it can be said that the UN council has assumed the role of a judge. This decision of non-recognition, which contradicts the principles of demanding equal rights and self-determination, has led to an ongoing conflict between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. According to the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force, which is held every six months, UN resolutions do not recognize TRNC and continue to appeal to RoC only. On the other hand, TRNC has repeatedly expressed their willingness to make an agreement, arguing that the existence and activities of UNFICYP should also interact with Turkish Cypriots (Theophanous & Christou, 2014, p. 77-79; Ertuğ, 2001, p. 4-5).

As a result, the UN indeed had a great opportunity to provide regional stability and consequently international peace and security as an intermediary in the Cyprus problem. Unfortunately, this opportunity has backfired and has not been able to reach an efficient and effective conclusion due to these five Western permanent members who make up the UN Security Council and the prioritization of their own interests. The fact that the RoC joined the EU in 2008 is also a factor that makes things even more difficult today; thence, it can be seen in the attitudes of both Greece and Turkey that they are now more cautious. It is obvious that the UN and its structures must change in order to adapt to today’s world and international diplomacy, and that it should not repeat the mistakes it made in the past, in order to provide a peaceful and stable environment.




Aksu, E. (2003). The United Nations, Intra-State Peacekeeping and Normative Change. The UN in the Cyprus conflict: UNFICYP. (p. 130-154). Manchester University Press.

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Bölükbaşı, S. (1998). The Cyprus Dispute and the United Nations: Peaceful Non-Settlement between 1954 and 1996. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 30 (3), 411-434.

Ertuğ, O. (2001). The United Nations’ Approach to the Cyprus Issue and UNFICYP. Journal of International Affairs, 4(3),1-7.

James, A. (1989). The UN Force in Cyprus. Royal Institute of International Affairs, 65 (3), 481-500.

Kings and Generals. (9 June 2019). Kıbrıs Krizi 1974 – SOĞUK SAVAŞ BELGESELİ. Retrieved from

Konstantinidis, C. (2003). The Work of the UN in Cyprus: Promoting Peace and Development (review). SAIS Review, 23(1), 325-327. DOI:

Soydemir, A . (2018). The Role and Effectiveness of United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Cyprus Island. Güvenlik Stratejileri Dergisi, 14 (27), 147-184. DOI: 10.17752/guvenlikstrtj.432160.

Spooksandooks. (10 July 2017). A Brief Documentary on Cyprus Conflict 2017. retrieved from

Theophanous, A., Christou, O. (2014). The Cyprus Question and the Role of the UN: An Overall Assessment. The Journal of Modern Hellenism. 30, 73-89.

Wikipedia contributors. (9 April 2021). United Nations. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:52, April 20, 2021, from

Sosyal Medyada Paylaş


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