Browse » Conflicts » Military occupation of Cyprus by Turkey

Military occupation of Cyprus by Turkey

Conflict type: Military occupation

Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus since July 1974.

Turkey is the occupying power in the northern part of  Cyprus. Turkey exercises control through both the presence of its armed forces, and the authority it exerts over the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is the de facto authority in the area.

Following the 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus, Turkey has maintained its presence north of the Green Line, The Green Line is a buffer zone that divides Cyprus and is maintained by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. establishing the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983. The TRNC has declared independence, and established diplomatic relations with Turkey. Despite its claim to secession, the TRNC does not enjoy international recognition. For further information on the role of recognition for secessionist entities, see ‘international armed conflict – secessionist entities’ in our classification section. For a thorough analysis whether the TRNC would fulfil the Montevideo Convention criteria to be a state, see M. H. Goldmann, Turkey, Cyprus, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Research Papers, Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Oxford, 2016. The United Nations Security Council held the TRNC’s declaration of independence to be invalid and called upon all states not to recognize it. See UNSC Res 541 (1983), 18 November 1983.

Notwithstanding the absence of recognition by the international community, in recent years Northern Cyprus became an observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Following the adoption of resolution 1367 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Turkish Cypriot community has been represented by two elected representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. See Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1376 (2004), April 2004; see also Parliamentary Assembly, ‘”Elected Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community” will be able to sit in the Chamber’, News, 4 October 2004; Parliamentary Assembly, ‘Assembly Participation by Two “Elected Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community”’, News, 25 January 2005.

Elements of occupation

For a territory to be considered occupied, it must be 'under the authority of the hostile army.' Article 42, 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land. For an occupation to exist, hostile foreign forces must exercise effective control. Three cumulative elements must be fulfilled for effective control to exist.

  • First, the armed forces of a foreign state are physically present in the territory and the territorial state did not consent to their presence.
  • Second, the presence of the foreign forces prevent the effective local government in place at the time of invasion from exercising its powers.
  • Third, the foreign forces establish their own authority. For further information, see ‘military occupation – elements of occupation’ in our classification section.

States may use proxy forces to occupy a territory: if a state exercises overall control over de facto local authorities or other local groups that exert effective control over the territory, the state can be considered an occupying force. For further information on overall control, see 'contemporary challenges for classification – control over proxy forces’ in our classification section. Two elements must therefore exist in such a situation.

In the case of Northern Cyprus, all the elements necessary to establish that Turkey is an occupying power are present.

Turkish military forces maintain a large present in Northern Cyprus. Despite repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for Turkish military withdrawal, See for example UNSC Res 353 (1974), 20 July 1974; UNSC Res 357 (1974). reportedly approximately 30,000-40,000 Turkish forces remain in place. Precise numbers are not available. Various newspapers report numbers ranging from 30’000 to 40’000 troops. They significantly outnumber the 1,000 Greek troops in Cyprus. See for example H. Smith, ‘Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse Amid Angry Scenes’, The Guardian, 7 July 2017; ‘Cyprus Talks End Without a Peace and Reunification Deal’, BBC, 7 July 2017; ‘Cyprus Talks Stall Over Fate of Turkish Troops’, Al Jazeera, 13 January 2017. The continuing presence of Turkish troops continues to be a major obstacle for finding a solution to the conflict and contributed to the collapse of the peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations in July 2017. H. Smith, ‘Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse Amid Angry Scenes’, The Guardian, 7 July 2017; ‘Cyprus Talks End Without a Peace and Reunification Deal’, BBC, 7 July 2017; P. Wintour, ‘Cyprus Talks: Turkish Troops Will Remain on Island, Vows Erdoğan’, The Guardian, 13 January 2017.

The European Court of Human Rights recognised that Turkey is occupying Northern Cyprus. ECtHR, Loizidou v Turkey, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 15318/89, 28 November 1996, §54. According to the European Court, Turkey exercises ‘effective overall control’ over Northern Cyprus, in particular due to ‘the large number of [Turkish] troops engaged in active duties in northern Cyprus.’ ECtHR, Loizidou v Turkey, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 15318/89, 28 November 1996, §56. Moreover, ‘such control, according to the relevant test and in the circumstances of the case, entails [Turkish] responsibility for the policies and actions of the “TRNC”’ ECtHR, Loizidou v Turkey, Grand Chamber, Judgment, App no 15318/89, 28 November 1996, §56. because the local administration ‘survives by virtue of Turkish military and other support.’ ECtHR, Cyprus v Turkey, Grand Chamber Judgment, App no 25781/94, 10 May 2001, §77. For a view asserting the effectiveness of the TRNC government despite the Turkish influence, see M. H. Goldmann, Turkey, Cyprus, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Research Papers, Oxford Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Oxford, 2016, pp 28-29. However, he concludes that the TRNC does not satisfy the Montevideo criteria for statehood due to its difficulties to engage in international relations.

Views of parties to the conflict and international community 

Turkey recognizes the TRNC as ‘an independent State established by the Turkish-Cypriot community in the exercise of its right to self-determination and possessing exclusive control and authority over the territory north of the United Nations buffer-zone.’ ECtHR, Cyprus v Turkey, Grand Chamber Judgment, App no 25781/94, 10 May 2001, §69 and §15. Cyprus considers that Turkey unlawfully occupies the part of Cyprus known as the TRNC. See for example ECtHR, Cyprus v Turkey, Grand Chamber Judgment, App no 25781/94, 10 May 2001, §70.

Following the proclamation of the TRNC in 1983, the Security Council held the TRNC’s declaration of independence to be invalid and called upon all states not to recognize it. See UNSC Res 541 (1983), 18 November 1983. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe described the northern part of Cyprus as ‘occupied by Turkey since 1974’. Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 1628 (2008), 2008.

The law of military occupation is set out in the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land, the 1949 Geneva Conventions (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilians Persons in Time of War and the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to International Armed Conflicts. Both Cyprus and Turkey are parties to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, but only Cyprus is party to the 1977 Additional Protocol I.

Customary international humanitarian law is also applicable during occupation; it complements the protection granted by treaties and binds all parties to the conflict. Customary international law consist of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of occupation. Both Turkey and Cyprus are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey remains bound by its international human rights law obligations in the territory it occupies.

Last updated: Tuesday 12th September 2017