Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus since July 1974.
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.
- The foreign state has overall control over de facto local authorities.
- The de facto authorities exercise effective control of a territory. For further information, see T. Ferraro, 'Determining the Beginning and End of an Occupation Under International Humanitarian Law', 94 International Review of the Red Cross 885 (2012) 158 ff.
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.
Reunification negotiations have been ongoing for the last decades. However, a final agreement is not yet in reach. In May 2017, the United Nations’ envoy ended a visit to the Island with frustration after failing to reach an agreement on conditions to resume reunification talks. Michele Kambas, ‘UN Cyprus envoy to end shuttle diplomacy as sides fail to agree conditions’, Reuters, 26 May 2017.
In February 2019, the UN special envoy Jane Holl Lute visited Cyprus in order to create the necessary atmosphere to resume Reunification negotiations. Cyprus’s President Nicos Anastaisades announced during the visit that his country is ready to enter into negotiations with Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
On 26 February 2019, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades met in the United Nations. Green Zone with the participation of UN Cyprus envoy Elizabeth Spehar. During the meeting, they agreed on numbers of issues; increase confidence, including the interoperability of cell phone networks and electrical grids, as well as clearing hazardous areas. The UN is seeking a future peace deal to unite the island under a federal umbrella. However, a final deal is yet to be reached. Hence, the classification of the conflict in Cyprus remains classified as an occupation. ‘Ready to resume talks immediately, Anastasiades says’, CyprusMail Online, 4 February 2019; ‘Lute meeting productive says spokesman’, CyprusMail Online, 4 February 2019; ‘UN welcome Turkish, Greek Cypriot leaders’ meeting’, Daily Sabah, 01 March 2019.
In October 2020, Ersin Tatar won the presidential elections in northern Cyprus. During his campaign, President Tatar expressed his believe in a two-states solution. Accordingly, in November the UN convened preliminary talks between Cypriot leaders in an informal “five-plus-UN meeting,” whereby the five members where Greece, Turkey, UK and both Cypriot communities. Between 27 and 29, five-plus informal talks took place in Geneva. At the end of the meetings, UN Secretary General Guterres affirmed that: ‘we have not yet found enough common grounds to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations.’ Nevertheless, all parties have expressed their intention to continue the talks in the incoming months. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cyprus.
On 27 September 2021, UN Secretary General Guterres convened talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in order to discuss the possibility to relaunch negotiations. On 4 November, following a month of negotiations, Guterres appointed Colin Stewart as new special representative and head of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Nevertheless, since December 2021 UN-supported attempts to relaunch negotiations stalled and did not lead to concrete steps toward peace. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cyprus.
On 16 September 2022, the US announced the lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus, which was introduced in 1987, explaining that ‘Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation.’ Among other conditions to lift the embargo, Cyprus adopted several financial regulatory oversight mechanisms and denied Russian military vessels access to ports. On the same day, the Turkish Foreign Minister criticized the US decision, warning that it could ‘lead to an arms race on the island.’ As a consequence, Turkish President Erdoğan announced that he would send weapons, ammunition and vehicles to its 40,000 troops currently deployed on the island. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cyprus.
Views of parties to the conflict and international community
Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (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.