Tensions between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus Islands 

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff


Today when you hear about a conflict between Greece and Turkey you might be confused thinking the conflict ended in the 1970s. That was true until this week.  

On Oct. 1st Cyprus celebrates its annual Independence Day. In 1960, Cypriot freedom was formally recognized by the governments of Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (UK) in what is called the London and Zürich Agreement. The agreement was the result of a series of meetings that started in February 1959, when representatives from Greece, Turkey, and the UK met to draft an agreement that would cement Cyprus as an independent state. At the meeting, a constitution was also drafted which was designed to share power between the Greek majority (77%) and the Turkish minority (18%) on the island. Officially, on Aug. 16, 1960, Cyprus was recognized as an independent state. But soon after, in 1963, the agreement fell apart.  

In Dec. 1963, Cyprus was beset by violent clashes between Greek and Turkish factions, the United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force to geographically separate the opposing factions. Hostilities simmered until 1974 when Turkey sent their military in to claim almost 50% of the island in the North. Turkey self-claimed the land as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey was the only one to recognize this area. Directly to the south of Turkey’s claimed land is what is called the UN Buffer Zone, and many refer to it as “the green line” which is still occupied by UN peacekeeping forces. The UN Buffer Zone stretches from the west coast of Cyprus horizontally to the east coast across a total of 112 miles. The Buffer Zone, which was established in 1964, was enhanced in 1974 when Turkey invaded. In response to this Turkey built up its own border defenses on the Northern side of the Buffer Zone. Turkey’s line is known as the Attila line which was named after the code name for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus labeled “Operation Attila.” Turkey’s barrier is lined with concrete walls and barbed wire, and it has ditches meant to deter tanks and minefields spread throughout. The UN Buffer Zone and Turkish barricade run right through the middle of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, Nicosia remains the last capital to be physically divided in Europe. In addition to the Cypriot land that the UN and Turkey occupy there are two areas on the southern coast that are British sovereign base areas. Most of southern Cyprus comprises the Republic of Cyprus and is populated by ethnic Greeks. 

Allegedly this past weekend there was a deployment by Greece of dozens of U.S. made armored vehicles to the Aegean islands of Samos and Lesbos. Turkey summoned the Greek ambassador and protested. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that the island be demilitarized. Erdogan warned that Turkey would not hold back on defending its interests against NATO allies, including Greece. Erdogan is now calling for formal recognition of Turkey’s self-claimed land in Northern Cyprus.  

At the Cyprus Independence Day parade, on Oct. 1, Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said that Turkey’s “revisionist and destabilizing behavior” is undermining security in the east Mediterranean region. Panagiotopoulos disregarded Erdogan’s demands to demilitarize the islands saying, “as if they are not being threatened and as if we don’t have the right to take all defensive measures for them.” 

These demands from Turkey increase tensions between Turkey and Greece while leaving Cyprus, in the middle. Greece has stated they can defend the islands despite Turkey’s threats.  

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that even though Cyprus is being supplied with more military equipment the action is not designed to provoke Turkey, nor should it provide Turkey a basis for bolstering the 40,000 troops it has stationed in the North.  

NATO and the European Union want to assist in defusing the current escalation in tensions, but a permanent solution for the ethnic hostilities in Cyprus has not been reached for almost 50 years. 

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