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1 February 1984

When with his rough humour Nikita Khrushchev remarked, in the presence of the British and of a sulkily silent Gromyko, that Foreign Ministers were useless and had never settled anything, it was generally felt at that time to have been a pity that no one had been quick enough to point out that three Foreign Ministers had just settled Cyprus. The Zurich Agreement of February 1959 between Greece and Türkiye, followed immediately by the Lancaster House settlement which also involved Britain, arranged the grant of independence to the island under conditions that purported to impose constitutional arrangements on the new state that were unchangeable and were, furthermore, entrenched in international instruments. So, it was thought, Cyprus would never now be permitted to reopen the century-long Greco-Turkish struggle which had supposedly been laid to rest forever by the grand reconciliation of 1923-30, widely accounted as the one lasting achievement in peace-making during the interwar years. The sense of relief and of accomplishment at the Zurich settlement was widespread. Yet by the end of 1963, it all lay in ruins and a dispute had been reopened that remains unsettled two decades later.Cyprus is an island of 3,572 square miles (the combined size of Norfolk and Suffolk) in the eastern Mediterranean, of oblong shape parallel to the equator. It is 141 miles in length and at its widest point 5.9 miles in breadth. It is an island of mountains – the long narrow and elegant Kyrenia range that overshadows the inland capital of Nicosia runs just below the northern coastline; in the centre and west is the Troodos massif, including one of those heights which the Greeks named Olympus. Between these two is a plain, 12 to 15 miles wide, which is very fertile provided the rains arrive – which they sometimes do not. Scenery and climate alike seem to justify the classical reputation of Cyprus as the birthplace of Aphrodite, which explains the heavy dependence of the modern economy ~ on the tourist industry. The northern shore faces Türkiye, from which at the nearest point it is only 43 miles distant; Syria is 64 miles to the east, while the Greek mainland is 500 miles away. The great majority of the population is and has been for more than 3,000 years Greek by language and culture.

Of a population estimated at independence at 556,000, excluding the British (most of whom would in future live within the Sovereign Bases), 80% were Greeks, whereas under 19% were Turks. By comparison, the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland is somewhere near 40%. The proportion of Turks to the total population of Cyprus is similar to that of the French-Swiss in Switzerland or the Tamils in Sri Lanka and is rather smaller than the Protestant population would be in a united Ireland. But – and this point is vital to the whole story – the Turkish Cypriots were at the time of independence scattered over the whole island in no single sector of which did they form a numerical majority. Are we confronted here with a problem of minority rights? We have already touched the heart ~f the controversy: for it is the Turkish population’s contention that it is not a minority but a separate and equal community; hence that the concept of minority rights offers no solution that is of interest to it. There was, when Cyprus achieved independence in August 1960, no Cypriot nation – nor much sign of one emerging, despite the common experience of British colonial rule which had left its mark on both communities and a common affection for the nature of the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots had just emerged from a ‘liberation struggle’ in which they were on opposite sides. There was no university in Cyprus, no private business partnerships between Greeks and Turks, virtually no intermarriage. The one institution that was shared – the trade unions – had been substantially ( though not entirely) torn apart by the pressures of the anti-colonial struggle.

There are basically three types of political solutions that are available for this type of plural society and all three have been proposed for Cyprus. There is, first of all, the classic regime of guaranteed rights for the minority-rights over religious observance, education, use of language in schools, in law courts, in communications with government, in broadcasting- probably with at least one minister charged with protecting minority rights, and a few seats in the legislature. Apart from these special rights, normal rule by the democratic majority prevails. Such was the system proposed under the British by the Radcliffe report- though, to be sure, sovereignty and powers over certain matters were reserved to the British.

The second type has been called the consociational system, or powersharing, when for a distinct range of matters the communities are treated as units within which decisions may be arrived at democratically but between which they can only be made through consensus, forbearance, deals. The Government under such a scheme is a compulsory coalition between the leaders of the different communities. Consociation is a constitutional method which is usually extremely complicated in description, depending as it does on a series of checks and balances: it depends for its success on the willingness of the participants to accommodate each other in practice once the nature of the game comes to be understood and accepted as being at least the lesser of the evils available. Such was the 1960 constitution drawn up for Cyprus.

Finally there is federation, which requires a sufficient physical separation of the communities to ensure that each of them is dominant in at least one federated unit. Given the demographic situation in Cyprus this was impractical – short of a really drastic transfer of populations of the kind that had happened between Greece and Türkiye in the 1920s and in East and Central Europe at the end of the Second World War. After Cyprus became independent in August 1960, the period up till 1974 was devoted to attempts to contrive some acceptable method of power-sharing that would not involve such a traumatic upheaval which could in practice only be undertaken by the exercise of physical force by the Turkish army. Since 1974, when that force was employed, the unresolved task has been to arrive at some tolerable accommodation to the results of its having been exercised.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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Peter Loizos