North Cyprus - Background information

People and culture
Natural history


Abridged from the History section in North Cyprus: the Bradt Travel Guide

1925 Cyprus becomes British Crown Colony.

1931 First serious riots of Greek Cypriots demanding Enosis, union with Greece.

1939 Greek Cypriots fight with British in World War II, but remain seton Enosis after war is over. Turkish Cypriots, however, want British rule to continue.

1950 Archbishop Makarios III elected political and spiritual leader. Heads the campaign for Enosis with the support of Greece.

1955 Series of bomb attacks, start of violent campaign for Enosis by EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) led by George Grivas, ex-colonel in Greek army, born in Cyprus. Grivas takes name of Dighenis, legendary Cypriot hero, and conducts guerrilla warfare from secret hideout in Troodos Mountains. Estimated to have 300 men maximum, yet successfully plagues 20,000 British troops and 4,500 police.

1956 Britain deports Makarios to Seychelles in attempt to quell revolt. Turkish Cypriots used as auxiliaries of British Security Forces, allegedly torturing EOKA captives during British crossexaminations.

1957 Field Marshal Sir John Harding replaced by civilian governor Sir Hugh Foot in conciliatory move.

1958 Turkish Cypriots alarmed by British conciliation and begin demands for partition. Inter-communal clashes and attacks on British.

1960 British, Greek and Turkish governments sign Treaty of Guarantee to provide for independent Cypriot state within the Commonwealth and allowing for retention of two Sovereign Base Areas of Dhekelia and Akrotiri. Under the treaty, each power has the right to take military action in the face of any threat to the constitution. Cyprus truly independent for first time. Archbishop Makarios is first president, Dr Fazıl Küçük vice-president. Both have right of veto. Turkish Cypriots, who form 18% of population, given 30% of places in government and administration, 40% in army, and separate municipal services in the five major towns.

1963–73 Greek Cypriots view constitution as unworkable and propose changes which are rejected by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish government. Inter-communal fighting escalates and UN Peace Keeping Force sent in, but powerless to prevent incidents.

1974–76 Military government (junta) in Greece supports coup by Greek National Guard to overthrow Makarios. Makarios forced to flee. Puppet regime imposed under Nicos Sampson, former EOKA fighter. Rauf Denktash, Turkish Cypriot leader, calls for joint military action by the UK and Turkey, as guarantors of Cypriot independence, to prevent Greece imposing Enosis. The Turkish prime minister travels to London to persuade the UK to intervene jointly with Turkey, but fails, so Turkey exercises its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee and lands 40,000 troops on the north coast of Cyprus. Turkey describes this invasion as ‘a peace operation to restore constitutional order and protect the Turkish Cypriot community’. UN talks break down and Turkish forces are left in control of 37% of the island. Refugees from both communities cross to respective sides of the de facto border. Turks announce Federated State in the north with Denktash as leader. UN forces stay as buffer between the two zones. Some 20,000 mainland Turks, mainly subsistence farmers, are brought in to settle and work the underpopulated land. Those that stay more than five years are given citizenship of North Cyprus.

1977  Makarios dies, having been restored as President of Greek Cyprus after 1974. Succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou.

1983 Turkish Federated State declares itself independent, as Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), still with Denktash as president. New state is not recognised by any country except Turkey.

1992–95  UN-sponsored talks between the two sides run into the sand, but with a commitment to resume.

2002–03 Concerns in Europe that a divided nation could join the European Union in 2004 prompt further UN-brokered peace talks. The plans, authored by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, envisioned the establishment of a Swiss-style confederation made up jointly of the two sides. Proposals included the formation of a common state with one single Cypriot citizenship and a reduction in Turkish Cypriot land from 36% to 28.5%; while the GreekCypriots, for their part, would have to formally acknowledge that not all their refugees could return to their houses in the north.

A three-year interim government was also mooted, with Turkish and Greek Cypriot representatives as co-leaders. Despite a willingness by many Turkish Cypriots to seek a solution, talks break down; Denktash rejects revised proposals within hours of having received them. In the south public opinion holds that too many concessions have been offered and perhaps as a result, February sees the election of Tassos Papadopoulos, a leader at odds with many pro-unification forces. In the north, Denktash loses much public support,

many citing him as intransigent and an obstacle to successful negotiations. Perhaps to boost his popularity, Denktash makes the momentous decision to unilaterally open the border with the south as the latter moves closer to EU membership. The Greek Cypriot government reciprocates and soon thousands from the north and south are queuing to cross over to the other side.

2004 Years of political word games and cajoling from the UN come to a head on 24 April, when Cyprus goes to the polls to vote on the reunification proposals laid down by the Annan Plan. The turnout on both sides of the divide is high (84% in the north and 89% in the south), reflecting the depth of feeling that exists amongst both communities. Alas this is the only commonality to be found – the respective votes could not have been more disparate. In the clearest sign yet that the Turkish Cypriots favour a resolution, 65% vote ‘Yes’ to reunification, whilst the Greek ballots yield a depressing and overwhelming 86% ‘No’ vote, with the Greek Cypriot government citing ‘unacceptable’ restrictions on property rights as an insurmountable hurdle. As a result, on 1 May the southern Republic of Cyprus ascends to full member status of the EU (with all the associated benefits) whilst the north continues to remainin political isolation.

2005 17 April becomes a watershed in the history of North Cyprus as Denktash stands down from the presidency he has held since independence was declared in 1983. His successor, Mehmet Ali Talat, is a radically different character. Reserved, softly spoken and, by eastern Mediterranean standards, still young, Talat cuts the image of a more moderate politician and carries the north’s hopes for a unified and peaceful future. A fierce supporter of the UN’s reunification plan, Talat’s centre-left Republican Turkish Party has been gaining momentum for some time and, with anti-Denktash feeling escalating amongst the population, most agree that the time for change had arrived.

2006–08  In a surprise result, the incumbent Greek Cypriot President, Tassos Papadopoulos, is knocked out of February 2008’s election race andis replaced by Communist Demetris Christofi as who rides to victory on a pro-unification platform. By early April, amidst tumultuous scenes, Lefkoşa’s Ledra Street, once the capital’s main shopping street, reopens to cross-border pedestrian traffic. September 2008 witnesses the resumption of formal direct talks towards reunification.

2009 Derviş Eroğlu is appointed Prime Minister after his National Unity Party comprehensively wins the legislative elections. While reunification talks continue, little progress is made and the result perhaps evidences a lessening of appetite for the pro-reunification agenda of Talat and the Republican Turkish Party.

2010 April’s Presidential election sees Eroğlu defeat Talat, his only serious challenger. Talks on reunification continue, but apart from the opening of a seventh border crossing, little tangible progress is evident.

2011  In January, focus switches to relations between North Cyprus and Turkey. Protestors take to the streets of Lefkoşa to demonstrate against austerity measures designed to curb the North’s swollen public sector. Turkey is angered by protestors’ banners telling Turkey to ‘go back to Ankara.’ Turkey responds by appointing a new ambassador, perceived as being a hardliner. Ignoring government advice, protests and strikes are repeated in March, with an estimated 50,000 taking to the streets once more. Meanwhile, Derviş Eroğlu and Demetris Christofi as hold another round of reunification negotiations in March: it’s the hundredth since September 2008.

2013   July sees the Republican Turkish Party win the most seats in the parliamentary elections.

2014    A new threat to reunification comes to a head as Greece, Cyprus and Turkey dispute rights to hydrocarbon exploration off the Cypriot coast. Israel and Egypt also take an interest. The Cypriot newspapers announce that the Cyprus talks are, once again, in crisis.

People and culture

Baskets for sale North Cyprus by North Cyprus Tourism Centre© North Cyprus Tourism Centre

Although they share one language, Turkish Cypriots are proudly distinct from mainland Turks. However, the transient tourist is unlikely to distinguish the one from the other, a fact that is readily understood by the locals.

While Islam is the religion in North Cyprus, it doesn’t impact as heavily upon social behaviour and cultural etiquette as it does in some of the Arabic countries. To the visitor, North Cyprus is a secular society. Alcohol is freely available and tourists bathe topless on some of the beaches. You will see many ladies with their heads covered, though they are generally Turkish rather than Turkish Cypriot.

With many aspects of Western lifestyles eagerly adopted, at first glance the indigenous culture may not be immediately obvious. To experience it, a visit to one or more of the local festivals makes a good starting point. True, some of these are fairly recent in origin, but their focus is often on preserving the indigenous culture and traditions through music, dancing and demonstration of traditional arts and crafts such as baking and basket-weaving.

Natural history

Orchid North Cyprus by North Cyprus Tourism Centre

Despite recent development, North Cyprus maintains a wide range of natural habitats and is home to several endemic species of wildlife. For the budding botanist or birdwatcher, it is a treasure trove of rarities while for others the north boasts a fabulous array of scents, sights and sounds. The vibrancy of springtime poppies and tiny orchids, the constant chatter of cicadas, the predatory swoop of a red kite – North Cyprus has it all.

Plant species across the north of the island number about 1,600, of which 22 are endemic to Cypriot soil including the golden drop (Onosma fruticosa). Each season brings with it a new selection of buds, fruits and flowers.

Cyprus is home to around 350 different species of bird, with seven endemic to the island. Added to these, many others use Cyprus as a resting point during migration to other countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Sea turtles are a species that has attracted considerable attention recently. Projects are now well under way to help protect both the loggerhead turtles (Carettacaretta) and the green turtles (Chelonia mydas) that nest on north Cypriot shores. On bright, moonlit nights throughout June, turtles make the tiring journey upthe beach to lay their eggs, and then return to the sea having buried them safely in the sand.

Of the resident mammal species, the Cyprus moufflon (Ovis musimon) is the largest on the island and is now a protected species to save it from hunters. Vegetation is perfect for herds of sheep and goats and, as you head out along the Karpas Peninsula, they may become your sole companions. Other mammals that you may see on your travels include foxes, hedgehogs and bats. Cyprian hares (Lepus cyprius) keep themselves scarce, darting for cover to protect themselves from predators and thus sustain the species. Wild Cypriot donkeys roam freely on the Karpas Peninsula, with estimates of their numbers ranging from 800 to over 2,000. They are a breed unique to the island and should be approached with caution. Those involved in agriculture in the region resent the damage the donkeys cause to cultivated areas.

Butterflies are in abundance in North Cyprus, and many of the species are unique to the island. Spring and summer bring out the Cyprus festoon butterfly (Zerynthia cerisyi cypria) with its strangely shaped wings, and the bright, sunny-coloured Cleopatras (Gonepteryx cleopatra), which decorate mountain glades. There are other, numerous species and the overall effect of colourful wings can be fantastic as they criss-cross your path or play around hotel gardens.

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