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Cyprus Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Paphos Castle, partially rebuilt by the Turks in the late sixteenth century after destruction by the Venetians of the original fourteenth-century fortification

THE MANY ANCIENT AND MODERN walled fortresses that dot the landscape of Cyprus attest to the island's long history of armed conflict. Valuable minerals and forest products and the island's strategic location along trade routes between Europe and the Middle East have made Cyprus the object of repeated occupations by the region's dominant military powers since the second millennium B.C. (see Ancient Period , ch. 1).

The competing interests of Greece and Turkey in Cyprus--freed from British rule in 1960--have deeply affected the country's national security in the modern period. Competition between the two outside powers fueled intercommunal strife between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and subversive acts against President Archbishop Makarios III. Greek military personnel attached to the Cypriot National Guard supported the campaign against Makarios, which culminated in the coup d'etat of July 1974 and the subsequent Turkish military intervention and occupation of 37 percent of the island. The events of July-August 1974 further strained relations between the two nations that form the southeastern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), endangering Western security in the region.

The Zurich-London agreements, signed in London on February 19, 1959, provided legitimacy to actions taken jointly or individually by Greece and Turkey, as well as by Britain, to uphold the constitution of the new island nation. In the ensuing years, however, the rights spelled out in the constitution were often abused or misapplied. For example, a bicommunal Cypriot army provided for in the agreements never materialized; rather, each ethnic community created its own military force, trained, armed, and partially staffed by personnel from the mainland. Both Greece and Turkey intervened in Cypriot affairs in a manner that went well beyond their legitimate security roles, and Britain for the most part simply stood aside.

The events of 1974 have resulted in a de facto partition of the island into segregated Greek and Turkish communities with sizable opposing forces in close proximity. More than two Turkish Army divisions in the north alleviated fears of the Turkish Cypriot minority that its physical safety was threatened by intercommunal violence. Although the strong Turkish military presence was a source of insecurity for the Greek Cypriot community, the Turkish forces had shown no further territorial ambitions since the 1974 cease-fire. During the late 1980s, the Greek Cypriot National Guard began to strengthen and modernize its armored units and air defenses to reduce the margin of Turkish superiority. Demonstrations by Greek Cypriot women sometimes crossed into the buffer zone, leading to confrontations with Turkish troops and introducing an element of potential instability.

Greek Cypriots saw the large Turkish army contingent on Cyprus as an alien force distorting the community's balance. On the other hand, the growing strength of the National Guard was regarded by Turkish Cypriots as a threat justifying the retention of Turkish forces. Nevertheless, as of 1990 the military position seemed a stalemate, furthered by the continued presence (since early 1964) of United Nations (UN) peace-keeping troops. Numerous rounds of bilateral and UN-sponsored talks had failed to reduce the military confrontation, an essential step in any political settlement.

Data as of January 1991