Freedom in the World
Northern Cyprus *
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The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus held parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005, both of which resulted in strong support for new president and pro-reunification candidate Mehmet Ali Talat and his Republican Turkish Party (RTP). Meanwhile, no progress was made on reunification talks during the year.
Annexed by Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a 10-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at unification with Greece. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Today the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone, called the Green Line, has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, which is located at the Green Line, is similarly divided. Tensions between the Greek and Turkish populations have plagued the island since independence. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country in which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey.
The Turkish government elected in November 2002 was much less indulgent of Turkish Cypriot president Rauf Denktash's opposition to reunification because Turkey's own chances of European Union (EU) membership have been linked to a resolution of the island's division. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, helped move the two sides closer to settlement.
The latest and as yet most promising round of reunification negotiations began after a new prounification government was elected in northern Cyprus in December 2003. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a series of negotiations that included the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, followed by the inclusion of Greece and Turkey. When no consensus was reached, Annan himself proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums in northern and southern Cyprus in April 2004. Greek Cypriots, who previously had been the more enthusiastic side with respect to reunification, had reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned in May 2004. Membership had been a bargaining tool for the EU with Cyprus, and without it, a new reunification plan will be more difficult to bring about.
In legislative elections held on February 20, 2005, the Republican Turkish Party (RTP) won 44 percent of votes, increasing the number of seats it held to 24 of the 50 total. The National Unity Party (UBP), which had campaigned against reunification in the 2004 referendum, came in second with 32 percent, or 19 seats. Serdar Denktash, the son of the president, led the RTP's partner Democratic Party to win 6 seats, an increase of 1. The only other party in parliament is the proreunification Peace and Democracy Party, which dropped from 3 seats to 1.
The prounification government elected in 2003 and the yes vote in the 2004 referendum weakened the power of President Denktash-who had served since the TRNC declared independence-who decided not to run in the April 2005 presidential election. Seven candidates competed for Denktash's position, including Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat and UBP leader Dervish Eroglu. Talat won with 56 percent of the vote to Eroglu's 23 percent in a relatively low voter turnout.
Turkish Cypriot support for reunification has sparked international efforts to reward Turkish Cypriots by ending their isolation. However, attempts to end trade and travel bans have been thwarted by the southern Cypriots, who have worked against most direct contact between the north and the rest of the world. Exploratory talks took place in 2005, including discussion of a compromise to allow implementation of an EU aid and trade package for the north, but the positions of the two sides were entrenched and no progress was made. Still, trade has increased between the two sides, and free movement across the Green Line has improved as more checkpoints have opened and restrictions have been loosened.
Living standards in the north, which has an economy that depends heavily on the government of Turkey, are only about a third of those in the south. The public sector provides most jobs, although many Turkish Cypriots now cross the border to work on the Greek side.
Turkish Cypriots can change the government of the TRNC democratically. The president and parliament are elected to terms of not longer than five years. The powers of the president are largely ceremonial. The 1,000-odd Greek and Maronite Christian residents of the north are disenfranchised, but many vote in elections in the Republic of Cyprus. Minorities are not represented in the Assembly.
Corruption and lack of transparency are considered problems in northern Cyprus. The government has made efforts to combat corruption since 2004.
The criminal code allows the government to jail journalists for what they write, and the government has been hostile to the independent press. The editor of the outspoken daily newspaper Afrika, Sener Levent, has faced hundreds of court summonses for his paper's criticism of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials. There were fears that Turkey's new penal code, which includes a provision forbidding expression in the media of views on Cyprus contrary to Turkish state policy, could be applied in Cyprus itself.
An agreement with Greek-Cypriot authorities dating from 1975 provides for freedom of worship, which is generally respected. About 500 Greek Cypriots crossed into the north on September 3 to attend a special service commemorating a saint for the second time since 1974. The event was marked by a nonfatal arson attack allegedly perpetrated by Turkish Cypriot extremists. The government does not restrict academic freedom. In 2004, Turkish Cypriot schools began teaching a less partisan account of Cypriot history in favor of multiple perspectives, in accordance with Council of Europe recommendations.
There is freedom of assembly and association. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, although union members are sometimes subject to harassment.
The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Turkish Cypriot police, under the control of the Turkish military, sometimes fail to respect due process rights, and there have been allegations of abuse of detainees.
The citizenship of children of mixed Turkish and Turkish Cypriot parentage has been the subject of debate. The granting of citizenship in these cases was frozen last year, but it resumed in 2005. Greek Cypriots and Maronites in the north face discrimination and have alleged that they are subject to official surveillance.
After the referendum on unification, the EU attempted to initiate direct trade and flights between northern Cyprus and the rest of the world, but it was unable to circumvent international regulations that control the ports and airports of the unrecognized state. Trade between the two parts of the island did increase after restrictions were loosened, and a new border crossing that opened in September 2005 further facilitates the export of Turkish Cypriot goods. In addition, all EU citizens, including Greek Cypriots, can now travel to the north by presenting identity cards instead of passports. Turkish Cypriots can move freely across the border to the south, but Turkish citizens in northern Cyprus cannot. Turkish Cypriots still have difficulty traveling abroad because most governments do not recognize their travel documents. They can now obtain Republic of Cyprus passports, which more are doing.
The status of property in the north formerly owned by Greek Cypriots is considered a major point of contention in possible future reunification talks. A March 2005 law in the south increased the penalties for people holding "illegal" property; the TRNC announced that it would ignore the law. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in April that the Turkish Cypriot regime must institute more effective remedies to address Greek Cypriot property claims in the north. A commission that had been established for this purpose was judged to be biased. The ruling will affect hundreds of other pending cases.
Women are underrepresented in government. There are legal provisions for equal pay for equal work, but these are often disregarded for textile and agricultural workers.