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The ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP) ended its coalition with the Democratic Party (DP) in September 2006, replacing it with the newly formed Free Party. The DP and the opposition National Unity Party (UBP) blamed the shuffle on alleged meddling by Turkey. No significant progress was made during the year on efforts to reunify the island.
The Ottoman Empire allowed Britain to administer Cyprus beginning in 1878, and Britain annexed the island 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 the mainland. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the north. Today the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities are almost completely separated into their respective enclaves.
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 more supportive of the reunification of Cyprus than its predecessors, since Turkey’s own chances of membership in the European Union (EU) had been linked to a resolution of the island’s division. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, also helped move the two sides closer to a settlement. A new pro-unification government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected in northern Cyprus in December 2003.
However, the latest and most promising round of reunification negotiations, led by then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As previously agreed, Annan himself then 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 more enthusiastic 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 scheduled in May 2004. The EU had used the prospect of membership as a bargaining tool to encourage reunification, but the internationally recognized government’s entry was already assured by the time of the late-April referendum. As membership could no longer be used as a bargaining tool with the south, a new reunification plan will be still more difficult to achieve.
In legislative elections held in February 2005, Talat’s Republican Turkish Party (CTP) won 44 percent of the vote, increasing its share of seats to 24 out of 50. 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 President Rauf Denktash, led the CTP-allied Democratic Party (DP) to win six seats, an increase of one. The only other party in parliament was the pro-unification Peace and Democracy Party, which dropped from three seats to one.
The pro-unification government elected in 2003 and the “yes” vote in the 2004 referendum had weakened the power of President Denktash, a unification opponent who had held his post since the north declared independence. He did not run in the April 2005 presidential election. Instead, Talat emerged as the victor in a field of seven candidates, defeating UBP leader Dervish Eroglu, 56 percent to 23 percent.
The ruling coalition of the CTP and the DP had difficulty forming a government after June 2006 by-elections. When three deputies (two from the UBP and one from the DP) resigned to form the new, progovernment Free Party in September, the coalition collapsed and Serdar Denktash quit the government. The DP and UBP blamed the collapse in part on Turkey, which had cooled to the elder Denktash’s anti-EU and anti-unification positions and allegedly extended its disfavor to the son despite his more positive stance on those issues. Turkey was also accused of collusion to weaken the UBP, of whose use of nationalist rhetoric Turkey allegedly disapproved. Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer kept his post when his CTP formed a new coalition government with the Free Party after the September collapse.
Turkish Cypriots’ support for reunification has sparked international efforts to end their isolation. However, attempts to end trade and travel bans have been thwarted by the Greek Cypriots, who have worked against most direct contact between the north and the rest of the world. Talks between Talat and Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos in July 2006, the first since the 2004 referendum, led to the approval of a program of confidence-building measures; subsequent negotiations between senior aides made no progress. International mediation led by Finland in fall 2006 failed as well. Still, trade has increased between the two sides since 2004, and free movement across the Green Line has improved as more checkpoints have opened and restrictions have been loosened. Aid packages from the EU suggested after the referendum were approved in February and October 2006.
Living standards in the north, where the economy 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.
Elections in the TRNC are free and fair. The president and 50-seat Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The powers of the president are largely ceremonial, and the prime minister is head of government. The main parties are the ruling, pro-unification CTP, in coalition with the new Free Party since September 2006; the UBP, which has opposed reunification; and the DP, which left the ruling coalition in September.
The roughly 1,000 Greek and Maronite Christian residents of the north are disenfranchised in the TRNC, but many vote in elections in the southern Republic of Cyprus. Minorities are not represented, and women are underrepresented, in the Assembly.
The government has made efforts to combat corruption in recent years, but graft and lack of transparency are still considered problems in northern Cyprus.
Freedom of the media is generally respected, but problems persist. The criminal code allows the authorities 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, for example, has faced hundreds of court summonses for his paper’s criticism of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials. On three occasions in the summer of 2006, Turkish Cypriot police arrested Greek Cypriot journalists covering events in northern Cyprus; all were accused of filming in military areas, and most were released soon after. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
A 1975 agreement with Greek Cypriot authorities provides for freedom of worship, which is generally respected. 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.
The rights of freedom of assembly and association are respected. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, although union members have been 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 police have been accused of corruption related to narcotics trafficking. Since the TRNC is not recognized by other countries, it has no extradition treaties, and Turkish Cypriots accused of crimes abroad have sometimes fled back to northern Cyprus. However, in 2006, a Turkish Cypriot man charged in Britain for manslaughter was similarly charged and tried in the TRNC, after the British police had requested that action be taken; the trial was still ongoing at the end of the year.
Greek Cypriots and Maronites in the north face discrimination and have alleged that they are subject to official surveillance. They have also experienced difficulties at border crossings to the south.
After the 2004 referendum on reunification, 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. After joining the EU, the recognized Cypriot government blocked several attempts by the EU to follow through with its initiatives. However, trade between the two parts of the island did increase after restrictions were loosened in 2004, and new border crossings have opened. In addition, all EU citizens, including Greek Cypriots, can now travel to the north by presenting identity cards and no longer require passports or visas. Turkish Cypriots still have difficulty traveling abroad because most governments do not recognize their travel documents, although thousands have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports since the option became available in 2004.
The status of property formerly owned by Greek Cypriots in the north is expected to be a major point of contention in any future reunification talks. In the past, former owners of property in the north who fled to the south in and before 1974 have taken their cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to which they could appeal directly because no adequate local remedy had been judged to be available. The ECHR ruled in April 2005 that the Turkish Cypriot regime must institute more effective mechanisms to address Greek Cypriot property claims in the north; as of December 2005, the court had suspended all further cases on the subject. In March 2006, the Turkish Cypriot authorities announced the formation of a property commission, to which complaints can be brought. The commission had received more than 40 complaints by August 2006, three of which had been resolved through compensation or by reinstatement of the property.
Violence against women is a problem. Domestic abuse is treated as a family matter and is rarely dealt with in court. There are legal provisions for equal pay for equal work, but these are not always enforced.
See Cyprus under country reports