Freedom in the World
Northern Cyprus *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Reunification talks picked up in 2008 after the February election of a new president in southern Cyprus, although no concrete decisions were made. In April, the European Court of Human Rights gave a boost to Turkish Cyprus’s property commission by ruling in favor of a land swap the commission had arranged to compensate a Greek Cypriot who had owned northern land before the division of the island in 1974.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain 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 that ruled Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at union. 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, including the capital city of Nicosia, since 1974. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country of 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 2002 was much more supportive of the unification of Cyprus than its predecessors, since Turkey’s chances of European Union (EU) membership had been linked to a resolution of the island’s division. International pressure also helped move the two sides closer to a settlement. A pro-unification TRNC government led by Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected in 2003.
Then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan led a round of negotiations that collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As previously agreed, Annan himself then proposed a reunification plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums on both sides of the island in April 2004. Amid accusations that the proposed plan favored the Turkish side, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots, led by a new pro-reunification government, voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned in May 2004. The EU had used the prospect of membership as a bargaining tool with Cyprus, and since membership was granted, a new unification plan became more difficult to achieve.
The pro-unification government elected in 2003 and the “yes” vote in the 2004 referendum weakened the power of President Rauf Denktash, a unification opponent who had held his post since the TRNC 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 National Unity Party (UBP) leader Dervish Eroglu, 56 percent to 23 percent.
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 UBP, which had campaigned against unification in the 2004 referendum, came in second with 32 percent, or 19 seats. Serdar Denktash, the son of 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 ruling CTP-DP coalition 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 antiunification 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, allegedly disapproving of the party’s nationalist rhetoric. Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer kept his post when his CTP formed a new coalition government with the Free Party after the September 2006 collapse.
Talks between Talat and Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos in July2006, the first since the 2004 referendum, led to a program of confidence-building measures called the July 8 agreement. However, the process ultimately ground to a halt. A new series of talks began after Demetris Christofias was elected president in the south in February 2008, but no breakthroughs were made during the year, and the negotiators ended the year less hopeful about progress.
Also in 2008, the southern government withdrew its objections to northern contractors bidding for EU-funded infrastructure projects in the TRNC after official language was altered to avoid equating the northern entity with a country. The EU had approved a large aid package in 2006; the aid had first been suggested after Turkish Cypriots voted for unification in the 2004 referendum.
Economic opportunities in the north are more limited than in the south. The economy depends heavily on the government of Turkey, and the public sector provides most jobs. The economy has stalled, with economic growth at close to zero for 2007 and no prospects for revival.
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; 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 unification; and the DP, which left the ruling coalition in September 2006.
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. Two ministers from the Free Party were accused in 2007 of receiving bribes from a construction company; one had been let go by the prime minister earlier in the year for “differences of principle,” but no formal charges were brought. The TRNC is not listed separately on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
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 Afrika,for example, has faced hundreds of court summonses for his paper’s criticism of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials. 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 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 unionmembers 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 also 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.
Census results released in 2007 showed that about half of the north’s population consisted of indigenous Turkish Cypriots. The rest include people of mainland Turkish origin and many foreign workers, as well as Greek Cypriots and Maronites. The latter three groups face difficulties at Green Line checkpoints and discrimination, and they are allegedly subject to official surveillance. Male homosexuality is punishable with jail time, and while this is rarely enforced, homosexuals do face discrimination.
After the 2004 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 overcome Greek Cypriot resistance and international regulations that control the north’s ports and airports. However, north-south trade on the island has increased since restrictions were loosened in 2004, and it is expected to increase further with the new border crossings that have opened, in particular a central and very symbolic crossing at Ledra Street in Nicosia that opened in 2008. 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. Most governments do not recognize Turkish Cypriots’ travel documents, so thousands have obtained Republic of Cyprus passports since the option became available in 2004. However, in 2008, Turkey began forbidding Turkish Cypriots from leaving the country through Turkey without passports from the north.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the TRNC must take more effective steps to address the restitution of Greek Cypriots who had owned property in the north before the island’s division. In March 2006, the northern authorities announced the formation of a property commission to adjudicate complaints. The commission, which the south did not recognize, had received about 310 complaints as of February 2008, and more than 30 had been resolved, although critics claim that compensation amounts are far below the value of the property. In 2008, the ECHR approved a land swap arranged by the property commission that exchanged a Greek Cypriot’s property in the north for a Turkish Cypriot’s property in the south. The ruling sparked controversy over whether the ECHR was also endorsing the property commission itself, and the southern government, which had custody of the southern land, refused to hand it over.
A 2007 survey found that three-quarters of women were victims of violence at least once in their lives, with most attacks occurring at home. Police have proven unwilling to intervene, and many women choose not to report the crimes. There are legal provisions for equal pay for equal work, but these are not always enforced, especially in blue-collar jobs.