Geography of Cyprus

The third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily and Sardinia), Cyprus is geographically situated in the eastern Mediterranean and just south of the Anatolian peninsula (or Asia Minor) of the Asian mainland; thus, it is commonly included in the Middle East (see also Western Asia and Near East). Turkey is 75 kilometres (47 miles) north; other neighbouring countries include Syria and Lebanon to the east, Israel to the southeast, Egypt to the south, and Greece to the west-north-west. Politically and culturally, however, it is closely aligned with Europe – especially Greece. Historically, Cyprus has been at the crossroads between Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, with lengthy periods of mainly Greek and intermittent Anatolian, Levantine, and British influences. Thus, it is generally considered a transcontinental island. The central plain (Mesaoria) with the Kyrenia and Pentadactylos mountains to the north and the Troodos mountain range to the south and west. There are also scattered but significant plains along the southern coast. The climate is high temperate and Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and cool, variably rainy winters. The capital city, Nicosia, is located to the north-east of the centre of the island and is the only divided capital in the world. All the other major cities are situated on the coast: Paphos to the south-west, Limassol to the south, Larnaca to the south-east, Famagusta to the east, and Kyrenia to the north.

Cyprus Districts

Cyprus is divided into six districts (Greek and Turkish equivalents in parentheses).

  • Famagusta (Αμμόχωστος/Ammochostos - Gazimağusa)
  • Kyrenia (Κερύvεια/Keryneia - Girne)
  • Larnaca (Λάρνακα - Larnaka)
  • Limassol (Λεμεσός/Lemesos - Limasol)
  • Nicosia (Λευκωσία/Lefkosia - Lefkoşa)
  • Paphos (Πάφος/Pafos - Baf)

Politics of Cyprus

After independence Cyprus became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement despite all three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) being North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. Cyprus left the Non-Aligned Movement in 2004 to join the European Union, though it retains special observer status. The 1960 Cypriot Constitution provided for a presidential system of government with independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a complex system of checks and balances, including a weighted power-sharing ratio designed to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. The executive, for example, was headed by a Greek Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios III, and a Turkish Cypriot vice president, Dr Fazıl Küçük, elected by their respective communities for 5-year terms and each possessing a right of veto over certain types of legislation and executive decisions. This system was destined to fail as the power of veto meant that whether democratically desired certain legislation could not be passed. The House of Representatives was elected on the basis of separate voters' rolls. Since 1964, following clashes between the two communities, the Turkish Cypriot seats in the House remained vacant, while the Greek Cypriot Communal Chamber was abolished. The responsibilities of the chamber were transferred to the new founded Ministry of Education. By 1967, when a military junta had seized power in Greece, the political impetus for enosis had faded, partly as a result of the non-aligned foreign policy of Cypriot President Makarios. Enosis remained an ideological goal, despite being pushed significantly further down the political agenda. Dissatisfaction in Greece with Makarios perceived failure to deliver on earlier promises of enosis convinced the Greek colonels to sponsor the 1974 coup in Nicosia. Turkey responded by launching a military operation on Cyprus in a move not approved by the other two international guarantor powers, Greece and the United Kingdom using as a pretext the protection of the Turkish minority from Greek militias. The invasion is called "Cyprus Peace Operation" by the Turkish side. Turkish forces captured the northern part of the island. Many thousands of others, from both sides, left the island entirely. In addition to many of the Greek Cypriot refugees (a third of the population), many Turkish Cypriots (on whose pretext Turkey invaded) also moved to the UK and other countries where for the past 30 years they have lived as neighbours with the Greek Cypriots. In the meantime Turkey illegally imported Turkish colonists to populate the occupied territories, thereby altering the ethnic make up of the occupied north. Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it is a war crime to transfer, directly or indirectly, the civilian population of a country power onto land under that country's military occupation. Subsequently, the Turkish Cypriots established their own separatist institutions with a popularly elected de facto President and a Prime Minister responsible to the National Assembly exercising joint executive powers. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an action opposed by the United Nations Security Council. In 1985, the TRNC adopted a constitution and held its first elections.

Political division

Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, with the UK, Greece and Turkey retaining limited rights to intervene in internal affairs. The capital Nicosia remains divided since 1963. The UN buffer zone separates the two sectors.

In July 1974, after a coup , Turkey Invaded Cyprus and has ever since occupied the north part. Cyprus has been divided, de facto, into the Greek-Cypriot controlled southern two-thirds of the island and the Turkish-occupied northern third. The Republic of Cyprus is the internationally-recognized government of the Republic of Cyprus, that controls the southern two-thirds of the island. Turkey aside, all foreign governments and the United Nations recognise the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus over the whole island of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot administration of the northern part of the island, together with Turkey, does not accept the Republic's rule over the whole island and refer to it as the "Greek Authority of Southern Cyprus". Its territory, a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974 and whose status remains disputed, extends over the northern third of the island. The north proclaimed its independence in 1975, and the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established in 1983. This state was recognized only by Turkey. The Organization of the Islamic Conference granted it observer member status under the name of "Turkish Cypriot State". The other power with territory on Cyprus is the United Kingdom. Under the independence agreement, the UK retained entitlement to lease two areas on the southern coast of the island, around Akrotiri and Dhekelia, known collectively as the UK sovereign base areas. They are used as military bases.

Exclaves and enclaves

Cyprus has four exclaves, all in territory that belongs to the British Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia. The first two are the villages of Ormidhia and Xylotymvou. Additionally there is the Dhekelia Power Station, which is divided by a British road into two parts. The northern part is an enclave, like the two villages, whereas the southern part is located by the sea and therefore not an enclave —although it has no territorial waters of its own [3]. The UN buffer zone separating the territory controlled by the Turkish Cypriot administration from the rest of Cyprus runs up against Dhekelia and picks up again from its east side, off of Agios Nikolaos (connected to the rest of Dhekelia by a thin land corridor). In that sense, the buffer zone turns the south-east corner of the island, the Paralimni area, into a de facto, though not de jure, exclave.

Reunification, the Annan Plan and EU entry

The results of early negotiations between the Greek and Turkish sides resulted in a broad agreement in principle to reunification as a bi-cameral, bi-zonal federation with territory allocated to the Greek and Turkish communities within a united island. However, agreement was never reached on the finer details, and the two sides often met deadlock over the following points, among others:

The Greek side:

  • took a strong line on the right of return for refugees to properties vacated in the 1974 displacement of Cypriots on both sides, which was based on both UN Resolutions and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights;
  • took a dim view of any proposals which did not allow for the repatriation of Turkish settlers from the mainland who had emigrated to Cyprus since 1974; and
  • supported a stronger central government.

The Turkish side:

  • favoured a weak central government presiding over two sovereign states in voluntary association, a legacy of earlier fears of domination by the majority Greek Cypriots; and
  • opposed plans for demilitarization, citing security concerns.

The continued difficulties in finding a settlement presented a potential obstacle to Cypriot entry to the European Union, for which the government had applied in 1997. UN-sponsored talks between the Greek and Turkish leaders, Glafkos Klerides and Rauf Denktash, continued intensively in 2002, but without resolution. In December 2002, the EU formally invited Cyprus to join in 2004, insisting that EU membership would apply to the whole island and hoping that it would provide a significant enticement for reunification resulting from the outcome of ongoing talks. However, weeks before the UN deadline, Klerides was defeated in presidential elections by center candidate Tassos Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos had a reputation as a hard-liner on reunification and based his stance on international law and human rights. By mid-March, the UN declared that the talks had failed. A United Nations plan sponsored by Secretary-General Kofi Annan was announced on 31 March 2004, based on what progress had been made during the talks in Switzerland and fleshed out by the UN, was put to both sides in separate referenda on 24 April 2004. The Greek side overwhelmingly rejected the Annan Plan, and the Turkish side voted in favour. In considering the outcome it is interesting to note that whilst the Turkish colonists (who make up the majority in the occupied north) were allowed to vote, the refugees who had fled Cyprus had no right to vote in a referendum which would ultimately determine their future (their right to return and right to their property). In May 2004, Cyprus entered the EU, although in practice membership only applies to the southern part of the island. In acknowledgement of the Turkish Cypriot community's support for reunification, however, the EU made it clear that trade concessions would be reached to stimulate economic growth in the north, and remains committed to reunification under acceptable terms.

Economy of Cyprus

Economic affairs in Cyprus are dominated by the division of the country due to the Turkish occupation of the north part of the island. The Cypriot economy is prosperous and has diversified in recent years. Cyprus has been sought as a basis for several offshore businesses, due to its highly developed infrastructure. Economic policy of the Cyprus government has focused on meeting the criteria for admission to the European Union. Recently, oil has been discovered in the sea South of Cyprus (between Cyprus and Egypt) and talks are under way with Egypt to reach an agreement as to the exploitation of these resources. The level of the oil field in terms of production (barrels per day) that the two countries will be able to produce is still a matter of speculation. The economy in the occupied part of Cyprus is heavily dependent on Turkey for subsidies for its survival. The economy relies heavily on agriculture. The influx of about 100,000 Turkish economic migrants in the occupied part of Cyprus, who in their majority are uneducated workers, has brought even more trouble in the economy of the occupied area. Moreover, the small, vulnerable economy has suffered because the Turkish lira is legal tender. Eventual adoption of the euro currency is required of all new countries joining the European Union, and the Cyprus government currently intends to adopt the currency on 1 January 2008.

Demographics of Cyprus

Greek and Turkish Cypriots share many customs but maintain their ethnicity based on religion, language, and close ties with their respective motherlands. In addition to the Turkish minority there are also Latin, Maronites and Armenian minorities in Cyprus. The major part of Greek Cypriots belong to the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus [[Cypriot Orthodox Church, whereas most Turkish Cypriots are Muslims. Greek is the predominant language in the south, Turkish in the north. This delineation is only reflective of the post-1974 division of the island, which involved an expulsion of Greek Cypriots from the north and the analogous move of Turkish Cypriots from the south. Historically however, the Greek language was largely spoken by all Greek Cypriots and by many Turkish Cypriots. English is widely understood, and is taught in schools from primary age.


Cyprus has a well-developed system of primary and secondary education offering both public and private education. Unlike in other countries, state schools are generally seen as equivalent or better in quality of education than private sector institutions. The majority of Cypriots receive their higher education at Greek, British, Turkish, other European and US universities, while there are also sizeable emigrant communities in the United Kingdom and Australia. Private colleges and state-supported universities have been developed by both the Turkish and Greek communities. According to the 1960 constitution, education is under the control of the two communities (the communal chambers). State education was based on nationalization of existing community supported schools from the colonial period. Thus following 1974 the Cypriot system follows the Greek system in the south, in other words providing their students with an apolytirion, and the Turkish system in the north. A large number of students after sitting for A-levels and/or SATs study abroad, mainly in English speaking countries such as the United States or UK, but also in other European destinations such as France and Germany. Traditionally the communist party AKEL provided scholarships for its members to study in Eastern Europe. Eastern European countries, especially Bulgaria and Hungary, are still popular destinations for students.