Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: 60 Years Of A Divided Cyprus

Nicholas Zalewski
Picture of the buffer zone in Cyprus from Greek side.
Source: Marco and Sabrina

The United Nations is sounding an alarm for Cyprus. This year marks 60 years since the United Nations first arrived to the island, 50 years since Greece tried to invade Cyprus to unify it with Greece which caused Turkey to invade and take over the northern third of the island, and 20 years since Greek Cypriots voted against a UN reunification plan known as the Annan Plan.

While Greek Cypriots are blamed for the failure of the Annan Plan proposed by the UN to reunify the island, it is understandable. The proposal would have created a supreme court with an equal number of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot judges, despite Greek Cypriots significantly outnumbering Turkish Cypriots. At the time of the referendum, there were 480,000 Greek Cypriots and 143,000 Turkish Cypriots. Besides this, 50 percent of the population in Northern Cyprus is estimated to be Turkish settlers from Turkey, primarily from the region of Anatolia and with no Cypriot origins, who are illegally given land and homes owned by Greek Cypriots who had to flee when the island was divided.   

Cultural Differences

One motivation for Northern Cyprus attempting to seek independence could be the cultural differences between the two parts of the island. Those in Northern Cyprus tend to be Muslim and Turkish while those who inhabit Cyprus tend to be Orthodox Christian and speak Greek. Looking at Cyprus’ history however, it cannot be argued that those who live in each part of the island are too different from each other to be able to live within the same nation. In the past, the two groups lived together in villages throughout the island, only changing when the island was divided.

A Council of Europe report from 2003, a year before the referendum on the UN plan for reunification actually demonstrated concern for cultural differences between Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers from Anatolia. Northern Cyprus has encouraged this immigration in an attempt to shift the demographics of the island in order to decrease the disparity in the number of Greek Cypriots compared to Turkish Cypriots. The problem for these Turkish settlers is that only the Republic of Cyprus is recognized internationally as the sole government on the island. Northern Cyprus can print any documentation it would like for Turkish settlers claiming them to be Turkish Cypriots, but only Turkey will recognize said documents. Cyprus even filed a complaint with the ICJ regarding Turkish settlers in Northern Cyprus alleging that this migration amounted to war crimes, yet Turkey has not acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which would make it compulsory for Turkey to obey rulings from the court. Experts argue that Cyprus is one of the main reasons that Turkey has refused to recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction. Besides encouraging settlers from Anatolia to move to Northern Cyprus, Turkey also still maintains 40,000 troops on the island illegally.

Turkish troops march in Northern Cyprus on the anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Source: Politico

Northern Cyprus Economic Disaster

While there is a push for Northern Cyprus to be an independent nation, this idea appears to be bizarre when looking at how the northern third of the island is struggling on its own. The economy is heavily dependent on scamming impoverished foreign students who do not realize that degrees from universities located in Northern Cyprus are not internationally recognized. A third of Northern Cyprus’ economy comes from defrauding these students. Tuition usually costs between 3,000-5,000 euros, significantly cheaper than tuition for foreign students in many European nations, yet for degrees with little value outside of Northern Cyprus. The tuition is also usually presented as discounted through scholarships, yet the reality is the tuition prices are artificially inflated to convince students that they earned scholarships to convince them to come to Northern Cyprus. Many students unfortunately learn once they arrive that their courses do not exist. One student acknowledges that he realized he was not in Cyprus only when he arrived and he realized that the local currency is the turkish lira, not the euro.

Northern Cyprus needs to realize that its own stubbornness and insistence that Cyprus can never be reunified lies on taking advantage of foreign students. The territory uses advantages of moving to Cyprus such as studying in an EU member state and having access to opportunities throughout the EU in order to lure foreign students, however the territory could have these opportunities for those residing in Northern Cyprus with reunification. As it is, residents of Northern Cyprus have the ability to acquire a passport from the Republic of Cyprus as it is the only internationally recognized nation on the island. This unfortunately is not passed on to foreign students studying in Northern Cyprus due to receiving students from the government of Northern Cyprus instead of the Republic of Cyprus.

To be fair, the economy of Northern Cyprus suffers due to the trade embargo and only can trade with Turkey, the sole nation to recognize it as independent. Northern Cyprus has more to lose from the conflict going unresolved however, due to young people moving away to other nations in search of job opportunities. A study found that 57 percent of Turkish Cypriots between the ages of 18-30 want to emigrate. 62.9 percent of those who participated in the same study believe that economic and political changes threaten their future.

Map of Cyprus showing the clear ethnic division of the island. Source: Reddit


Unfortunately, people become intrenched in their position in a conflict out of spite rather than practicality at times. While a distant dream, in an ideal world, Cyprus would be reunified, and Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would live side by side once again. What is clear is that reunification is far more important for Turkish Cypriots who are experiencing a bleak economic reality as a nation only recognized as independent by Turkey. As many Turkish Cypriots already take advantage of privileges from the Republic of Cyprus such as the passport, it is impertinent that they push for reunification rather than continue down the impoverished path of remaining a territory only recognized by Turkey.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Smith, Helena. “It’s now or never for Cyprus reunification, says top UN official”. The Guardian. 7 March 2024.

Thomson, Derek., Bainer, Corentin., and Olavarria, Erika. “Foreign students in Northern Cyprus: False promises and disillusion”. France 24. 19 May 2023.

”Colonisation by Turkish settlers of the occupied part of Cyprus”. Council of Europe. 2 May 2003.

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min