Freedom in the World 2004 - Northern (Turkish) Cyprus

Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2
Status: Free
Population: 230,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: N/A
Religious Groups: Muslim (99 percent), other [including Greek Orthodox] (1 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Turkish (99 percent), other [including Greek] (1 percent)


The thwarted reunification process between the Greek and Turkish halves of Cyprus dominated Turkish Cypriot politics in 2003. Though there was some progress made, no agreement was reached by the deadline of March 2003 set by the UN and secretary-general Kofi Annan, who has worked hard to bring about a resolution. Though the failure of talks was widely blamed on the intransigence of Rauf Denktash, the longtime Turkish Cypriot leader, an election in Greek Cyprus shortly before the deadline may have contributed as well. As a result of the talks' failure, Greek Cyprus will join the European Union (EU) while Turkish Cyprus will remain out for the time being.

Annexed by Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960 after a ten-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. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Currently, the entire Turkish Cypriot community resides in the north, and property claims arising from the division and population exchange remain key sticking points in the reunification negotiations.

A buffer zone, called the "Green Line," has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is similarly divided. The division of Cyprus has been a major point of contention in the long-standing rivalry between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean. Tensions and intermittent violence between the two 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 1982, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey.

The UN-sponsored negotiations over reunification of the island broke down in 2003 over a range of issues. For the Greek side, former Greek Cypriot president Glafcos Clerides was seen as having conceded too much to his Turkish counterpart, Denktash, especially on the right of Greek Cypriots to return to land lost after the Turkish invasion; they also note that Turkish Cypriots control 37 percent of the island's land, but are only 17 percent of its population. This helped lead to the election in February of Tassos Papadopoulos, usually considered more intransigent than his predecessor. Denktash, for his side, insisted that the plan did not offer Turkish Cypriots sufficiently strong guarantees of equal rights in a united Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots would like a full federation, while Denktash has insisted on a looser confederation, with only a few powers, including foreign representation, given to the central government.

In April, shortly after the Greek-Cypriot government signed the EU accession treaty, the Turkish-Cypriot authorities loosened border crossings with the south. This move, greeted with joy on both sides, came after some pressure not only from Turkish Cypriots, who strongly back negotiations with their Greek-Cypriot neighbors, but from Turkey itself. The new government of Turkey, elected in November 2002, is less willing than past governments to indulge the Turkish-Cypriot leadership's stubbornness on negotiations, because Turkey's own chances of getting into the EU hinge on (among other considerations) a resolution of the island's division. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, initially strongly supported the UN peace plan. However, under some pressure from the Turkish military, which still sees Cyprus as a crucial strategic asset, he has backed away somewhat from this position.

Denktash's popularity suffered in 2003, thanks to a perception that he has been too stubborn in the reunification negotiations. Turkish Cypriots, who are considerably poorer than their Greek neighbors, will see the wealth gap widen when the southern half of the island becomes part of the EU and receives development funding. (Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly support EU membership; one poll showed 88 percent in favor of joining.) There is also increasing resentment of the 30,000 Turkish troops stationed in Cyprus. Pressure from an ever more irritated public could cost Denktash in the legislative elections to be held in December 2003. If the opposition gains control of the government, it could pressure Denktash, who will turn 80 in January 2004, to resign and appoint a negotiator more amenable to agreement on reunification.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Turkish Cypriots can change the government of the TRNC democratically. The president and legislature are elected to a term of not longer than five years. Legislative elections will be held in December 2003, and Rauf Denktash's current term as president is set to expire by April 2005. The powers of the president are largely ceremonial; Denktash wields influence by his status as the traditional leader of the Turkish Cypriot community and by his control over the center-right governing coalition of the National Unity Party and the Democratic Party. Turkey continues to play a strong role in TRNC politics, through both its military presence and its large financial contributions. However, for the 2003 legislative elections, the Turkish government has openly backed away from becoming involved. The 1,000-odd Greek and Marionite Christian residents of the north are disenfranchised, but many vote in elections in the Republic of Cyprus.

The criminal code allows the government to jail journalists for what they write, and the government has been hostile to the independent press. For example, it harassed and eventually forced the closure of Avrupa, an opposition paper, for criticizing President Denktash. Two editors from Avrupa's successor, Afrika, have also been imprisoned for insulting the president. They were each originally sentenced to six months' jail time, but their sentences were cut to six weeks on appeal and they were freed immediately.

An agreement with Greek-Cypriot authorities dating from 1975 provides for freedom of worship for both communities in both parts of the island.

Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations generally operate without restrictions, and there is a free and competitive party political scene. There is freedom of assembly. In February, 70,000 Turkish Cypriots marched through the Turkish half of Nicosia angrily shouting slogans at Denktash. Workers may form independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.

The judiciary is independent, and trials generally meet international standards of fairness. Turkish-Cypriot police, under the control of the Turkish military, sometimes abuse due process rights and civilians are sometimes tried in military courts. Prison conditions generally meet international standards.

Personal autonomy improved with the loosening of border controls with the Greek half of Cyprus in early 2003. However, Turkish Cypriots have difficulty traveling because most governments do not recognize their travel documents. In August, the TNRC signed an agreement with Turkey to ease trade between the countries. The agreement, intended to help the TNRC export its goods via Turkey, was condemned by the EU.

Women are under-represented in government. There are legal provisions for equal pay for equal work, but these are often disregarded.

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