International Relations Politics and Nationalism in Cyprus
Nikos Christofis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0240


Cyprus is an ethnically mixed island in the eastern Mediterranean with an Greek-speaking Orthodox population, registered as Greek Cypriots (about 80 percent) and a Turkish-speaking Muslim population, registered as Turkish Cypriots (about 18 percent). Other populations include Maronites, Armenians, and Latinos. Cyprus’s central geostrategic position in the eastern Mediterranean has meant that over the centuries the island has continually been the target of conquest. Similarly, and in order to satisfy its imperialist project and dominate the region, the administration of Cyprus was transferred from the Ottomans to the British in 1878. In 1925 Cyprus officially became a Crown Colony. Since the 19th century, the desire for enosis (unification of Cyprus with Greece), influenced by the changes in mainland Greece, has constituted the very basis of Greek Cypriot national identity. On the other hand, partially as a reaction to this hegemonic nationalism of the Greek Cypriots, but also due to the ideological changes and political developments in mainland Turkey, which were also influencing the Turkish Cypriots, a Turkish Cypriot identity and nationalism has developed. The Cyprus Question can be defined by the long process of constructing two nationalisms competing with each other. Beginning in the 1950s, the British policy of “divide and rule” stoked the flames and framed the distinct identities of “Greek Cypriot” and “Turkish Cypriot” over “Cypriot” more generally. After that period, the rivalry was expressed through enosis and taksim (partition). The Republic of Cyprus proclaimed its independence on 16 August 1960, after a five-year struggle against British colonialism led by the EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), with Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom as guarantor countries. Cyprus’s independence did not mean an end to tensions between the two competing nationalist projects, however, and stark divisions continued among the Greek Cypriot community—between those attempting to find ways to coexist with the Turkish Cypriots and those seeking enosis with Greece. After a constitutional crisis, a new wave of intercommunal violence erupted in December 1963. During the period of conflict, approximately two thousand people went missing from both communities. A coup d’état against the Cypriot government—initiated by the military junta in Greece and supported by the Greek Cypriot ultra-nationalist paramilitary terrorist organization EOKA B—is considered the climax of the confrontations between the competing groups within the Greek Cypriot community. The coup was followed swiftly by a Turkish invasion of the island, on 16 August 1974, with Turkey’s pretext being the protection of the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish invasion saw six thousand dead, thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, and approximately fifteen hundred missing. Turkish forces occupied some 38 percent of Cypriot territory. Since 1974 the Turkish Cypriots living on the north side of the island have thus been effectively under the protection of the Republic of Turkey, which is the only country to recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC), which was declared unilaterally in 1983. For nearly half a century there have been constant negotiations regarding a solution to the issue and a unification plan—the most recent formulated in December 2017—without, however, the two communities and other international actors being able to secure a final settlement.

General Overviews

Politics and nationalism, or the politics of nationalism, are at the center of the history of Cyprus. For a long time, the Cyprus Question was seen through the lens of Greek-Turkish relations and was dealt with mostly in connection with either a Greek or a Turkish perspective. For this reason, many dimensions of Cypriot society and politics have been understudied or obscured. However, since the late 1990s, many important works have emerged to fill this gap. Furthermore, most of these studies explain the relation between politics and nationalism in Cyprus from varying scholarly perspectives, such as political science, anthropology, sociology, and history, as well as gender, museum studies, and the visual arts. Analyzing the relations between politics and nationalism in Cyprus, as with other structures of Cyprus’s history, is not possible without extensive reference to British colonial policies—or even earlier, those of the Ottoman rulers—as well as political developments in Greece and Turkey, and their impact upon the society of the island. Among the recent studies, several works listed here provide both a background and a general overview of the history of Cyprus. Attalides 2003 approaches the issue from an international relations perspective but places nationalism at the center of the study. Kızılyürek 2002 and Bryant 2004 are two of the most fundamental studies on the issue, with extensive and in-depth analyses of Greek, Turkish, and English, as well as other European language, sources, both primary and secondary. Altay 2005 is the best study written on the first wave of Turkish Cypriot nationalism. Papadakis, et al. 2006 addresses different aspects of nationalism from an anthropological perspective. Faustmann and Peristianis 2006 is an interdisciplinary study that focuses on politics and nationalism in both colonial and postcolonial Cyprus. Papadakis 2005 provides an ethnographic survey of the two communities of the island, bringing to the foreground many neglected aspects and dimensions of the politics of nationalism and the island’s sociopolitical life. Anagnostopoulou 2004, by one of the most prolific writers on Cyprus, covers the issue of Turkish nationalism and how it has affected Turkish Cypriot identity. Finally, Sakellaropoulos 2017 is a massive volume that covers the sociopolitical history of Cyprus over a thousand-year period. It covers different aspects of politics and nationalism and makes use of most of the available sources in many European languages, including a great number of dissertations from all over the world.

  • Altay, Nevzat. Nationalism amongst the Turks of Cyprus: The First Wave. Oulu, Finland: Oulu University Press, 2005.

    The most complete study of Turkish Cypriot nationalism during the first period of the British colonial period. A must-read study that brings to light new sources, as well as new insights on the issue.

  • Anagnostopoulou, Sia. Turkish Modernization: Islam and Turkish Cypriots in the Mazy Path of Kemalism. Athens, Greece: Vivliorama, 2004.

    A must-read study that associates Kemalism and its influence and impact on the shaping of Turkish Cypriot identity. It shows how Turkish nationalism affected the Turkish Cypriot identity, focusing mainly on the post-1960 period. Available only in Greek.

  • Attalides, M. Cyprus: Nationalism and International Politics. Möhnesee, Germany: Bibliopolis, 2003.

    Originally published in 1979. One of the first studies that focus on nationalism in both communities, ethnic conflict and international politics. A classic book.

  • Bryant, Rebecca. Imagining the Modern: The Cultures of Nationalism in Cyprus. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

    One of the classic books on the cultures of nationalism in Cyprus.

  • Faustmann, Hubert, and Nicos Peristianis, eds. Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism, 1878–2006. Möhnesee, Germany: Bibliopolis, 2006.

    A rich collection of articles covering both colonial and postcolonial Cyprus from the top scholars in the field.

  • Ker-Lindsay, James. The Cyprus Problem What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    A basic reading for those who would like to start working on the Cyprus Question. It presents a set of key questions and answers on the issue, and thus serves as a very informative introduction to the issue.

  • Kızılyürek, Niyazi. Milliyetcilik Kiskacinda Kibris. Istanbul: İletişim, 2002.

    The present study has been the standard reading on nationalism in Cyprus, covering also Greek-Turkish relations. Available only in Turkish.

  • Papadakis, Yiannis. Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005.

    An anthropological, ethnographic study on the politics of nationalism on Cyprus in both communities.

  • Papadakis, Yiannis, Nicos Peristianis, and Gisela Welz, eds. Divided Cyprus: Modernity, History, and an Island in Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

    A collection of anthropological articles presenting a new perspective on the approach to nationalism in Cyprus.

  • Richter, Heinz. A Concise History of Modern Cyprus: 1878–2009. Mainz, Germany: Ruhpolding, 2010.

    A concise study on Cyprus from the British times until the early 21st century. It presents a general overview of the issue, focusing on the main events. A useful book for those who have started working on Cyprus.

  • Sakellaropoulos, Spyros. The Cypriot Social Transformation (1191–2004): From the Establishment to Partition. Athens, Greece: Topos, 2017.

    The most recent study on Cyprus, covering Cyprus politics, history, nationalism, and ethnic relations. The reader can find a wide range of information on Greece, Turkey, as well as Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Available only in Greek.

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