Just before dawn on Saturday, 20 July 1974 Turkey launched a military invasion of the island of Cyprus. The operation was code-named ‘Operation Atilla’. Heavily armed troops landed on the beaches of Kyrenia to the north of the island. The Turkish forces met with some resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces but were able to overcome this.
That same day, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 353 demanding the immediate withdrawal of all foreign military personnel present in Cyprus in contravention of paragraph 1 of the United Nations Charter. The resolution also called upon Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom (as the three guarantors under the Zurich and London Agreements which had led to Cyprus’s independence from the UK in 1960) to immediately enter into negotiations to restore peace on the island.
On 22 July 1974 the UN Security Council was able to arrange a ceasefire, but by this time Turkish forces had taken control of a narrow path between Kyrenia and Nicosia, approximately 3% of the island.
Between 25 and 30 July 1974 a series of meetings took place in Geneva, Switzerland between Turkey, Greece and United Kingdom, to try to restore peace to the island and re-establish its constitutional government. The guarantors agreed that the two Cypriot communities should be invited to and participate in a second round of talks and that in the meantime Turkey would not make any further attempt to expand its control of Cyprus.
The second round of peace talks took place on 14 August 1974. However, Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a separate federal state and agree to the transfer of people between the two states. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Turun Günes had earlier passed a secret code to the Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, for a second invasion of Cyprus to commence. The code was ‘Ayşe should go on vacation’. An hour and a half after the conference had finished, Günes telephoned Ecevit and said the code.
That same day, on 14 August 1974, Turkey launched its second attack on Cyprus, in violation of the UN ceasefire and the peace talks. Turkish forces succeeded in capturing approximately 40% of the island.
As a result of the invasion, around a third of the Greek Cypriot population was expelled from the Turkish occupied northern part of the island. Around 160,000 Greek Cypriots became refugees.
Events leading up to the Invasion
On 15 July 1974, just five days before the Turkish invasion, the Greek military junta, that had come to power in Greece in 1967 and established a dictatorship, organised a coup d’état against the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III. The junta had earlier installed 600 Greek officers in the Cypriot National Guard and began talks with the Greek extremist group EOKA-B to overthrow Makarios and his government.
The coup was carried out by sections of the Cypriot National Guard, led by the Greek officers and supported by EOKA-B. They attached the presidential palace with the intention of killing Makarios. However he was able to flee the palace from its back door and escape to Paphos. From there, Makarios was moved by helicopter by the British to the British sovereign base in Akrotiri and then on by aeroplane to Malta. The following day Makarios was flown to London.
In the meantime, Nikos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new government. The new regime took over radio stations and declared that Makarios had been killed, when he was actually alive and safe in London.
It is at this time, that Turkey launch its attack on the island.
The United Nations Buffer Zone
The United Nations’ buffer zone is a demilitarised zone between the north and south sides of Cyprus. It is an area where military installations, activities or personnel are forbidden, a ‘no mans’ land.
The buffer zone is patrolled by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
The buffer zone was established in 1974 following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It is sometimes referred to as the Attila Line, which was the Turkish code-name for the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. It is commonly known as the Green Line. Turkish forces built a barrier on the north side of the buffer zone consisting mainly of barbed-wire fencing, concrete walls, barrels, watchtowers, anti-tank ditches and minefields. Most of this remains to this day and is a constant reminder that the island remains physically divided.
The buffer zone stretches for 180 km from east to west. It has a total area of 346 square kilometres which is around 3% of the island. The width of the buffer zone ranges from 3.3 metres in the capital city of Nicosia to 7.4 kilometres at the village of Athienou. It cuts through the centre of the old town of Nicosia, separating the city into two. Nicosia is currently the only capital city in the world to be divided.
Around 10,000 people live work and work in the several villages and farms located within the buffer zone.
The Republic of Cyprus currently remains separated into two main parts – the southern area which is under the effective control of the Republic, comprising about 59% of the island, and the Turkish-controlled area in the north covering about 36% of the island’s area. The north is administered by the self-proclaimed The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which was created after the 1974 invasion.
Despite public misconceptions, the Republic of Cyprus has, in accordance with international law, sovereignty over the whole island of Cyprus and its surrounding waters, not just the ‘south side’. The only exceptions to this are the two British overseas territories of Akrotiri and Dhekelia which remain administered by the United Kingdom as Sovereign Base areas.
UN Security Council Resolution 541
On 15 November 1983 the Turkish Cypriots authorities declared the northern part of The Republic of Cyprus to be a separate independent state, naming it the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
On 18 November 1983 the United Nations Security Council, in its Resolution 541, declared this action illegal and called for its withdrawal.
To this day, the whole of the international community, with the exception of just Turkey, refuses to recognise The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a legitimate power. The international community considers the northern part of the island as the legitimate and legal territory of the Republic of Cyprus that has been illegally occupied by Turkish forces since 1974.