End of Conflict and Weaponization of Refugees in Cyprus



As of today, Cyprus remains divided in two by the 1974 partition. Yet, as the conflict abates, one would expect the UN Buffer Zone to slowly be erased. However, as Olga Demetriou describes in this text, the demilitarized area is now instrumental in the weaponization of exiled people by the Turkish and Cypriot governments, as well as the European Union.

In the world of conflict studies, Cyprus presents (more than it answers) an interesting question: how do we know when a conflict is over?

We are today just short of 50 years since the 1974 war that divided the island. That war laid rest to nationalist Greek-Cypriot claims for unification with Greece when a short-lived coup instigated by Athens (itself under military dictatorship at the time) ended with the island’s invasion by Turkey, all within a short five days. Turkey has since stationed troops in the northern half of the island and has overseen the transition to a Turkish-Cypriot self-administered region, claiming statehood (and failing, at the level of the UN) since 1983. The division line, running from the eastern coast to the western, extended separation fences set up a decade earlier across the island. At that earlier point in the 1960s, the post-independence power-sharing constitution broke down, Turkish-Cypriots withdrawing, or being ousted (depending on one’s view) from government and into militia-administered enclaves seeking protection from other, Greek-Cypriot militias that abducted and disappeared their co-ethnics.

This dense concentration of violent events has been petering out as activities shifted to the plane of political negotiations, amounting to many failed rounds that yielded many suggestions and no agreement. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which administrates this Buffer Zone and has been mediating since the 1960s, is now the third oldest mission in a largely safe environment without fatalities.