Turkey on Cyprus over “TRNC” crisis (1983) 

Suggested Citation: Neophytos G. Loizides, Greek-Turkish Negotiations and Crises 1983-2003 Dataset , Queen's University Belfast (available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentrefortheStudyofEthnicConflict/TeachingResearch/Datasets/Greek-TurkishNegotiationsandCrises1983-2003/#d.en.173636)

Case Summary:

In November 16, 1983 the Turkish Cypriot authorities, with the backing of Turkey, declare the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).[i] The international community is worried that Greece under Papandreou will resort to retaliatory measures,[ii] while Turkish PM Turgut Özal describes Cyprus as “a knife pointed at the middle of Turkey, much like the U.S. case with Cuba,” and argues that the present Greek administration, especially PM Papandreou, is full of contradictions.[iii] Turkey ignores a decisive UN resolution condemning the declaration of the ‘TRNC,’ and continues to be the only country recognizing the breakaway regime in the North. In a full text search for keywords “Cyprus” and “crisis,” Lexis/ Nexis produces 76 results for the period 11/15/1983- 12/15/1983 (under category European News Sources). 

Case Study Features:

Effectiveness of Offensive Policies :  0

Is it better for Turkey to declare TRNC as an independent state or to postpone this move? Turkey does not receive any firm promises for outside support before proceeding. The fact that nobody else has recognized the TRNC since 1983 clearly demonstrates that this is a wrong decision. Moreover, there are no “windows of opportunity’ which can justify the decision to declare TRNC now rather than later. For example, the declaration could have happened in 1985 after a failure in negotiations caused by Greek Cypriots. Finally, Turkey does not gain any major political advantage in the negotiations for the settlement of the Cyprus issue and its image deteriorates even further among Greeks and Greek Cypriots, not to mention the international community. No prior changes in the security dynamics among Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus can explain the unilateral declaration of the TRNC.  

Offensive vs. Defensive Signals Indistinguishable: 0

The Greek government considers the declaration to be an offensive move aimed at the permanent partition of Cyprus, while the newly elected Özal government and the Turkish Cypriots argue that the TRNC was declared in order to protect Turkish Cypriots until the two communities reach a final settlement.[iv] However, given the overwhelming military superiority of Turkey in the island, it is not possible to make the argument that Turkish Cypriots need more security. In addition, none of Papandreou’s Cyprus policies is interpreted as threatening by Turkish leaders (although they are often characterized as controversial).[v]  Nor does the Turkish side provide any evidence of how the declaration will serve the goal of reunification. At the same time, the international community overwhelmingly rejects the Turkish point of view. Especially after the UN resolutions, the TRNC declaration is clearly defined by neutral parties as illegal and therefore offensive with no elements of indistinguishability recognized by third parties.

Domestic Challenge: 1

The economy is “stagnant,”[vi] the internal setting is unstable, and the democratization process under PM Turgut Özal has just begun, with his surprise victory in the Turkish elections.[vii] But there is no way for Özal to reverse decisions already made by the military without facing the risk of a new coup. Rather, he has to endorse a nationalist rhetoric when dealing with Cyprus and Greece in order to placate the Turkish Generals (whose Nationalist Democracy Party lost the November 6, 1983 elections[viii]). Denktas sees a great opportunity to advance his own agenda while the new government is weak and vulnerable.[ix] The Turkish military endorses the declaration in order to keep Rauf Denktas in power, since TRNC can now introduce a new constitution allowing the incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader to run again for the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community (a previous Turkish Cypriot constitution of 1975 restricted his re-election for more than eight years). Thus, succession games and incumbent government vulnerability are in play.

Enduring Ethnic Rivalries: 1

There are “enduring ethnic rivalries” resulting primarily from the 1974 invasion, nine years earlier.

Confrontational Policies: 1

The recognition and support of the creation of an illegal state, in defiance of an UN resolution, is coded as a confrontational policy.[x] Turkey violates UN Security Council resolution 541 by recognizing TRNC. The case confirms the predictions of the diversionary theory.


[i] “Radio Bayrak” in Turkish 1530 gmt 16 Nov 83, “TRNC's Call for Recognition, Source”, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, November 18, 1983.

[ii] Marvine Howe, “Greek Cypriots are Worried but Expect no Drastic Steps”, The New York Times, November 18, 1983, p.10.

[iii] “We Are a Good Ally of the United States: Interview With Turgut Ozal Prime Minister-Elect of Turkey”, U.S. News & World Report, December 12, 1983, p. 46.

[iv] “Radio Bayrak” in Turkish 1530 gmt 16 Nov 83, “TRNC's Call for Recognition, Source”, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, November 18, 1983.

[v] Henry Kamm, “Papandreou: The Politics of Anti-Americanism,” The New York Times Magazine, April 7, 1985, p. 21.

[vi] Marvine Howe, “Victor in Turkish Election to Try to Expand Economy,” The New York Times, November 11,1983, p. 3.

[vii] The Economist, Will the Generals Leave Ozal Alone?” November 19, 1983, p.63.

[viii] “Ozal Forms Government”, Facts on File ( World News Digest), December 16, 1983, p. 945; Sam Cohen, “Turkey's Soon-to-be Leader: Cyprus can still Become Unified Nation,” Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1983, p. 9.

[ix] Kim Rogal, Andrew Nagorski, Patricia Seth, “A New State of Tension”, Newsweek, November 28, 1983, p. 58.

[x] Ibid