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Violent skirmishes erupted in buffer zone between Turkish Cypriots and UN personnel, injuring multiple peacekeepers and Turkish Cypriot police officers and sparking diplomatic furore.
Turkish Cypriots and UN peacekeepers clashed, triggering diplomatic spat. Turkish Cypriots 17 Aug began constructing road to connect village of Pile/Pyla, located within UN controlled demilitarised zone known as Green Line, to “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”), citing humanitarian reasons. “TRNC” police and construction crews next day approached Green Line where UN peacekeepers bolstered presence with civilian vehicles to prevent construction; construction workers used excavators and physical force to disperse UN troops, leading to skirmishes that harmed at least three peacekeepers and eight Turkish Cypriot police officers. Incident sparked stern diplomatic responses. Notably, Greek PM Kyriákos Mitsotákis 18 Aug denounced Turkish Cypriot actions as “unacceptable”, while “TRNC” and Türkiye same day condemned UN personnel, claiming peacekeepers wrongfully intervened in humanitarian project. Although Russia next day vetoed UN Security Council resolution introduced by UK against actions of Turkish Cypriots, UN Sec Gen along with several embassies, including UK, U.S., EU and China, condemned “TRNC’s” actions. U.S. senator Robert Menendez 24 Aug visited Republic of Cyprus where he described Turkish Cypriot actions as unacceptable violation of international law.
Prospects for relaunching formal talks remained dim. Before buffer zone incident, Republic of Cyprus defence minister 6 Aug repeated that President Christodoulides is focussed on lifting deadlock and welcomes negotiations under UN auspices with active EU engagement. “TRNC” leader Ersin Tatar 11 Aug rejected Christodoulides’ proposal for joint meeting with UN Assistant Sec Gen Miroslav Jenča, who visited island 27-29 Aug, preferring to hold separate meeting on 28 Aug. Meanwhile, after U.S. 18 Aug announced it would continue to lift for another year arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus – imposed in 1987 and first lifted in 2021 – “TRNC” same day expressed concern over “upsetting the delicate balance on the island”; “TRNC” also described docking of U.S. destroyer USS Ramage at Limassol port on 17 Aug as “worrying”.
As UN continued efforts to find common ground, Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot leadership voiced support for differing solution models.
UN continued engagement to foster dialogue. UN Sec Gen António Guterres 5 July asserted that positive shift in Greece-Türkiye relations was opportunity for settlement in Cyprus. UN 7 July adopted two reports, namely Secretary General’s Report on His Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus, and Secretary General’s Report on UN Mission in Cyprus. In former, Guterres stated “the absence of substantive dialogue continues to deepen the difference of views on the way forward”. In latter, Guterres urged parties to return to negotiations, adding that further economic integration between two sides was needed; he also called upon Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to cease antagonistic rhetoric. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 18 July visited anthropological laboratory of Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, agreed to meet again at UN General Assembly in Sept. In his 20 July visit to north of island, Turkish President Erdoğan attended opening ceremony of new terminal at Ercan/Tymbou airport, declaring days of airport being used for international flights were “not far off”.
Parties articulated alternative visions of solution. In response to UN Security Council press statement 10 July that articulated “goal of returning to formal negotiations based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation”, “TRNC” 12 July said statement was “unfortunate and unrealistic” and asserted its support for two-state solution; Türkiye next day voiced support for “TRNC”’s position, adding that Turkish Cypriots no longer sought outdated solution model, referring to federation. Republic of Cyprus and Greece during month, however, rejected two-state formula: notably, Republic of Cyprus Defence Minister Michalis Giorgallas 2 July said that Turkish narrative for two state solution cannot be part of any discussion in new negotiations, while Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis 31 July said “any partitionist thoughts of two states is completely off any agenda”.
Republic of Cyprus continued push to reignite reunification talks with European Union (EU) involvement, while Turkish President Erdoğan reiterated support for two states.
Greek Cypriot leaders sought return to 2017 dialogue, as Türkiye reiterated position. Republic of Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides 7 June expressed readiness to meet with “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) leader Ersin Tatar “even tomorrow” to discuss reunification talks. President of House of Representatives in Republic of Cyprus Annita Demetriou 13 June underscored “the Greek Cypriot side will continue to exert every effort for the resumption of negotiations from where they stopped in Crans Montana [in 2017]”. During his first foreign trip following his re-election, Erdoğan 12 June met Tatar in “TRNC” and reiterated support for two-state solution, adding “Cyprus does not have another 50 years to lose” and urging international community to recognise “TRNC”. In his address to EU parliament next day, Christodoulides continued efforts to involve EU and asserted “EU has every interest and obligation to actively contribute to the final settlement of the Cyprus problem”. European Council 25 June pledged to continue to have “active role” in supporting peace process; Republic of Cyprus FM Constantinos Kombos welcomed inclusion of reference. UN Special Representative Colin Stewart 26 June met Tatar, describing “positive exchange of opinions”.
In other important developments. Spain and Poland suspended their participation on first day of 5-16 June military exercises with Türkiye and “TRNC”-dubbed Anatolian Phoenix naval drills following protest by Republic of Cyprus. News on social media 7 June reported Greek Cypriot man had allegedly attacked Turkish Cypriot woman in holiday resort Ayia Napa in Republic of Cyprus; “TRNC” 5 June denounced “racist attack” and called for justice.
Tensions surfaced over Republic of Cyprus military drills with partner countries and property in contested Varosha/Maraş area, amid Republic of Cyprus initiative for greater EU involvement.
Republic of Cyprus held military drills with partner countries. Republic of Cyprus National Guard and Israel 7-11 May conducted military exercises involving jets and helicopters in divided capital Nicosia’s Flight Information Region – part of which is de facto controlled by “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) – and 23 May held similar drills with UK; “TRNC” described operations as “provocation”. Republic of Cyprus 15-18 May held military drills with Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, U.S. and UK during which U.S. destroyer docked at Limassol port, which “TRNC” said “demonstrated once again that [U.S.] is not observing the delicate balance” on island. Republic of Cyprus and France 28 May held aerial exercises off Limassol’s coast.
Ghost resort Varosha/Maraş and energy exploration stoked concern. In response to reports of potentially unlawful property purchases by Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur in fenced-off ghost town Varosha/Maraş in “TRNC”, Republic of Cyprus House of Representatives president 8 May denounced Türkiye’s policy on town to UN Security Council members, European Union (EU) member states and Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 1 May reiterated support for Turkish Cypriots’ energy rights after Republic of Cyprus late April announced drilling preparations in zone that allegedly overlaps with area licenced by Turkish Petroleum Corporation.
Republic of Cyprus sought France’s involvement, deepened ties with Israel. In meeting with French President Macron on 3 May, Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides said Republic of Cyprus expects France’s support in breaking deadlock; “TRNC” next day dismissed Christodoulides’ initiative for EU involvement and urged Paris to cease arms sales to Republic of Cyprus. UN Special Representative in Cyprus Colin Stewart 15-16 May met separately with Christodoulides and “TRNC” leader Ersin Tatar, said “a very important period” will begin after elections in Türkiye and Greece that could see progress on Cyprus issue. Republic of Cyprus and Israeli defence ministers 5 May discussed “strategic partnership” and Republic of Cyprus energy minister 15 May announced possible natural gas pipeline between two countries.
Republic of Cyprus pursued initiative to expand EU involvement to reignite talks, while Turkish Cypriots expressed strong opposition; sides continued dialogue under UN auspices.
Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides advanced proposal for active EU role. After Christodoulides visited Belgian capital Brussels in March to propose greater EU involvement in Cyprus issue, Greek Cypriot FM Kombos 2 April explained country is expecting Turkish Cypriots to make next move. Christodoulides 22 April said “everything depends on how Turkey will act” following elections in May (see Türkiye), adding that Ankara’s post-earthquake steps toward rapprochement with West and regional countries, if continued, would pave way for diplomacy over Cyprus. Meanwhile, Christodoulides 5 April visited Egypt to hold talks with President Sisi on Cyprus issue, bilateral ties and energy, signalling country’s desire to enhance regional engagement.
Turkish Cypriots voiced opposition to Christodoulides’ initiative. After foreign ministry of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in March voiced opposition to EU involvement given bloc’s “partial attitude”, de facto FM Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu 5 April said “TRNC” would review diplomatic status of EU’s office in north as well as relations with bloc given EU has not recognised “TRNC”. After Republic of Cyprus and U.S. late March signed partnership deal for cooperation on maritime security and other issues, “TRNC” 1 April condemned deal, saying it served to strengthen armament of Republic of Cyprus. “TRNC” 8 April condemned U.S. for anchoring attack submarine in Republic of Cyprus; Türkiye next day reiterated calls for U.S. to reconsider policies that disrupt balance on island. “TRNC” 27 April condemned Greek Cypriot navigation advisory for drilling preparations in contested economic zone in eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, “TRNC” 1 April deepened cooperation with Türkiye by signing $500mn Financial and Economic Protocol, which includes financial aid as well as funds for new schools, health facilities and national disaster centre.
Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots continued UN-facilitated dialogue. Under auspices of UN peacekeeping force, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators 11 April met as part of regular dialogue related to bicommunal Technical Committees and issues of shared concern; negotiators 27 April discussed future settlement prospects and Technical Committees.
Republic of Cyprus sought to kickstart moribund dialogue with Turkish Cypriots via greater European Union (EU) involvement, as sides reiterated long-held positions.
Republic of Cyprus began efforts to reignite talks, seeking federation solution. Following his election in Feb, Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides 22 March travelled to Belgian capital Brussels for European Council Summit where he presented his proposal for more active EU involvement in Cyprus issue to presidents of three main EU institutions and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres. Christodoulides next day remarked that talks should resume “from where they left off in Crans-Montana” and announced that Republic of Cyprus and EU agreed to lay groundwork for resuming dialogue immediately after 14 May Turkish elections (see Türkiye). Earlier, Republic of Cyprus FM Constantinos Kombos 9 March remarked that state “will never accept a divisionary solution or a two-state solution”, and drew attention to Turkish activity in ghost resort town Varosha/Maraş, warning “any development other than the transfer of Varosha under UN administration” would be illegal. Republic of Cyprus Defence Minister Michalis Giorgallas 12 March said Türkiye’s “persistence and expansionist aspirations” are holding back resolution and urged Ankara to demonstrate “required will” for talks. Meanwhile, Christodoulides 10 March pledged to increase military spending to 2% of GDP, citing need to “bolster deterrent capabilities”; pledge followed end of U.S. arms embargo in Sept 2022.
Turkish Cypriots reiterated desire for two-state solution. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) leader Ersin Tatar 6 March reiterated aim of two-state solution, asserting “TRNC will never accept an agreement that would make the Turkish Cypriot people a minority”. Tatar 15 March stated that he would “never accept the EU becoming involved in the Cyprus issue”. Earlier, Tatar 1 March announced nearly 5,000 Turkish earthquake victims had arrived in “TRNC”, prompting concern among Greek Cypriots about increased population of settlers in north.
Republic of Cyprus elected new president who pledged reunification of island and held first informal meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader.
New Republic of Cyprus president met Turkish Cypriot leader. Former FM Nikos Christodoulides 12 Feb won Greek Cypriot run-off presidential elections against left-wing contender Andreas Mavroyiannis (51.9% to 48.1%). During inauguration speech, Christodoulides remarked “my biggest concern is the end of the Turkish occupation and the reunification of our homeland”, adding “I will do everything to break the deadlock, to restart the dialogue”. In first informal meeting following his election, Christodoulides 23 Feb met Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar in UN buffer zone in Nicosia; after encounter, Tatar said formal return to talks will require recognition of Turkish Cypriot sovereignty, while Christodoulides remarked he did not hear anything unexpected.
Tensions continued between sides prior to presidential poll. Outgoing Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 2 Feb visited Greece, thanking Greek PM Mitsotakis for “support in containing Turkish revisionism”. Turkish FM Fuat Oktay 3 Feb referred to “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” as “Turkish Cypriot Republic”, urged UN Security Council to recognise north as having “equal international status” with Republic of Cyprus; Oktay also claimed UN peacekeeping mission has “no humanitarian, diplomatic, or legal value”. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar 4 Feb reiterated “sovereign equality” of “Turkish Cypriot Republic”.
Republic of Cyprus sought German mediation for Cyprus issue amid bleak prospects of resolution, while UN Security Council renewed peacekeeping mandate.
UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 3 Jan reported to UN Security Council that harsh rhetoric and “a significant hardening of positions” posed obstacle to dialogue and reconciliation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots; UN Security Council 30 Jan renewed UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for one year. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus FM Ioannis Kasoulides 10 Jan said he asked Germany to act as mediator on Cyprus question; German FM Annalena Baerbock previous day said that two-state solution “cannot be an option for Cyprus”. Echoing Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar’s 1 Jan remark that “federation talks are over and … two-state politics is settling in”, de facto foreign ministry of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) 13 Jan stated “no common ground” existed between two sides and UN must recognise “current realities on the island”. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 15 Jan said country will continue to seek “liberation and reunification” of island despite threats and challenges. Türkiye’s VP Fuat Oktay 17 Jan said Türkiye will continue to fight for solution in Cyprus based on sovereign equality of two entities.
Tensions between Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot leaders persisted.
Disputes over UN peacekeeping force and energy exploration continued. Turkish Cypriot FM Ertuğruloğlu 8 Dec reiterated that “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) will continue to allow UN peacekeeping force “on its territory” only if “mutually acceptable legal arrangement between the two parties” is concluded. Hydrocarbon exploration remained contentious: Republic of Cyprus’s energy ministry 21 Dec announced that consortium of French and Italian energy companies found more natural gas off Cyprus; “TRNC” next day dismissed legitimacy of Republic of Cyprus-claimed Exclusive Economic Zone and asserted exploration activities “coincide with the continental shelf of [Türkiye]”, while Türkiye 23 Dec said Republic of Cyprus’s hydrocarbon activities threatened peace and stability in eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 22 Dec hinted progress on peace settlement may materialise once Turkish President Erdoğan leaves office and next day said “national dignity” cannot accept any solution ensuring permanent presence of Türkiye in Cyprus.
Organization of Turkic States admitted “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) as observer member.
“TRNC” acquired observer status at Organization of Turkic States. Türkiye 11 Nov announced “TRNC” was awarded observer status at Organization of Turkic States, which includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Türkiye and Uzbekistan. Republic of Cyprus same day called move “meaningless”, claiming Ankara had to downgrade observer status to “entity” rather than “state” to win support. European Union 12 Nov called move “regrettable”, while U.S. 15 Nov said decision was inconsistent with principles of territorial integrity and UN Charter.
In other important developments. Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders 17-18 Nov met UN Assistant Sec-Gen Miroslav Jenča and peacekeeping head Colin Steward to discuss prospects for progress on Cyprus issue. European Council 8 Nov agreed to extend framework of sanctions (in place since Nov 2019) against Türkiye in response to its “unauthorised drilling activities” in waters around Cyprus until 12 Nov 2023. Meanwhile, following 7 Nov meeting with Republic of Cyprus FM Ioannis Kasoulides, Greece’s FM Nikos Dendias warned “any attempt to create fait accomplis either in Greece or in Cyprus will result in a European response” and noted being “on the verge of resuming talks between Cyprus and Lebanon on the delimitation of an Exclusive Economic Zone”.
Tensions persisted after U.S. lifted arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus last month, while Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots issued ultimatum to UN peacekeeping mission.
Türkiye vowed new weapons for Turkish Cypriots. After U.S. lifted its decades-old arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus on 16 Sept and Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu late Sept vowed to send more weapons to “protect Turkish Cypriots”, Turkish President Erdoğan 7 Oct said Turkish UAVs and combat drones may be sent to region “because we need to secure Northern Cyprus from all sides”; statement came amid reports of potential plan for Türkiye to establish military base in Karpaz peninsula located on northern tip of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”).
Turkish Cypriot leadership made demands to UN peacekeeping force. Turkish Cypriot leadership demanded end to UN’s peacekeeping force deployment in northern Cyprus unless UN signs agreement specifically with “TRNC”; Turkish Cypriot FM Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu 5 Oct said “We decided to give them another month. It is not the Greek Cypriot government that will approve your mission in the north. It is us”; UN military presence in north is enabled by agreement between UN and Greek Cypriot govt.
U.S. lifted decades-old armed embargo on Republic of Cyprus, prompting Turkish condemnation and vow to bolster Turkish military presence on island.Washington announced lifting of long-held arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus. U.S. 16 Sept announced it would fully lift – initially for one year – arms embargo on Republic of Cyprus in place since 1987, saying “Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation”. In line with U.S. requirements, Republic of Cyprus had put in place in recent years several financial regulatory oversight mechanisms and denied Russian military vessels access to ports, among other conditions.Ankara strongly criticised U.S. and pledged greater military support for Turkish Cypriots. Turkish foreign ministry 16 Sept harshly reacted to U.S. move, saying it would “further strengthen the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue” as well as “lead to an arms race on the island”. Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu 29 Sept said: “We will send more forces there to protect the Turkish Cypriots and we will meet whatever they need in terms of weapons”, while Turkish President Erdoğan same day said Türkiye would reinforce its 40,000 troops on island with additional weapons, ammunition and vehicles. Meanwhile, unconfirmed news reports 20 Sept surfaced that Russia was intending to start direct flights to Ercan airport located in Turkish Cypriot north of island.
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