On July 19, 1974, Turkish warships and landing craft moved toward the northern coast of Cyprus. The invasion—or intervention, to the Turks—was Turkey’s answer to the military coup of 15 July that toppled Archbishop Mikhalis Khristodoulou Makarios III, president of Cyprus, at the behest of the military junta in power in Athens, Greece. Turkish officials justified the military action by citing the terms of Article IV of the Treaty of Guarantee, noting the impossibility of joint action with Greece and the reluctance of Britain to use military force to restore the state of affairs established by the constitution of 1960.
The Turkish military offensive began on July 20, and although the Greek National Guard tried to defend the beachfront of northern Cyprus, it was defeated by the far stronger Turkish armed forces. The Greek National Guard was poorly armed, while the Turks used new equipment and weapons recently purchased from the United States. Britain evacuated an estimated 12,000 British and other foreign nationals, as well as a number of Cypriots, to the Akrotiri military base and from there to England. By July 22, the United Nations succeeded in obtaining a cease-fire. At this stage of the operation, named Attila II, the Turks controlled only a strip of the northern coastline about 10 miles long, including Kyrenia and a few villages.
Under pressure of the events in Cyprus, the Athens junta finally collapsed after more than seven years in power. Former Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis returned from exile in Paris to form a new cabinet. At the same time, Nicos Sampson renounced his seven-dayold presidency of Cyprus, leaving the shattered country to Glafcos Clerides, who had previously been the president of the House of Representatives. During the early days of the post-invasion period, the Greek National Guard attacked Turkish Cypriots, thereby worsening intercommunal relations.
A conference of the guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey, and Britain), as well as Cyprus, was organized in Geneva on July 25 and resulted in a declaration calling for an exchange of prisoners and protection by the UN forces of the Turkish Cypriot enclaves. As scheduled, the second part of the conference convened on August 9 with Clerides and a large team of advisers and experts representing Cyprus. Meanwhile, the small area of Cyprus held by the Turkish army was further occupied by some 30,000 troops with accompanying tanks, and artillery. On August 13 the Turkish foreign minister Turan Günes¸ shocked international opinion by refusing a request for a 36-to-48-hour delay made by Clerides in order to consider proposals to resolve the crisis. At dawn on the following day, armor-backed Turkish columns fanned out east and west of Nicosia.
By this action Turkey was in violation of the many Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire and troop withdrawal, as well as agreements that were signed in Geneva. After three more days of fighting, Turkey called a cease-fire, but not before 37 percent of Cyprus had come under Turkish military occupation. Approximately 10,000 Turkish Cypriot refugees from enclaves in the south were flown to northern Cyprus from British bases by way of Turkey.
Some 140,000 to 160,000 Greek Cypriots, making up roughly one-third of the island’s population, were expelled from their homes and land. Acts of ethnic cleansing by the Turkish military were documented, and many POWs are still unaccounted for. The events of 1974 dramatically altered the internal balance of power between the two Cypriot communities and coupled their prevailing political and institutional separation with a stark physical and geographical separation. Until the present day, the island remains divided between the Greek-speaking south, now a member of the EU, and the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.
See also Cyprus, independence of.