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An island in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean has been in dispute for a very long time. It has two administrations. One controlled by Greek Cypriots in the south and another controlled by Turkish Cypriots in the north. But how did this island become the center of an international dispute?

As the Ottoman Empire started to crumble, things started to change. In 1878, following a series of Agreements, Great Britain took over the provisional administration of Cyprus but land sovereignty was still with the Ottoman Empire and on the eve of the First World War, it annexed it. Turkey recognized the annexation of Cyprus in 1923 whilst ratifying the Treaty of Luzan. Although Cyprus was under British rule, the relationship between the Greeks and Turks started to deteriorate. A set of talks between the Turks and Greeks started in 1959 and led to the Zurich Agreement which resulted in Cyprus becoming an independent Republic. Once the Constitution was signed, the United Kingdom transferred land sovereignty to the two parties of the island, thus the Republic of Cyprus was born. As per the Agreement, Greece and Turkey were named guarantor states.

But peace amongst Turkish and Greek Cypriots did not last long. In 1963, due to an armed attack by Greek Cypriots, the bi-national republic came to an end. After this breakaway, Turkish Cypriots began to set up their administration that managed their affairs. Even though the United Nations deployed Peacekeeping troops to Cyprus in 1964, in retaliation, Greece simultaneously continued to deploy its troops. By 1974, 20,000 troops have been deployed to Cyprus. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus maintains a buffer zone between the two, commonly known as the “Green Line.” The demarcation not only serves as a scar but it has become a way of life. In an attempt to justify its actions, Turkey holds that its acts were in line with the Treaty of Guarantee. From a legal perspective, it has been argued that the choice of wording in Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee and particularly the word “action” does not authorize the use of force or military action. Even if Article 4 was to be construed as authorizing the use of force, it is inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. The Treaty of Guarantee cannot take precedence over the UN Charter. Specifically, under Article 103 of the UN Charter, the Treaty of Guarantee is rendered void ab initio.

The international community and the UN Security Council condemned the proclamation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983; the proclamation was declared to be invalid. Any arguments, however, claiming the legality of the Northern self-proclaimed Republic are rather dubious under the scope of international law. The TRNC was created as a result of Turkish military intervention; the recognition of an entity as a state that is created by the unlawful use of force is forbidden under international law. As a result, there is no international recognition for the TRNC. However, TRNC exists as a de facto state with its population living on its territory, governed by its democratic government. Therefore, two different administrations exist on the island, one de jure and one de facto. Interestingly, even though the Greek Cypriots rejected the bid for unification, the EU declared them a representing entity of the whole island and accepted Greek Cyprus as a European Union member.

It is a general rule of international law, that every state has full and exclusive sovereignty over its airspace. Flights to the TRNC are thus a breach of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The government of the Republic of Cyprus has declared the two airports in the north of the island as illegal border crossing points and therefore run contrary to the vision of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The Republic of Cyprus authorities can hold persons arriving in Cyprus via airports in the North criminally liable for breach of the entry regulations of the Republic of Cyprus even if they later enter southern Cyprus. Furthermore, the inability of Cypriot airlines to enter Turkish airspace, since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, was forcing the Cypriot government to use the Greek airspace as the only available routing from Cyprus to Europe’s airspace.

Over the years, manifold cases have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights (EcHR). A landmark ruling was made in the case Loizidou v Turkey in 1995. The EcHR found that the displaced Greek Cypriots remained the lawful owners of their properties in Northern Cyprus and nothing adopted by the TRNC had validly affected their rights as lawful owners. Nonetheless, many are concerned that the EcHR rulings are likely to hurt the island’s reunification talks. Whether a tribunal can decide the statehood of an entity deserves another academic study but with the ECHR judgment in hand, primarily it is inevitable to challenge that judgment and prove TRNC is a sovereign state in that context.

Ankit Malhotra is reading Law at Jindal Global Law School and is the President of the Jindal Society of International Law.