Introductory Report

on the Situation of Minorities in Cyprus



Background Notes

The people of Cyprus represent two main ethnic communities, Greek Cypriots (GC) and Turkish Cypriots (TC).  Greek presence in Cyprus goes back to the 13th century BC when ancient Greeks settled in Cyprus. Although subsequently Cyprus came under the rule of different empires Greek culture and language remained dominant on the island, as well as Christian Orthodox religion from 1st century AD onwards.  Turkish presence in Cyprus begins after the conquest of the island by the Ottoman empire in 1571.  Apart from the Ottoman soldiers that remained on the island, a considerable number of settlers were also carried from different parts of the empire to settle there.


There are not any accurate estimates of the number of Greeks and Turks during the period of the three centuries of the Ottoman rule. The first census is conducted in 1881, three years after Cyprus was ceded by the Ottomans to the British empire.   At this census the total population was 186,173 out of which Cypriots were the 73.9% and Turkish Cypriots the 24.4%.


The British colonial authorities subsequently published regular demographic statistics.  During the Brutish rule there was a gradual decrease in the percentage of the Turkish Cypriot community, mainly, as it seems, due to the immigration of Turkish Cypriots to other areas of the Ottoman empire.   


Cyprus Republic Population Structure

In 1960 Cyprus becomes an independent state with the signing of the Zurich-London Agreements.  In this year a census is conducted by the new republic.  At that time the population of the island was  573,566  out of which 78,2 % were GC, 18,1 % TC and 3,7% others.   It has to be noted that according the Constitution of 1960 (Article 2) the smaller minorities of the island, namely the Armenians, Maronites and Latins were given three months to decide which of the two communities, either GC or TC, would like to join.   All of them affiliated themselves with the GC community.


After the partition of the island in 1974, is practically impossible to have accurate figures of the total population.  Censuses have been replaced by estimates as far as concerns the population in the north.  The Department of Statistics and Research of the Republic, at the year 1974, set the total population of Cyprus at 641,000, 78.9% being GC and 18.4% TC.  The figure for the Greek Cypriots includes also the number of the minorities of the Armenians, Maronites and Latins who had opted to belong to the Greek Cypriot community.


In the year 1996, according to the official government of Cyprus (see report submitted to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities), the percentages were 83.9% for GC, 12% for the TC, 0.6% of for the Maronites, 0.4% for the Armenians and 0.1% for the Latins. The percentages given for the Turkish Cypriots are estimated taking into account Turkish Cypriot emigration and the comparable rate of annual natural increase of the population. 


As it is mentioned in Laakso’s Report, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2003, ‘despite the lack of consensus on the exact figures, all parties concerned, admit that Turkish nationals have been systematically arriving in the Northern part of the island. At the same time, continuous outflow of the indigenous Turkish Cypriot population from the northern part may be observed.  In consequence, the settlers have outnumbered the indigenous Turkish Cypriot population’.

As it is noted in the report the estimated number of Turkish Cypriots in 2001 was 87,600 whereas the estimate of settlers was 115,000.


Constitutional Provisions

According to the Constitution(article 28) ‘every person shall enjoy all the rights and liberties provided for in this Constitution without any direct or indirect discrimination against any person on the ground of his community, race, religion, language, sex, political or other conviction, national or social descend’.  Nonetheless, it also foresees (article 2), as pointed above, that all Cypriots are deemed to belong to either Greek community or the Turkish community.     


The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention which Cyprus had ratified in 1996, expressed the view that this constitutional provision is not compatible with Article 3 of the Framework Convention, under which every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right freely to choose whether to be treated as such and the Council’s of Europe Committee of Ministers concluded in February 2002 that this issue has to be addressed.   Nonetheless, it is also recognised that a review of the Constitution at this stage could be inappropriate due to the de facto situation on the island with a substantial part of the country not being under Government control along with the fact that a number of provisions in the Cyprus Constitution are defined as unchangeable (article 182).


It has to be noted also that the 1960 Constitution accorded equal status to the Greek and Turkish languages (articles 3 and 18) which were the two official languages of the state. 


Minority Rights Freedoms

The members of the three minorities enjoy the same political rights as being members of the Greek Community.  In addition, they also elect non-voting representatives to the House of Representatives who attend as observers and advice on religious and educational matters affecting their group. 


The five major religious groups receive government subsidies and are exempted from taxes.   The right of free education is safeguarded also for the members of the minorities and the state offers financial assistance.  Most of the students coming from these minorities choose to attend Greek Cypriot schools.  However for those choosing to attend Maronite, Armenian or Latin schools, the state provides subsidies for private minority schools.  Similarly the state subsidizes the renovation of churches.  In addition all priests, regardless religion are on the government’s payroll. There is also free access to radio broadcasting for minorities.


Cyprus signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages in 1992 but officially ratified in 2002.  As Greek and Turkish are the official languages in Cyprus, the Charter only applies to Armenian which is considered as non-territorial language since it cannot be identified with a particular area of the state.  


The Three Minority Communities

i) The Maronites

Maronites have lived in Cyprus for centuries.  Historical sources note that in the 13th century there were some 60 Maronite villages in Cyprus, located in the northern part of the island.  It is mentioned that coming from the nearby areas of today’s Syria and Libanon, Maronites established colonies in Cyprus even since the seventh century.  Through bitter persecution under Islamic domination they retained their Christian faith.  Maronites belong to the national church in communion with the Holy See.   The Maronites of Cyprus are subject to the Patriarch of Antioch, who lives in Libanon.  


Nowadays, there are only four Maronite villages in the area being under Turkish control and there is only a number of 200 people living there.  These villages are Kormakits, Karpasia , Asomatos and Santa Marina.  In the south, most of Cypriot Maronites are mixed with the general population.  The total number of Maronites in Cyprus now is 4500.   Although most of them speak only Greek, Maronites in Cyprus have a specific Arabic dialect.


It is worth mentioning that in 2001 Cyprus government set up an elementary school for Maronites.  Nonetheless the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in its recommendation asks for further measures to promote the conditions necessary for the Maronites to maintain and develop the essential elements of their identity.


ii) The Armenians

The presence of Armenians in Cyprus dates back some centuries but the present community on the island is mainly the result of the immigration during and immediately after the Armenian genocide of 1915. Currently some 2000 Armenians live in Cyprus mainly in Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol.   


Throughout the ages Armenians have tended to live around their churches and schools, which are typically built next to each other.  Currently there are three Armenian churches and primary schools in Cyprus, one of each in each of the three biggest cities.  In addition the community has a secondary school in Nicosia, the Melkonian Educational Institute, which is very famous among Armenians of diaspora worldwide.  As in the case of other minorities all Armenian schools are supported financially by the state and act independently in matters such as the curriculum and internal organization.


The Armenian language has always played a significant role in the preservation of Armenian national identity.  Therefore Armenian community in Cyprus always had its own Armenian-language newspapers.  


Iii) The Latins

The Latin community in Cyprus is the smallest minority group in Cyprus.  The current number of Latins in Cyprus is 1700.  When the Cyprus Constitution was being drafted in 1960, the group wanted to be referred to as the ‘Roman Catholic Religious Group’.  However, because of the objection of Maronites,  who were also Roman Catholics, it was finally agreed to be referred to as ‘Latins’.   Nonetheless as they are essentially a religious minority, the Advisory Committee suggests that the Government of Cyprus could readdress the issue in consultation with the interested parties.


The presence of this group in Cyprus goes back to the years of the rule of Francs in Cyprus beginning at the end of the 12th century.  The Latin community is directly linked to Rome.  Churches have been established in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca. The state provides the opportunity to Latin children, if they wish so, to attend the traditional schools of Terra Santa and St. Joseph  free of charge.  The number of Latins is presently 1700.   They Latins work closely with other religious groups so they may maintain their religion. 


Concluding Remarks

Cyprus Republic has made a significant progress in the field of protection of minority rights during the last years, particularly in the process of harmonisation of Cyprus legislation with acquis communautaire in the context of the accession process to the EU.  Nonetheless, due to the de facto partition of the island and with a political settlement of the political problem pending, some issues cannot be properly addressed.  This is even more difficult in the cases where they affect constitutional provisions rendered unchangeable by the Constitution of 1960, without the consent of Turkish Cypriot community.