The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the TRNC, is demanding that United Nations peacekeepers recognize the republic’s existence or leave the region within a month. 

The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, UNFICYP, established in 1964, is one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping missions in the world. UNFICYP has a mandate to maintain peace between the country’s Greek-speaking Christian majority and Turkish-speaking Muslim minority. 

Ten years after UNFICYP’s formation, in 1974, the Republic of Cyprus saw a coup d’état initiated by the Greek military to unite the ethnically and religiously fractured island; an invasion by the Turkish military followed four days later. The invasion caused the eviction of many Greek Cypriots from the north, the flight of many Turkish Cypriots from the south and the de facto partitioning of the country in two. 

In 1983, Northern Cyprus, populated by Turkish Cypriots, unilaterally declared independence as the TRNC – a status only recognized by Turkey. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Northern Cyprus Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu now has articulated the Turkish-Cypriot view on U.N. peacekeepers on the island.

“Our hospitality has its limits: either they sign a military agreement with the TRNC or they leave,” Ertuğruloğlu told the Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News last week. 

“We decided to give them another month. It is not the Greek-Cypriot government who will approve of your mission in the north. It is us,” Ertuğruloğlu said.

Tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers from mainland Turkey still control the northern third of the disputed island, with the world largely in opposition to the Turkish military occupation. 

The U.N. Security Council renews the UNFICYP mandate twice a year, at the end of January and in July. The U.N. peacekeeping force have two camps in northern Cyprus, according to Ertuğruloğlu. 

Despite the alleged Turkish-Cypriot ultimatum “to recognize its existence or leave,” UNFICYP officials maintained on Wednesday that they had so far not received any notification from the local Turkish authorities. The Cyprus-based U.N. peacekeeping mission consists of almost 750 peacekeepers among a total of more than 1,000 personnel. 

Even with internationally sponsored efforts to resolve the conflict in Cyprus, negotiations have been largely deadlocked since 2017. 

In 2004, Cyprus rejected a U.N. plan which sought to reunify the fractured island. More than 75% of the Greek-Cypriot population opposed the plan, while almost 65% of the Turkish-Cypriot population reportedly supported the plan, which would have given them recognition in the European Union alongside their Greek-speaking southern compatriots. 

At the time, the U.N. lamented the outcome of the referendum. 

“A unique and historic chance to resolve the Cyprus problem has been missed,” said Alvaro de Soto, a former special advisor to the former U.N. Sec.-Gen. Kofi Annan. 

The conflict between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus is connected to a wider dispute between Turkey and Cyprus over valuable gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. 

In August, a Turkish ship, sent to drill for gas in the politically volatile eastern Mediterranean region, increased tensions between Turkey and its neighbors. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who hopes to replicate the natural gas discoveries of Cyprus and Israel, stressed that Turkey was acting within its “sovereign territory.”

“The survey and drilling work we are conducting in the Mediterranean are within our sovereign territory. We do not need to receive permission or consent from anyone for this,” Erdoğan said at an official Turkish ceremony prior to the ship’s departure. 

Given the regional tensions, the small nation of Cyprus fears that its larger neighbor, Turkey, aims to infringe on its national energy resources. Following the E.U.’s decision to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas, Cyprus views itself as a reliable exporter of natural gas to mainland Europe. 

“Europe is a good potential customer for Cypriot gas,” Cyprus’ Minister of Energy, Commerce and Industry Natasa Pilides told Bloomberg. 

“The E.U. has confirmed that natural gas will remain a bridge fuel up to 2049 as part of the green transition, so companies now have the comfort of being able to secure long-term contracts,” Pilides noted. 

Nicosia has also accused Ankara of sending migrants from mainland Turkey to Northern Cyprus who eventually slip into the southern part of the country and gain European citizenship.

“They reportedly fly from Istanbul or Ankara to the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, are then smuggled to the free, southern part of the Republic of Cyprus, and from there, under EU law, can apply for asylum,” according to a report in Gatestone Institute, which the country said in November 2021 was creating “significant demographic change,” “ghettoisation in urban areas” and “acute socio-economic effects.”

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