The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Turkey, holds a presidential election on Sunday amid rising tensions on the island over gas exploration and the ghost town of Varosha.

The conflict between Cyprus's Greek and Turkish communities began in the 1950s, at a time when the Mediterranean island was struggling to shake off British colonial rule. 

A Greek Cypriot soldier at a checkpoint in Nicosia, near the buffer zone which separates southern and northern Cyprus in November 1989

Violence between the Greek majority and the Turkish minority escalated after independence in 1960 and led to the deployment of UN peacekeepers four years later.

A Greek-sponsored coup seeking to annex the island to Greece prompted Turkish troops to occupy the island's northern third in 1974, consolidating the ethnic divide.


RTÉ Archives: UN Peace Patrols in Cyprus in 1964


A UN-patrolled "Green Line" of barbed wire and military posts separates the Turkish Cypriot north from the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus.

Successive UN-backed plans to reunify the island as a bizonal federation have all failed, the most recent in Switzerland in July 2017.

Varosha, a seaside suburb of the historic city of Famagusta, has become a symbol of the island's division.

A picture taken in February 2019 shows a view of the Kyrenia mountain range north of the divided Nicosia, with the flags of Turkey (L) and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus 

The Turkish army has kept the once throbbing beach resort fenced off since its Greek Cypriot residents fled during the invasion.

In 1984, the UN adopted a resolution demanding it come under its control and that its original inhabitants be allowed to return.

But Ankara refused to comply, leaving it as a ruined ghost town until Turkish troops restored access, to the anger of Greek Cypriots.


RTÉ's Doc on One: Return To The Green Line


Offshore gas exploration off the island, part of a wider battle for influence in the eastern Mediterranean, has seen tensions soar between Greece and Turkey.

Despite warnings from the UN and the European Union, Turkey sent a drilling ship and deployed its first armed drone to the north earlier this year.

The breakaway state counts more than 300,000 citizens. Just under 200,000 are registered to vote in Sunday's election.

The north's economy is heavily dependent on budget support from the Turkish government.

Although it is nominally part of the European Union, any aid packages from the bloc are subject to veto by the Cyprus government.

The private sector is heavily dependent on tourism, with around a million arrivals a year before the coronavirus pandemic hit international travel.