Cyprus country brief


Cyprus is an island in the Eastern Mediterranean.  With a surface area of 9,251 sq. km (roughly one seventh of Tasmania), it is the third largest island in the Mediterranean.  Cyprus has a coastline of 648 km, and is home to over 890,000 people (2014).  The capital is Nicosia.

In 1960, the Republic of Cyprus became independent from the UK under a Constitution which provided for a power sharing arrangement between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Britain, Greece and Turkey became the guarantors of Cyprus' independence and territorial integrity. Friction between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots intensified in 1963.  An uneasy truce was maintained by the establishment in April 1964 of a UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

The succeeding years saw little decrease in tensions.  A failed coup against President Makarios on 15 July 1974 organised by the Greek military junta, aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece and the outbreak of inter-communal violence, were the triggers for Turkish troops landing in Cyprus and eventually occupying the northern part of the island (37 per cent).  This was accompanied by a large population movement, with around 160,000 Greek Cypriots moving south and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moving north.  The island has remained divided ever since.  In 1975 Turkish Cypriot authorities unilaterally declared the area to the north the 'Turkish Federated State of Cyprus.'  This was renamed in November 1983 the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)'.

Australia supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus and recognises the Republic as the only legitimate authority on the island.  Australia does not recognise the ‘TRNC’, nor does any country other than Turkey.

Bilateral relations

Relations between Australia and the Republic of Cyprus are underpinned by strong people-to-people links.  The strength of the relationship stems from the ties developed by Cypriot migration to Australia. 

The 2011 Census recorded 18,070 Cyprus-born people in Australia, while more than 22,000 Australians claimed Cypriot ancestry.  Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, Turkish Cypriot migration to Australia occurred predominantly in three waves: during the nineteenth century gold rushes; between 1924 and 1964; and after the 1974 Turkish intervention.

International links between Australia and Cyprus are characterised by a common British institutional inheritance, membership of the Commonwealth and Australia's long-standing support of UN efforts to find a just and permanent solution to the territorial dispute in Cyprus.  The Australian Government urges all parties to continue ongoing constructive efforts aimed at resolving the Cyprus dispute.

Australian police officers have served as part of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) continuously since 1964, making a valuable contribution to the maintenance of peace and stability on the island.  In 2015, the Australian Government extended the deployment of the contingent for a further two years until 2017.  In 2014, the Australian Government also celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the UNFICYP to which 15 Australian police officers are currently deployed annually. 

To mark the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Australia’s continuous contribution to the civilian policing component of UNFICYP, President Anastasiades wrote to Prime Minister Abbott in April 2014 to thank Australia for its contribution and pay tribute to those who served. 

The Cyprus Academic Dialogue, is an Australian initiated non-government organisation aimed at promoting bi-communal thinking and dialogue about the hoped-for reunification of Cyprus.  The first set of dialogues in July 2009 has been followed by a range of influential activities and events, including major conferences and round table discussions.

Educational and cultural links in the areas of the antiquities and archaeology remain strong.  Australian academics have been working on the island since the 1930s and both the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney and the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne house some of the most extensive archaeological collections outside Cyprus.  

Trade and investment

Trade between Australia and Cyprus is small, due to a combination of distance, lack of direct freight linkages, and the small size of the Cypriot market.  Cyprus' accession to the EU also resulted in loss of markets for lamb and beef.  However, Australia has successfully established a foothold in such niche markets as wine, processed foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.

In 2014, the value of total merchandise trade was almost $24 million with imports from the Republic of Cyprus making up more than $20 million of this total.  In recent years, Australia’s largest export items have been meat (excluding beef), perfumery and cosmetics and coke and semi-coke.  Major Cypriot exports to Australia are cheese and curd, medicaments, and ships and boats.  Australia’s exports of services to the Republic of Cyprus totaled $13 million while imports of services from Cyprus totaled $55 million. 

High-level visits

(Note:  Positions indicated in the list below were held at the time of the visit)

To Cyprus

  • 2013:  Parliamentary delegation led by President of the Senate, the Hon John Hogg; 
  • 2012:  Governor-General, H.E. Ms. Quentin Bryce AC;
  • 2012:  Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Peter Slipper MP;
  • 2012:  Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP;
  • 2012:  Minister for the Arts, the Hon Tony Burke MP.
  • To Australia
  • 2012:  Parliamentary delegation led by the President of the House of Representatives H.E. Mr. Yiannakis Omirou;
  • 2011:  Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis representing the President of Cyprus at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth;
  • 2011:  President, H.E. Mr. Demetris Christofias visited Australia under the Guest of Government program.

Political overview

The Republic of Cyprus is a unitary presidential representative republic.  The current President Nicos Anastasiades (of the centre-right Democratic Rally Party - DISY), was elected in February 2013.  The President appoints the Council of Ministers, who may not be members of the House of Representatives.  The unicameral House of Representatives consists of 80 members, elected by a form of proportional representation for a five year term.  Fifty-six seats are occupied by Greek Cypriots, with the remaining 24 reserved for representatives of the Turkish Cypriot community (although not occupied since 1963). 

At the last parliamentary elections held in May 2011, DISY and AKEL (left-wing Party of the Progressive Working People, formerly known as the Communist Party) were confirmed as the dominant blocks, securing 20 and 19 seats respectively.  DIKO (centre-right Democratic Party), suffered a slight loss securing 9 seats (they now have 8 seats following withdrawal from the party of one member who now sits as an independent).  The Social Democrats (EDEK) held onto its 5 seats, the European Party (EVROKO) won 2 seats and the Ecologists and Environmentalists kept its seat. The next parliamentary elections are due in 2016.

Cyprus entered the European Union (EU) on 1 May 2004, with the EU customary law (acquis communautaire) suspended in the northern part of the island administered by the Turkish Cypriots.  The Republic of Cyprus held the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2012.

Economic Overview

The GDP of the Republic of Cyprus is estimated at US$23.3 billion and GDP per capita at US$26,115 (2014).  The EU is the Republic of Cyprus’ principal export destination and import source. 

The economy has been a priority for President Anastasiades and the process of adjusting economic settings has been ongoing.  The government is pressing ahead with economic reforms and maintains a prudent budgetary posture.  Following several years of contraction, modest growth of 0.2 per cent is forecast for 2015.  However, significant economic challenges ahead include tackling high unemployment (16 per cent in April 2015), reducing excessive levels of non-performing loans in the banking system, moving ahead with the privatisation process as well as public sector reforms.  These reforms are critical to cementing the recent improvements to public finances and restoring sustained economic growth.

Northern Cyprus

The ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ has a mixed presidential/parliamentary system with political power shared between the ‘President’ and ‘Prime Minister’.  The ‘President’ is elected for a five-year term and has the power to propose legislation or return it to the 50-seat ‘National Assembly’.  On 26 April 2015, Mustafa Akinci was elected as the new leader of the Turkish Cypriot community with 60 per cent of the vote, defeating incumbent Dervis Eroglu who polled almost 40 per cent. 

At the 'TRNC parliamentary elections' held in July 2013, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) won 21 seats, the National Unity Party (UBP) 14 seats, the Democratic Party (DP) 12 seats and the Communal Democratic Party 3 seats.  On 2 September, Őzkan Yorgancioglu – the President of the CTP, was sworn in as the tenth ‘prime minister’ leading a coalition between the leftist CTP and the centrist DP.  Yorgancioglu resigned from his positions following the 2015 ‘presidential elections,’ in which the CTP had performed badly.  His administration was replaced in July 2015 by a grand coalition of the centre-left CTP and centre-right UBP.  It is headed by the new ‘prime minister’ Omer Kalyoncu of the CTP.  The next ‘general election’ is scheduled for April 2018.

Economic growth in northern Cyprus tends to be volatile, given its relative isolation, over-large public sector, reliance on the Turkish Lira, and small market size.  Per capita incomes in the north are, on average, 50 per cent less than those in the south. This gap is narrowing fast, due to economic growth in the Turkish Cypriot community and the economic crisis in the Greek Cypriot community.  GDP in the 'TRNC' is estimated to be around US$1.5 billion due to stringent policing of restrictions on its external economic activity.

The 'TRNC' is heavily dependent on Turkey for credits, grants and trade, and to fund a range of subsidies that are needed as a result of external sanctions.  Reliance on the Turkish Lira also means there is no effective local control over monetary policy.  Exports are thin, and likely to remain so due to limited direct trade with the EU and other markets.  As well as fiscal transfers from Turkey, the economy has been sustained by real estate and construction, tertiary education services, tourism, gambling and related services.  The local authorities see tourism development as a major hope, but the lack of direct air-links to potential markets is a major constraint and tourist numbers are quite low.  Over the past several years, private sector economic activity was in decline with small-scale construction at a virtual stand-still.

Last updated September 2015

Last Updated: 6 September 2013