The Origin and Irony of the Republic of Cyprus Flag

The Republic of Cyprus flag is supposed to represent the independent island of Cyprus in its entirety, however, in reality it only represents the Greek Cypriot administration in the south of the island. The flag is supposed to be representative of all Cypriots, Turkish and Greek, yet it continues to represent the Greek Cypriot people only. The flag hasn’t represented the Turkish Cypriots for nearly 58 years. But why? And why have the Greek Cypriots continued to use this flag when it no longer represents all the people on the island? Ironically, the flag was actually created by a Turkish Cypriot – İsmet Güney.

İsmet Güney was a Turkish Cypriot artist, cartoonist and painter, born in Limassol on the 15th of July 1923. He was a very talented man and became the first Turkish Cypriot painter to open a solo art exhibition in 1947. Between 1948 and 1977 he taught both Art and History at the Lefkoşa Erkek Lisesi.

On August 16th, 1960, Cyprus announced its independence from British rule. The Cyprus Constitution, which was signed during the London and Zurich agreements, created a bi-communal government where power would be shared between both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The constitution consisted of mostly Greek Cypriot members, with a 70:30 split in government. Religion, culture, education and language were all kept separate. 

Before Güney’s flag was created and used, the flags of Greece and Turkey were used to represent the two Cypriot communities. As a result of Cyprus gaining independence, they needed a new flag. 

The flag, which is now only used to represent the Republic of Cyprus, was created as a result of a design competition in 1960. Under the rules of the constitution, the flag was not to include the colours of Greece or Turkey’s flags, red and blue, nor depict a cross or crescent moon. Güney’s winning flag avoided these four elements and was chosen by Makarios III, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, with the consent of the Vice President in 1960, Fazil Küçük.

The use of white in the flag, along with the two green olive branches, are supposed to represent peace amongst the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities living on the island. The map of the island is golden yellow for the sake of easier reproduction of what was initially intended to be the colour of copper, the metal that the island got it’s name from.

İsmet Güney became the sole designer of the flag as well as creating the coat of arms and original Cyprus lira.

Republic of Cyprus Flag
Coat of arms
Cyprus Lira

Makarios III, the new and first President of Cyprus, had promised Güney £20 a year for designing the flag, however, he was never paid. Furthermore, when the Greek Cypriots usurped the Republic of Cyprus and removed all Turkish Cypriots from their posts in December 1963, they continued to use Güney’s flag. After the horrific events of ‘Bloody Christmas’, there were no Turkish Cypriot representatives within the Republic and the Turkish Cypriot people were forced to live in restricted enclaves across the island. Yet Makarios and his new Greek Cypriot government continued to use the flag, the same flag that was created by a Turkish Cypriot to symbolize harmony and togetherness between the two communities.

In 2006, İsmet Güney hired a Greek Cypriot law firm to try and claim full compensation for the flags use over all these years. Güney even stated that he would take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights if needed. Unfortunately, Güney died on the 23rd of June 2009, meaning the case never escalated.

The Republic of Cyprus flag was created to be representative of all Cypriots, symbolising a new age for the island where Turks and Greeks could live peacefully side by side. The actions of Makarios, Georgios Grivas and EOKA during December 1963, however, destroyed that peace. Once the Turkish Cypriots were forcibly removed from the Republic and the Greek Cypriots had successfully usurped the government, the Cyprus constitution of 1960 became null and void. Güney’s flag, which was intended to, and once did, signify peace and unity, has now become a symbol of lies and deception. For 58 years, the Republic of Cyprus flag has not represented a single Turkish Cypriot, despite claims that it represents the whole island.

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