Cyprus is a real paradox in terms of the military environment and public safety.
The island has one of the oldest frozen conflicts in the world, and the Cypriot capital is the last divided capital of Europe.
The island is full of the armed forces of different countries, some of which (let's say) 'dislike' each other. Part of the country (according to the international community) is occupied by foreign military forces.
At the same time, Cyprus in 2019 got 48th position in the peacefulness index, which is a usual place for the European Union.
Living in Cyprus is much safer than in Russia or Ukraine (they took 150th+ positions in the index), the USA (128th), Israel (146th). In other words, the chance that something happens to you on a geopolitically troubled Middle Eastern island is close to 0%. And it doesn't matter if it would be a military campaign of an aggressive country or night robbers in your house.
A big paradox, isn't it?
The Cypriot army is a paradox as well.
The Army of the Republic of Cyprus, unlike most of the EU armies, really guards the mined border (buffer zone) against the enemy's actions.
Young male citizens are required to serve. They learn to resist the aggression of not a fictional, but a real enemy.
At the same... Service in the Cypriot army is like a kindergarten with harsh teachers or after-school activities in the elementary grades.
And the buffer zone between the 'enemies' is so poorly guarded that small and big groups of illegal migrants pass it without any problems as their guides (if they are) know how to bypass the Turkish, Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot and British armies, as well as peacekeepers.
Island of six armies
First, let's figure out what the Cypriot army is.
The armies of six countries and international organizations are based on the island! Which of them is the “Cypriot army”? Let's start with a simple one.
Soldiers of the UK serve in Cyprus. British troops are stationed at two locations: the Dhekelia military base (near Larnaca towards Ayia Napa) and Akrotiri (near Limassol towards Paphos). Also, the British army owns some territories, such as a little area in Troodos and the Nicosia airport that was closed after the war.
What is the British Army doing in Cyprus?
The island was a British colony until 1960, and after it gained its independence, the young Cypriot state officially agreed not to claim territory of Dhekelia and Akrotiri, which remained part of the British overseas territories. Therefore, the British army in Cyprus, and, at the same time, at their home.
In addition to the British army, the Greek and Turkish armies are presented on the island.
And what are they doing here? They came to the island of Aphrodite in 1960 on legal grounds. Turkey and Greece were the guarantor countries of a new independent bi-national state, so in the summer of 1960 their troops landed on Cypriot soil to maintain peace and security on the island. It is not hard to guess what happened later... they intensificated the conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which in 1974 turned into a real war.
After 1974, Greek forces are based on the south part of the island, and Turkish troops (significantly increased in numbers) are stationed in the north.
All three of the above armies are military forces of the NATO alliance, they are still in Cyprus (and are not going to leave it), but at the same time they clearly cannot be called “Cypriot army”. So let's move on.
Now comes the amazing part.
There has been no army of Cyprus for half a century! Yes, there is no such thing as the "Cypriot army". Meanwhile... the locals are drafted into the army at 18 (or later). How can it be?
The army of Cyprus was created immediately after the country's independence. It consisted of 800 Turkish Cypriots and 1200 Greek Cypriots. The army had an all-volunteer military system (so there was no conscription), but the army was extremely unviable. In 1963 (three years after its creation), during ethnic clashes, it disintegrated, and after a while its soldiers started to serve in the Cypriot National Guard (de-facto Greek Cypriot) and the Turkish Cypriot Security Forces Command (until 1974 it was called the Turkish Resistance Organisation).
The Cypriot National Guard is now the “army of Cyprus” according to the world community, although formally it is not.
Cypriot National Guard, like the Greek army, is located in the south of the island. The Turkish Cypriot Security Forces Command, as you might guess, are stationed with the Turkish army in the north. Security Forces Command is also the "Cypriot army", but unrecognized, so we will not discuss them today.
Well, to completely confuse you, we now remind you that here is the UN peacekeeping force, the sixth army in Cyprus. It was formed in 1964 after the tragic inter-ethnic clashes in 1963, when the united Cypriot army collapsed.
Most of the military peacekeepers on the island are from Britain, Slovakia and Argentina. Previously, there were lots of Canadians, but in the 90s it was decided to return the overseas soldiers home, since in Cyprus they simply had nothing to do. An island of paradox, indeed.
National Guard of Cyprus
The Cypriot National Guard ("the Cypriot army" according to the interactional view) was formed in 1964 and fought not only with the Turks, but even with... the Arabs (the Egyptians). A small battle between Cypriots and Egyptians took place in 1978 at the Larnaca airport and was the result not of the military aggression of any country, but of human absurdity. But we will talk about this strange and at the same time very tragic story another time.
There are about 12 thousand people serving in the Cyprus National Guard.
The total number of potential soldiers is a little less than 100 thousand. As you might guess, Cyprus does not produce military equipment or even weapons, but actively purchases it from other countries: helicopters and tanks from Russia and France, machine guns from Israel, recoilless guns from the United States, anti-aircraft guns from Switzerland, and one patrol ship was donated by the Arabs (the Sultanate of Oman).
3Both men and women can serve in the National Guard.
But if the women can be only volunteers, then the men have to serve.
Finally, we moved on to the most important question, who must serve in the Cyprus National Guard, and for how long.
Who must be drafted?
In Europe, conscription has become a quite rare thing.
Among Europeans only Austrians, Greeks, Cypriots as well as some Balts and Scandinavians have conscription. In most EU countries, the conscription was canceled, and the 'wave' of the cancellation of military duty came in the early 00s, that is, quite recently.
However, we should not expect that this tendency will affect Cyprus, at least until the final solution of the Cyprus dispute (and reappearing of the united Cypriot army?). Cyprus is the safest island on the planet, but at the same time, formally has a frozen military conflict. This means that the young locals must know how to fight.
Who should serve in the Cypriot National Guard?
To learn it, we can open the official website of the armed forces (link) and read the law.
ATTENTION! All of the information below is current as of March 2021. The law on military conscription changes with some frequency, so please see the information on the website.
So, according to article 18 of the current law, male citizens of Cyprus (+ those whose mother and / or father are citizens of Cyprus) between the ages of 18 and 50 must serve in the National Guard.
It turns out that if you have legally lived on the island for the 7 years (excluding the days you are out of the island), just got the local passport, but you are 49, and you still have to serve... Is it true? No, most readers can calm down, in most cases they have the ability to legally dodge a Draft (if they do not want to serve). Let's read the article 23 regarding who can avoid:
- Those who cannot serve for medical reasons.
- Criminals (not all).
- Prisoners of war.
- Persons residing abroad. For example, if you (or your son) have Cypriot citizenship, but live in California, you do not need to serve.
- Three minor children (2 if the dad is single). As the children grow up, the fathers will have to serve.
- Those who have received a Cypriot passport by naturalization and have already served in their home country army before receiving a Cypriot passport.
And the best part. Those who received a passport by naturalization (not by birth / descent) can write a petition addressed to the Minister of Defense with a request to exempt them from military service.
But if you have moved here a long time ago, and your sons were born in Cyprus, when you were already citizens of the Republic, it is not possible for them to avoid a draft (if there are no other reasons).
Locals serve in the National Guard for 14 months.
However, there are a huge number of reasons why they can reduce the conscription to 6 or 3 months. Details can be found on the website (or you can visit the military registration office).
In any case, serving in the Cyprus National Guard is not as scary as it might seem. At least this is a good way to finally learn Greek!
- Buying property in Cyprus to live with children (link)
- Why do we love Cyprus so much? (link)
- 10 reasons for moving to Cyprus with children (link)
Photos: pixabay.com / army.gov.cy/