Encyclopedia > History of Cyprus

  Article Content

History of Cyprus

This is the history of Cyprus. See also the history of Europe, history of present-day nations and states.

Cypriot culture is among the oldest in the Mediterranean. By 3700 BC, the island was well-inhabited, a crossroads between East and West. The island fell successively under Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman domination. Cyprus shares its name with the ancient Greek word for copper, which it has in abundance, and which was traditionally mined from the most ancient times.

It was colonised by Greek settlers around 1000 B.C.; the ancient city of Amathus has remains dating from that time. The island was conquered by the Persians around 500 B.C. The inhabitants, with the help of the Ionian Greeks and the alliance of the Egyptians, attempted many times to liberate their island, but failed until Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. With his death, Cyprus became part of the Ptolemaic territory, and established strong commercial relationships with Athens and Alexandria, two of the most important commercial centers of antiquity.

In 76 B.C. the Romans occupied the island. The orator Cicero was one of its commanders. The apostle Paul is reported to have converted the people of Cyprus to Christianity. During the 5th century A.D., the church of Cyprus claimed its independence, which was recognized in 431 A.D. by the Synod of Ephesus.

For 800 years, beginning in AD 364, Cyprus was ruled by Byzantium. During the Byzantine era Cyprus became a Byzantine province. Around the 10th century A.D. it was repeatedly attacked by Arab armies. While they never occupied the island, it suffered significant losses.

In the 12th century A.D. the island became a target of the crusaders. The army of Richard the Lionhearted occupied Cyprus, and it briefly became the base of the Knights Templar, before they moved to Rhodes and finally to Malta. Soon after that, the Franks occupied the island, establishing the Kingdom of Cyprus. The relationship between the Cypriots and the Franks was never harmonious. They declared Latin the official language, later replacing it with French; much later, Greek was recognised as a second official language. In 1196, the Latin Church was established in Cyprus, and the Orthodox Cypriot Church experienced a series of religious persecutions.

Around 1470, Venice began to attack the island, forcing the Queen of Cyprus, Catherine Cornaro, to sell her kingdom to Venice on March 14, 1489.

In 1570, the Turks first occupied the island, and Lala Mustafa Pasha became the first Turkish Governor of Cyprus, challenging the claims of Venice to Cyprus. Simultaneously, the Pope formed a coalition between the Papal States, Malta, Spain, Venice, and several other Italian states, with no real result. In 1573 the Venetians left, removing the influence of the Roman Catholic church.

The Ottoman Empire gave timars--land grants--to soldiers under the condition that they and their families would stay there permanently. The Ottomans also applied the millet system to Cyprus, which allowed religious authorities to govern their own non-Muslim minorities. This system reinforced the position of the Orthodox Church and the cohesion of the ethnic Greek population.

During the 17th century the Turkish population grew rapidly. Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the 3 centuries of Ottoman rule remained when control of Cyprus--although not sovereignty--was ceded to Great Britain in 1878. Many, however, left for Turkey during the 1920s. By 1970, ethnic Turks represented about 20% of the total population of the island, with ethnic Greeks representing the remainder.

Many Cypriots supported the Greek independence effort that began in 1821, leading to severe reprisals by the Ottoman Empire. Greece became independent in 1829; many Cypriots sought the incorporation of Cyprus into Greece, but it remained part of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened, and Great Britain showed increasing interest in the island, which is situated in what had suddenly become a very convenient location. In 1878, Britain supported Turkey in the Russian-Turkish war[?], in exchange for control of Cyprus; this agreement was formalized by the Convention of Berlin[?].

In 1914 the Ottoman Empire declared war against Great Britain and France (as part of the complex series of alliances that led to World War I. The British cancelled their agreement with the Turks and declared Cyprus part of the British Empire, making the Cypriots British subjects.

In 1915 Great Britain offered Cyprus to Greece if the latter chooses to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Greece hesitated and the offer was withdrawn. Since then two prevailing plans have appeared for Cyprus: in general, the Greek Cypriots supported the union of the island with Greece {enosis) and the Turkish Cypriots its division to two parts (taxim).

In 1948, King Paul of Greece declared that Cyprus desired union with Greece. In 1951 the Orthodox Church of Cyprus presented a referendum according to which around 97% of the Greek Cypriot population wanted the union. The United Nations accepted the Greek petition and enosis became an international issue. In 1952 both Greece and Turkey became members of NATO. In 1955 EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a terrorist group, was formed under the leadership of George Grivas[?], a Greek Cypriot army officer with strong right-wing extremist beliefs and the support of the dictatorship that had formed in Greece the same period. For the next few years EOKA attacked primarily British or British-connected targets. Great Britain reacted, often with equal brutality and threats of satisfying the Turkish interests. Archbishop Makarios[?] and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile in Seychelles. In 1957 the U.N. decides that the issue should be resolved according to its Statutory Map[?]. The exiles returned, and both sides begin a series of violent acts against each other.

On February 19, 1959 the Zurich agreement[?] attempted to end the conflict. Without the presence of either the Greek or the Turkish sides, Britain outlined a Cypriot constitution, which was eventually accepted by both sides. Both Greece and Turkey along with Britain were appointed as guarantors of the island's integrity. Some of the major points of the Zurich agreement are:

  • Cyprus becomes an independent state.
  • Both taxim and enosis are prohibited.
  • Greek and Turkish military forces at a ratio of around 1.5:1 were to be present at all time in Cyprus. Both forces should answer to all three Foreign Ministers: of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
  • The President should be a Greek Cypriot elected by the Greek Cypriot population and the Vice President a Turkish Cypriot elected by the Turkish Cypriot population.
  • The Cabinet should include 7 Greek Cypriots elected by the President and 3 Turkish Cypriots elected by the Vice President.
  • Decisions need an absolute majority but both the President and the Vice President have the right of veto.

In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters[?]), a guerrilla group which desired political union with Greece, or enosis. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president. In 1961 it became the 99th member of U.N. Archbishop Makarios was elected as the first President of independent Cyprus.

The Zurich agreement, however, did not succeed in establishing cooperation between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot populations. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government. Both sides continued the violence. Turkey threatened to invade the island.

In November 1963, President Makarios advanced a series of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate some of these special provisions. The Turkish Cypriots opposed such changes. The confrontation prompted widespread intercommunal fighting in December 1963, after which Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased. Makarios ordered a cease-fire and again addressed the issue to the United Nations. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964. In 1964 the Turkish parliament voted in favour of the invasion of Cyprus but the lack of support that Turkey faced from both the U.N. and NATO prevented it. In answer Grivas was recalled to Athens and the Greek military force left the island.

Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.

In July 1974, an attempt by agents of the dictatorship then ruling Greece to seize power and unite the island with Greece was met by military intervention from Turkey, which exercised its powers under the treaty of guarantee it held. The military junta in Athens was sponsoring a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots hostile to Makarios for his alleged pro-communist leanings and for his perceived abandonment of enosis.

In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island. Many Greek Cypriots fled south while many Turkish Cypriots fled north. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the Government of Cyprus and the northern part under an autonomous Turkish-Cypriot administration supported by the presence of Turkish troops.

In 1983, the Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but that entity is recognized only by Turkey. It faces an international embargo.

UN peacekeeping forces maintain a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, there had been no violent conflict since 1974 until August 1996, when violent clashes led to the death of two demonstrators and escalated tension. There is little movement of people and essentially no movement of goods or services between the two parts of the island.

UN-led talks on the status of Cyprus resumed in December 1999 to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue, however, under the auspices of the United Nations.


1571-1878 Three centuries of Turkish rule under the Ottomans. Only resistance offered by Venentian strongholds of Nicosia and Famagusta. Islanders themselves glad to see end of oppressive Venetian rule. Orthodox church recognised again and Archbishopric restored. Feudal system abolished, but heavy taxes imposed, using church as tax collectors.

1625-1700 Great depopulation of Cyprus. Plague wipes out over half of the population

1821 Greek Cypriots side with Greece in revolt against Turkish rule. Island's leading churchmen executed in punishment.

1869 Suez Canal opens.

1878-1960 British occupation. British take on administration of the island, ceded from the Ottomans, for its strategic value, to protect their sea route to India via the Suez Canal. In exchange, Britain agrees to help Turkey should Russia attack again.

1914 Cyprus annexed by Britain when Turkey join with Germany and Austro-Hungary in World War I.

1925 Cyprus becomes British Crown Colony.

1931 First serious riots of Greek Cypriots demanding Enosis, union with Greece

1939 Greek Cypriots fight with British in World War II, but remain set on Enosis after war is over. Turkish Cypriots however want British rule to continue.

1950 Archbishop Makarios[?] III elected political and spiritual leader. Makarios became the head of the autocephalous Cypriot Orthodox Church. Heads the campaign for Enosis with support of Greece.

1955 Series of bomb attacks, start of violent campaign for Enosis by EOKA (National Organisoation of Cypriot Fighters) led by George Grivas, ex-colonel in Greek army, born in Cyprus. Grivas takes name of Dighenis, legendary Cypriot hero and conducts guerrilla warfare from secret hideout in Trodos Mountains[?]. Estimated to have 300 men maximum, yet successfully plagues 20,000 British troops and 4,500 police.

1956 Britain deports Makarios to Seychelles in attempt to quell revolt. Turkish Cypriots used as auxiliaries of British Security Forces, allegedly torturing EOKA captives during British cross-examinations.

1957 Field Marshal Sir John Harding replaced by civilian governor Sir Hugh Foot in conciliatory move.

1958 Turkish Cypriots alarmed by British conciliation and begin demands for partition. Inter-communal clashes and attacks on British.

1960 British, Greek and Turkish governments sign Treaty of Guarantee to provide for independent Cypriot state within the Commonwealth and allowing for retention of two Sovereign Base Areas of Dhekelia and Akrotiri. Under the treaty, each power has the right to take military action in the face of any threat to the constitution. Cyprus truly independent for the first time. Archbishop Makarios[?] (Greek Cypriot) is first President, Dr Kutchuk (Turkish Cypriot) Vice- President. Both have right of veto. Turkish Cypriots, who form 18% of the population, given 30% of places in government and administration, 40% in the army and separate municipal services in the five major towns.

1963-1973 Greek Cypriots view the constitution as unworkable and propose changes which was rejected by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish government. Inter-communal fighting escalates and UN Peace Keeping Force sent in, but powerless to prevent incidents. Thousands of Turkish Cypriots ethnically cleansed by Greeks.

1974 - 1976 Military government (junta) in Greece supports coup by Greek National guard to overthrow Makarios. Makarios forced to flee. Puppet regime imposed under Nicos Sampson, former EOKA fighter. Rauf Denktash, Turkish Cypriot leader, calls for joint military action by the UK and Turkey, as guarantors of Cypriot independence, to prevent Greece imposing Enosis. The Turkish prime minister travels to London to persuade the UK to intervene jointly with Turkey, but fails, so Turkey exercises her right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee and lands 40,000 troops on the north coast of Cyprus. Turkey describes this as 'a peace operation to restore constitutional order and protect the Turkish Cypriot community'. UN talks break down and Turkish forces are left in control of 37% of the island. Refugees from both communities cross to respective sides of the de facto border. Turks announce Federated State in the north with Denktash[?] as leader. UN Forces stay as buffer between the two zones. Some 20,000 mainland Turks, mainly subsistence farmers, are brought in to settle and work the under populated land. Those that stay more than five years are given citizenship of North Cyprus.

1977 Makarios dies, having been restored as President of Greek Cyprus after 1974. Succeeded by the Spyros Kyprianou[?].

1983 Turkish Federated State declares itself independent, as Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), still with Denktash as President. New state is not recognised by any country except Turkey.

1992-1995 UN sponsored talks between the two sides run into the sand, but with a commitment to resume.

See also : Cyprus

External links

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
La Francophonie

... Members 3 External links Structure The International Organization of la Francophonie has an observer status at the UN General Assembly. Summits La Francophonie ...