Cypriot History

Figure 1.--This press phpto shows Turkish Cypriot boys playing soccer in street, with U.N, peace keepers on guard at post in the background. The photograph was taken September 13, 1967.

Cyprus is an important eastern Mediterranean island. Cyprus unlike Crete is not part of the Balkans. It is located closer to Turkey and the Middle East than to Europe andcthe Balkans. Even so its history has often been associated with the Balkans. Like the Christian Balkans, Cyprus was for years a part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain assumed administration of the island from the Ottomans (1878), subsequently annexing it (1914) after the Ottomans entered World War I on Germany’s side. After the War under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Turkey relinquished all rights to Cyprus. Cyprus became a Crown Colony (1925). During World War II, Cypriot volunteers served in the British forces. Hopes for self-determination by the Cypriot people however, were denied by the British, who considered the island strategically vital. A national liberation struggle began against Colonial rule and for the union of Cyprus with Greece (1955). The struugle lasted until 1959. Independence from the U.K. was approved with constitutional guarantees by the Greek Cypriot majority to the Turkish Cypriot minority (1960). A Greek-sponsored attempt ito seize the government (1974) was met by military intervention from Turkey, which soon controlled almost 40 percent of the island. The Turkish-held area declared itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (1983), but it is recognized only by Turkey. UN-led talks on the status of Cyprus resumed (December 1999). The goal was to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement.


Aechaelogusts have found evidence of very early human presence on Cyprus (4000 BP).

Achaean Greek Kingdoms (12th-8th centuries BC)

Achaean Greeks arrived on Cyprus. They establish several rival kingdoms. Their culture is similar to that of the Greeks on the mainland, including language, religion, customs, and clothing. They construct new cities such as Paphos, Salamis, Kition. The Cypriot Greek kindoms experience considerable prosperity (8th century BC).

Ancient Empires (7th-4th centuries BC)

The Greek Cypriot kingdoms fall to the great ancient empires that arose in the Middle East. They are unable to effectively resist first Assyria and then Egypt and Persia. King Evagoras of Salamis (411-374 BC) rebeled against Persia and managed to uify the island for a time. The Persians, howsever, strike back and besiege his stronghold. Evagoras has to make peace with the Persians and ceede contro of the island.

Helenistic Era (4th-1st centuries BC)

Alexander the Great defeated the Persians (333 BC). Cyprus as a result becomes part of his empire. Alexander died only a few years later. His Empire was split among his senior commanders. Cyprus became part of the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies which was centered on Egypt. Cyprus was thus firmly set in the Greek Alexandrine world. Paphis becomes the Cypriot capital. Cyprus with its mineral resources become a wealthy province. The sons of Ptolemy V quarrelled and appealed to Rome (190 BC). This was the beginning of Roman influence.

Roman Empire (1st century BC-4th century AD)

Marcus Portius Cato seized Cyprus from Egypt for Rome and became the first Roman governor (58 BC). Julius Ceasar returned Cyprus to Cleopatra as a present (47 BC). Egyptian rule was, however, short lived. After the assasination of Ceasar and then the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium, Cleopatra commitedsuiside (30 BC). Cyprus again became part of the Roman Empire. What follows accordian to one historian was '350 years of quiet provincial prosperity'. Saints Paul and Barnabas help implant Christianity. Cyprus became the first part of the Empire to be governed by Christians. Earthquakes cause widespread desvestation (1st century BC). Cities had to be rebuilt.

Byzantine Empire (4th-12th century AD)

The Romans divided the Empire into a Western and Eastern part (330 AD). Cyprus comes under the rule of the Eastern Empire which gradually reverts to its Hellanistic roots. Constantinople is the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Constantine is influenced by his mother Helena toward Christinity. She is said to have stopped in Cyprus on her journey from the Holy Land where she founded churches. She was reported to have remnants of the Holy Cross and founded the monastery of Stavrovouni. Cyprus under the Byzantines is gradually converted from Roman paganism to Orthodox Christianity. Earthquakes completely destroy the main cities on Cyprus (4th century). New cities are built. Constantia becomes the new capital. Large Christin basilicas are built (4-5th century AD). Arabs burst out of the Arabian Peninsula and defeat Byzantine armies in the Levant. Soon the Arabs invaded Cyprus (647). The island is caught between the two warring empires of Byzantium and Islamic Cazliphate. for three centuriues. Emperor Justinian II and Caliph al-Malik agree to a peace treaty neutralizing Cyprus (688). This does not end all of the fighting. Arab pirates attacked Cyprus as well as shipping to and from Cypriot ports. Emperor Nicephoros Phocas gained a great victory and drove the Arabs from Asia Minor and Cyprus (965).

Normans (12th-15th centuries)

The Normans often called the Franks by the Arabs played a major role in the Crusades. Richard the Lionheart conquered Cyprus and sold it to the Templars for 100,000 dinars (1192). He married Berengaria of Navarre in Limassol and she is crowned queen of England, but never sees England. The Templars then sold the island back to King Richard. He later sells it to Guy de Lusignan. Guy estabished the French Lusignan dynasty (1192). The Normans introduced the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church to Cyprus. The Normans also built many beautiful gothic churches and other buildings. Some of the most importsnt are the Cathedrals of Ayia Sophia in Nicosia, Saint Nicholas in Famagusta and Bellapais Abbey. The Lusignans establish the capital at Nicosia. The Lusignan dynasty ends when the last queen Catherina Cornaro ceded Cyprus to Venice in the hope that Venetian naval power could stave off Ottoman invasion (1489).

Venice (1489-1570)

Venice rises as a great Mediterranean power as the Byzabtine Empire declines. After the fall of Constabtinople to the Ottoman Turks, Venetians see Cyprus as a critical barrrier against the Ottomans in the east Mediterranean. They fortify the island tearing down beautiful buildings in the process. Nicosia is tranformed into a military bastion. It becomes a tight encircled area defended by a wall with bastions and a moat, The Venetisans also build protective walls around Famagusta. They were admired at the time as works of military art.

Ottoman Era (1570-1878/1914)

The Ottomans a few decades after seizing the Arab Middle East launched a naval offensive on Cyprus. The Ottomans as the Venitians expected, attacked Cyprus (1570). They take Nicosia and slaughter the population of 20,000 people. They layed siege to Famagusta. Venetian commander Marc Antonio Bragadin holds out for a year. Starvation eventually forced them to surrender to Ottoman commander Lala Mustafa. He at first offered free passage, but is outraged when he sees what a pitifully small force has opposed him. He ordered Bragadin to be flayed alive and then drawn and quartered. The others are slaughtered. The Ottomons add Cyprus to their Empire. The Ottomans because Western reistance was centered on the Catholic powers and the papacy, suppressed the Roman Catholic Church and restored the more familar andsubmissive Orthodox hierarchy. Roman Catholics are expelled or forcibly converted to Islam. The Ottomans restore the Greek Orthodox faith on the island. The Archibishop as leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, becomes the representative of the Cypriot people to the Sultan. Under Ottoman rule a Turkish minority develops. The Ottomans settle some 20,000 Turks on the island, but in general take little interest in their new possession. Few Cypriots convert to Islam. The Cypriot peasantry had long suffered under a feudal tenancy system which denined them much of the fruit of their labors. The Ottomans ininiated a land ownership scheme. They at first reduced taxes, but over time tax rates rose. This was a often an arbitrary process imposed by Ottoman officials. The Orthodox archbishop was made responsible responsible for collecting the Ottoman taxes. Some 20, 000 Turks were settled on Cyprus following its capture, the beginning of the modern Turkish minority on the island. Cyprus was, however, not high in the priorities of Otoman sultans. A factor here was that Ottoman seapower after the disatrous defeat at Lepanto at the hand of the Roman Catholic Loly League was on decline (1571). One historian describes Ottoman rule as a period of 'Indolence, corruption and sloth'. The Ottoman ruled Cyprus for 300 years. It meant at a time that Western Europe was indergoing a remarkable transition from fedudalism to modernity, Ctprus was cut off from these influences, but rather languished under the inteleyually backward, but still powerful Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans brooked no dissent and any public expression was brutally repressed. The Greek Cypriots were even punished for dissent on the Greek mainland. The Ottomans after the Greeks launched their War of Independence on the Mainland (1821) hung the Archibishop of Cyprus, Kyprianos, three bishops and hundreds of Greek civic leaders as a reprisal punishment.

British Rule (1878-1960)

Declining Ottoman power and increasing British interest in the Mediteranneam because of Suez brought about a major change on Cyprus. After the Russo-Turkish War and Congress of Berlin, the British took over responsibility for the administration of Cyprus (1878). The Ottomans signed an agreement with Britain which at the time had been protecting the Ottoman Empire from further Russian incursions. Under the agreement, the ttoman Empire would retain sovereignty of the backwater colony, but Britain would become responsible for administering the island. Britain’s goal was to secure a strategic outpost in the region. Cyprus was ideal. Becuse it was an island, it could be rotected by the Royal Navy. Britain's major concern at the time was the Tsarist Empire and its desire to expand south n Cetral asa toward India and to obtain a warm water port unobstructed by the Dardenelles/Bosporus barrier. The British saw this as a threat to Suez--the imperial lifeline. Included in the British-Ottoman agreemet was a commitmet to help protect the Sultan’s Asian territories from Tsarist expansion. Although handed over to the British, Cyprus remained formally a part of the Ottoman Empire. This arrangement did not change until World War I when the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and the Central Powers (1914). Britain abrograted the agreemet with the Ottomans and ormally annexed Cyprus. After the War and the disasterous Ottoman defeat, under the terns of the Treaty of Lausanne, the new Turkish Republic renounced any claim to Cyprus (1923). Turkey also regularised territorial claims with Greece after a war which ejected Greeks from western Anatolia. Britain declared Cyprus a Crown colony (1925). Cyprus became important with the outbreak of world war II. It offered some of the few ports open to the Royal Navy after Italy entered the War (June 1940). The Royal Navy used it bases in Cyprus during the bitterly fought Mediterranean naval campaign (1940-41). Despite Royal Navy victories over the Italian Navy, Cyprus was still endanger after the German seizure of Greece and Crete (April-May 1941). The British in World war II failed to hold Crete, but held Cyprus further east throughout the War. Cyprus located at some distance from the Balkans and south of neutral Turkey proved to be just beyond the range of German attack. The Germans seized Crete with paratroopers. Hitler's decesion to focus on the invasion of the Soviet Union, however, meant that the Germans did not have the needed resources to take Cyprus. After El Alemaine (October 1942) and the defeat of the Afrika Korps, Cyprus became a backwater of the War. Cypriot volunteers served in various branches of the British forces. Many Cypriots expected Britain to grant independence as many colonies achieved indepedndence after the War. The British Government saw Cyprus as a vital strategic position and did not want to relinquish control. An independence movement, however, gained support. Inependence was complicatd, however, by the Greek-Turkish ethnic divisions. This created a three way problem. Armed EOKA groups began attacking the British (1955-59).

Enosis and EOKA

British control of Cyprus was at first favorably received by the majoeity ethnic Greek population. Britain had been a major support for the Greeks in their war for independence (1820s). Most Cypriots assumed assumed that Britain eventually come to terms with the Greek Governent and arange for enosis (union with Greece), although no commitment was made. Turkish Cypriots, however, were not enthusiastic about such a union. World War I increased the possibility of enosis. The British Government offered to unite Cyprus with Greece (1915). The condition was that Greece fwould fulfill its treaty obligations with Serbia if attacked by Bulgaria. The Serbs had managed to resist an Austrian offensive in the north. The Central powers prepared a new offensive with Austrian abd German forced attabking in the north and Bulgaria entering the war and attacking in the south. The Greek Government was conflicted anout the war, with important elements desiring to stay out of the fighting or even supporting theGermans. The Greeks refused the British offer and the British never repeated the offer, although Greece did finally join the Allies. After World War I, enosis sentiment on Cyprus grew. There were pro-enosis riots (1931), but it wasn’t until several years after World War II (1950s) that the Enosis movement began to garner widesread support. Cypriot lieutenant colonel, Georgos ‘Digenis’ Grivas, who mobilied the Ethniki Organosi tou Kypriakou Agona (National Organisation for the Cypriot Struggle--EOKA). Greek Cypriots had organized EOKA during World War II to resist the Communists. Unlike Crete, Cyprus was never invaded by the Grmans. Now the target became the British. EOKA launched a resistance campaign gainst the British administration and military. They also targeted Cypriots seen as oposing enosis. Archbisiop Makarios III emerged as the Greek Cypriot leader. The Greek Government responding to events on Cyprus proposed the enosis of Greece and Cyprus (1954). The British rejected enosis. The British desired to retain Cyprus for its strategic value, but had no interest in fighting a guerill war. They formulated proposals for a limited home rule. All were rejected by EOKA. In contrast, The Turkish Cypriot minority s became increasingly alarmed with the rising violence and at the prospect of the British leaving and their being incorporated into Greece without any say in the matter. At first it was largely civil disobedience, but as time went on it became more violent. George Grivas, a Cypriot-born former Greek army general, led the EOKA campaign. EOKA began as an anti-Communist, but as the enosis campaign intensified, here were clearly not only an anti-British, but anti-Turkish orientation. The Greek And Turkish Governments, both NATO allies, began to take an increasingly active interest in developments on Cyprus. The Greek Government proposed the union ("enosis") of Greece and Cyprus (1954). A bomb was detonated at the Turkish consulate in Salonika (1955). This caused anti-Greek riots in Istanbul and Izmir. And as Greek Cypriots called for enosis, the Turkish Cypriots demanded either retrocession to Turkey or taksim (partition). The Turkish Government called for the partition of Cyprus on an ethnic basis to protect the Turkish minority. The EOKA campaign was a major factor in the British decesion to grant Cyprus independence (1959). Greek Cypriot ethnarch and religious leader Archbishop Makarios III and Turkish Cypriot leader Faisal Küçük met in Zurich with Greek and Turkish leaders, as well as representatives of the British government (1959). They came to ratify a previously agreed plan whereby independence would be granted to Cyprus under conditions that would satisfy all sides. The agreemet reached with the British allowed them to retain two bases and a number of other military sites as part of the agreement. The Cypriots agreed not to enter into a political or economic union with Turkey or Greece, nor agree to be partitioned. Political power was to be shared on a proportional basis, although with less than 20 percent of the total population, the Turkish Cypriots were granted 30 percent of civil service positions, and 33 percent of seats in the new House of Representatives. Perhaps most importantly, the Greek Cypriots responding to Turkish security fears, agreed to reserve 40 percent of positions in the army to ethnic Turks, nore than double the proportinal share of the population. Britain, Turkey and Greece were named as ‘guarantor powers’, which esentially gave each of the three nations the right to intervene in Cypriot affairs if they concluded that the terms of the independence agreement were being violated.

Independence (1960- )

The Cypriots and British negotiated the Zurich-London Treaty recognizing Cyprus as an independent republic (August 1960). Cyprus joined the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth as well as the Non-Aligned Movement. Britain was allowed to retains two bases (Dhekelia and Akrotiri-Episkopi). Independent Cyprus had a largely Greek population of 430,000. This was the largest concentrated group of Greeks outside Greece itself. (America has a larger Greek population, but it is dispersed around the country.) There was a substantial Turkish minority of about 95,000 people. The Turks did not feel threatened under British rule, this changed with independence and a Greek-majority government and enosis with Greek was even more threatening. Archbishop Makarios III was elected president. He was an Orthodox cleric who was the leader of the Cypriot Greek community. His three terms as president (1959-77) were not uneventful. He managed to survived four assassination attempts and a 1974 coup. Archbishop Makarios supported enosis, but an independent Cyprus was acceptable as a political compromise to avoid violence. Georgios Grivas known by his nom de guerre Digenis (Διγενής), which he adopted while in EOKA, was a Cyprus-born general in the Greek Army nd leader of the EOKA guerrilla organisation. Independence was, however, not acceptable to EOKA and Grivas or to other Greek nationalists on the mainland. They wanted union with Greece which Turkey and Turkish Cypriots opposed.

Turkish Invasion and Partition (1974)

The Greek Military junta staged a coup in an attempt to overthrow President (Archbishop) Makarios (July 1974). Their goal was to unite Cyprus to Greece. The Turks responded to the Greek coup and threat of enosis by invading northern Cyprus with 40,000 troops. The Turks occupied about 40 percent of the Island. About 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced out of the Turkish occupied area. The Turkish-held area declared itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (1983), but it is recognized only by Turkey. UN-led talks on the status of Cyprus resumed (December 1999). The goal was to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement.


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Crerated: 1:51 AM 10/19/2009
Last updated: 9:58 PM 9/14/2018