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Cyprus

History

Situated at the maritime crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean basin, Cyprus has a rich and varied history. Many invaders, settlers and immigrants have come here over the centuries, and the island has seen Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans, Genoese, Venetians, Ottomans, British and Turks seek to take a part of Cyprus for themselves.

Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, are proud of their nation and feel a strong sense of national identity. The division of their island in 1974 is viewed by many as a temporary setback, and Cypriots look to the day when Cyprus will be a united island once again.

Neolithic & chalcolithic cyprus

The first evidence of human habitation in Cyprus can be traced back to the Aceramic Neolithic period around 10, 000 BC, with the discovery of manmade artefacts at the site of Akrotiri Aetokremnou, on the Akrotiri Peninsula on Cyprus’ southern coast. These people may have brought about the extinction of the Pleistocene-era pygmy hippopotamus and dwarf elephant. By 8000 BC, domesticated animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and goats had been introduced to Cyprus by agropasturalists from the Levantine mainland. This group laid the foundations for the development of the distinctively Cypriot culture best represented at the Aceramic Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia. Choirokoitia was an enclosed village built on the side of a hill in the southern part of the island in the 6th millennium BC. Its inhabitants lived in well-built round houses made of stone, and produced stone tools and containers. Other settlements from this period have been found scattered throughout Cyprus and show evidence of contact outside the island, such as the import of obsidian from Anatolia (in modern Turkey). There is a gap in the archaeological record dating from when Choirokoitia was abandoned; the next signs of activity on the site are vases made from clay, which date from the 5th millennium BC.

The Ceramic Neolithic period saw a new pattern of settlement emerge; its material culture was typified by the site of Sotira Teppes near the south coast, which has yielded abstractly painted ceramic artefacts. Copper began to be used in the 4th millennium BC and ushered in the Chalco-lithic period. Among this era’s most noteworthy artistic achievements was the production of cross-shaped human figurines made from picrolite, a local Cypriot stone. Around 2500 BC, a new wave of immigrants, believed to be from Anatolia, brought with them new technologies and styles, and started the island’s transition to the Bronze Age.

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The bronze age

Implements of copper progressively replaced the old stone repertory and led to the development of the abundant copper deposits in the Troödos Massif. At the end of the Early Bronze Age (2300 BC to 1950 BC), bronze objects were cast using imported tin. Contacts with the outside world were otherwise few, but imaginative pottery designs flourished, drawing conspicuously on the human and animal life in and around the villages.

The Middle Bronze Age (1950 BC to 1650 BC) marked an essential continuation of the material culture of the preceding period, with the reintroduction of painted pottery on a regional basis. Settlements tended to keep to the foothills and plains, and archaeological records suggest a largely agrarian community. The first evidence of sustained copper mining comes from the start of this period; by its end, Cyprus had already begun its trading relationships with the Aegean, western Asia and Egypt, as attested by the island’s pottery exports.

The Late Bronze Age (1650 BC to 1050 BC) is considered to be one of the most important periods in Cyprus’ cultural and historical development. Extensive foreign trade with Egypt and islands in the Aegean Sea characterised the era. Most importantly, writing in the form of a linear script known as Cypro-Minoan was adapted from Crete. Fine jewellery, ivory carvings and delicate pottery were produced during this time and, from around 1400 BC, there was a notable increase in the amount of Mycenaean pottery imported from mainland Greece.

During the Late Bronze Age, new towns were established around the coast, and overseas trade in pottery containers and, later, copper ingots, expanded. Cyprus enjoyed an unprecedented level of prosperity that was accompanied by the movement of foreign goods and people into the island. Around 1200 BC, the first Greek-speaking settlers arrived as part of the Sea Peoples (aggressive seafarers), causing the disruption of existing Cypriot communities. This led to the emergence of the city kingdoms of the Iron Age.

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Archaic & classical cyprus

The first Greek settlers established a series of city kingdoms at Kourion, Pafos, Marion (now Polis), Soloi, Lapithos, Tamassos and Salamis. Two more were later established at Kition and Amathous. These kingdoms enjoyed a period of advancement and increasing prosperity from 750 BC to 475 BC, spectacularly demonstrated by finds at the Royal Tombs near Salamis. These extensive tombs contained sumptuous examples of wealth, and closely matched Homer’s description of Mycenaean burials in The Iliad.

During this time, Cyprus was ruled in turn by Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians as the fortunes of these various empires waxed and waned.

Cyprus’ Classical Age coincides with that of mainland Greece (475–325 BC), and during this period Cypriot art came under strong Attic influence. Zenon of Kition, the founder of the Stoic philosophy movement, was born during this time in Cyprus. Evagoras, king of Salamis, maintained strong links with the Hellenic mainland and extended Greek influence over most of the island, despite Persian hegemony. However, he was finally overcome by the Persians in 381 BC and assassinated seven years later. His death effectively ended the Classical Age.

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Hellenistic & roman cyprus

After his victory over the last Persian ruler, Darius III, at Issus in 333 BC, Alexander the Great took control of the city kingdoms of Cyprus and ushered in a new era. While essentially giving the kingdoms autonomy, he refuted their right to make coins. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Cyprus was ceded to Ptolemy I of Egypt who further suppressed the city kingdoms, eventually causing the last king of Salamis, Nikokreon, to commit suicide. For 250 years Cyprus remained a Ptolemaic colony, languishing under the rule of an appointed governor general.

Cyprus was annexed by the expanding Roman Empire in 58 BC. Orator and writer Cicero was one of Cyprus’ first proconsuls. Despite being briefly given to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and subsequently handed back to Roman control, Cyprus enjoyed some 600 years of relative peace and prosperity under Roman rule. Many public buildings and roads date from this time; noteworthy among them were the theatre at Kourion, the colonnaded gymnasium at Salamis and the Sanctuary of Apollon Ylatis.

It was during this period, in around AD 45, that Christianity made its early appearance on the island. Barnabas (later to become St Barnabas; Agios Varnavas in Greek), a native of Salamis, accompanied the apostle Paul and preached on Cyprus. Among his first converts was Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul.

Christianity flourished on the island and, by the time of Constantine the Great, paganism had almost completely been supplanted in Cyprus by Christianity.

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The byzantine empire

In 395, the Roman Empire was divided. Its eastern variant, the Byzantine Empire, was based in Constantinople and retained hegemony over Cyprus. However, Cyprus kept a considerable degree of ecclesiastical autonomy from Constantinople; in 488, the archbishop was granted the right to carry a sceptre instead of an archbishop’s crosier, as well as the authority to write his signature in imperial purple ink. The practice continues to this day.

The expansion of Islam in the 7th century had profound effects on Cyprus, with a series of disastrous Arab raids starting in 647 causing great depredation and suffering. Salamis was sacked and never recovered, Kourion declined, and coastal settlers moved inland to escape the repeated warring and pillaging. In 688, a sort of truce was called when Justinian II and the Arab caliph Abd-al-Malik signed an agreement for the joint rule of Cyprus. This agreement lasted until 965 when Emperor Nikiforos Fokas regained Cyprus completely for the Byzantines.

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Lusignan, genoese & venetian cyprus

Byzantine rule might well have continued had renegade governor Isaak Komninos not decided to proclaim himself emperor of Cyprus, and in 1191 take on the might of the crusader king Richard the Lionheart of England. Richard took possession of Cyprus and subsequently sold it to the Knights Templar. They were unable to afford the upkeep and in turn sold it to the dispossessed king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan.

The new French-speaking lord of Cyprus established a lengthy dynasty that brought mixed fortunes to the island. He invited Christian families who had lost property in the Holy Land to settle in Cyprus, and for some time these settlers involved themselves in the affairs of the diminished territories that still belonged to the kingdom of Jerusalem. This proved an economic strain on Cyprus until the neighbouring kingdom finally collapsed with the fall of Acre (Akko) in 1291.

For a hundred years or so thereafter, Cyprus enjoyed a period of immense wealth and prosperity, with current-day Famagusta (Mağusa) the centre of unrivalled commercial activity and trade. Many fine buildings and churches were completed during this period, some of which are still visible in North Nicosia (Lefkoşa), Bellapais (Beylerbeyi) and Famagusta. Cyprus’ prosperity reached its zenith under King Peter I (r 1359–69), who mounted an unsuccessful crusade in 1365 that only managed to achieve the sacking of Alexandria.

In the meantime, Orthodox Greeks, while nominally free to practise their religion independently, were becoming more and more restless at their obligation to pay homage to a Latin (Roman Catholic) ecclesiastic-al administration. Many Greek clerics retreated to the mountains and quietly and unobtrusively built simple churches and monasteries. They decorated their buildings with some of the finest frescoes ever painted in the Orthodox world.

The fortunes of the Lusignans were to take a turn for the worse after the accession to power of Peter I’s son and heir, Peter II. Eyeing Cyprus’ wealth and strategic position as entrepôt, Genoa and Venice jostled for control. This led to Genoa seizing Famagusta, which it held for the next 100 years. The fortunes of both Famagusta and Cyprus itself declined as a result. The last Lusignan king was James II (r 1460–73). He managed to expel the Genoese from Famagusta and married a Venetian noblewoman, Caterina Cornaro, who succeeded James, and became Queen of Cyprus and the last royal personage of the Lusignan dynasty. Under pressure, she ceded Cyprus to Venice.

The Venetians ruled Cyprus from 1489 to 1571, but their control was characterised by indifference and torpor. Corruption and inefficiency marked the administration, and the Greek peasantry fared no better under their new overlords than under the previous regime. In the meantime, the Ottoman Empire was expanding. In anticipation of attack from the north, the Venetians fortified Lefkosia with immense circular walls and built massive fortifications around Famagusta. Neither measures held back the Ottoman onslaught and, in 1570, Lefkosia was conquered. Almost a year later, after a long siege, Famagusta was taken by the Ottomans.

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The ottoman empire

The newly arrived Ottomans suppressed the Latin Church and restored the Orthodox hierarchy. The peasantry, who had suffered under a feudal tenancy system, were given land. Taxes were initially reduced but later increased, often arbitrarily, with the Orthodox archbishop responsible for their collection. Some 20, 000 Turks were settled on Cyprus following its capture, but the island was not high in the priorities of the ruling sultans.

Indolence, corruption and sloth marked the Ottoman rule, and dissent was frequently put down by oppression. In 1821, the Orthodox archbishop was hanged on suspicion of supporting the growing Greek revolution in mainland Greece.

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British rule

Ottoman rule lasted 300 years, until another foreign power sought influence in the region. In 1878, Turkey and Britain signed an agreement whereby Turkey would retain sovereignty of the languishing colony, while Britain would shoulder the responsibility for administering the island. Britain’s aim was to secure a strategic outpost in the Middle East from where it could monitor military and commercial movements in the Levant and the Caucasus. As part of the agreement, Britain would protect the sultan’s Asian territories from threat by Russia.

However, in 1914, the parties were at war so Britain assumed outright sovereignty of Cyprus. Turkey’s recognition of the annexation of its territory was not ratified until the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, under which it also regularised territorial claims with the newly independent Greece.

British control of Cyprus was initially welcomed by its mostly Greek population, since it was assumed that Britain would ultimately work with the Greeks to achieve enosis, or union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots, though, were less than enthusiastic at the prospect. The British had offered to unite Cyprus with Greece as early as 1915 on condition that Greece fulfilled its treaty obligations towards Serbia when it was attacked by Bulgaria. The Greek government refused and the offer was never repeated again.

Pro-enosis riots broke out in 1931, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the enosis movement really began to gather steam. Energy was generated by a Cypriot lieutenant colonel, Georgos ‘Digenis’ Grivas, who founded the Ethniki Organosi tou Kypriakou Agona (EOKA; National Organisation for the Cypriot Struggle). Between 1955 and 1958, EOKA launched a series of covert attacks on the British administration and military, and on anyone else who was seen as being against enosis. The British came up with various proposals for limited home rule, but all were rejected. The 17% minority Turkish Cypriots became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of being forcibly incorporated into Greece.

The respective governments in Greece and Turkey began to take an active interest in developments in Cyprus and, as Greek Cypriots called for enosis, the Turkish Cypriots demanded either retrocession to Turkey, or taksim (partition). In 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. They came to ratify a previously agreed plan whereby independence would be granted to Cyprus under conditions that would satisfy all sides.

The British were to retain two bases and a numbr of other military sites as part of the agreement. Cyprus would not 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% of the total population, the Turkish Cypriots were granted 30% of civil service positions, 33% of seats in the House of Representatives and 40% of positions in the army.

Ominously, Britain, Turkey and Greece were to be named as ‘guarantor powers’, which gave any of the three nations the right to intervene in the affairs of Cyprus should it be believed that the terms of the independence agreement were being breached in any way.

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The republic of cyprus

The birth of the new and independent Republic of Cyprus was realised on 16 August 1960. Transition from colony to an independent nation was not without growing pains, and sporadic violence and agitation continued. The unrest culminated when Greek Cypriots proposed amendments threatening power-sharing arrangements, resulting in Turkish Cypriot withdrawal from government. Serious sectarian violence broke out in 1963, further dividing the Greek and Turkish communities. The UN sent a peacekeeping force to the island in 1964 to support British troops manning the so-called ‘Green Line’ dividing Lefkosia. The Turkish Cypriots retreated to ghettos and enclaves as a means of protecting themselves against Greek harassment and aggression.

The Cold War was at its peak and Cyprus’ strategic value as a radar listening post became vitally important to the British and to the militarily stronger Americans. Both nations relied on Cyprus in order to monitor Soviet nuclear-missile testing in central Asia. The British maintained an air-force garrison on the Akrotiri base that included a nuclear arsenal.

Archbishop Makarios III, then president of Cyprus, played an increasingly risky game of political nonalignment while seeking arms and support from communist nations such as the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. He also covertly supported further calls for enosis with Greece. As the communist party gained support, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots became increasingly uneasy at the thought of a possible communist-dominated government in Cyprus. The Americans and their British allies felt concern at the possibility of another Cuban crisis – this time in the Mediterranean.

The discussions on the possibility of segregating the two communities began to take on a greater tempo. In 1967, a coup in Greece installed a right-wing military junta. Its relations with Cyprus cooled while the US cosied up to the more accommodating colonels in Athens. Because of his many diplomatic manoeuvres with the Soviets, Makarios’ Cyprus became a less and less desirable option for both the Greeks and the Americans. In July 1974, a CIA-sponsored and Greek-organised coup took place in Cyprus with the intention of eliminating Makarios and installing a more pro-Western government.

On 15 July, a detachment of the National Guard, led by officers from mainland Greece, launched a coup aimed at assassinating Makarios and establishing enosis. They laid waste to the presidential palace, but Makarios narrowly escaped. A former EOKA member, Nikos Sampson, was proclaimed president of Cyprus. Five days later, Turkish forces landed at present-day Kyrenia (Girne) to overturn Sampson’s government. Despite vigorous resistance, the Turks were successful in establishing a bridgehead around Kyrenia and linking it with the Turkish sector of North Nicosia (Lefkoşa).

On 23 July 1974, Greece’s junta fell and was replaced by a democratic government under Konstantinos Karamanlis. At the same time, Sampson was replaced in Cyprus by Glafkos Clerides, the president of the House of Representatives. The three guarantor powers, Britain, Greece and Turkey, as required by the treaty, met for discussions in Geneva, but it proved impossible to halt the Turkish advance until 16 August. By that time Turkey controlled the northern 37% of the island. In December, Makarios returned to resume the presidency. Cyprus was divided.

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Taksim

The 1974 division of Cyprus has continued to this day. While the arrival of the Turkish army was seen as a godsend by harried and harassed Turkish Cypriots, it was viewed as an enormous disaster by the 200, 000 Greek Cypriots who then lived in the northern third of Cyprus. Many were caught up in the onslaught and killed; most were evacuated or fled south to what remained of the Republic of Cyprus. Similarly, some 100, 000 Turkish Cypriots from the Republic of Cyprus fled, or were forcibly evacuated, to Northern Cyprus.

The economic cost to the island and lack of stability brought about with division, and the number of refugees this caused, was enormous. The now-truncated Greek Republic of Cyprus was deprived of some of its best land, two major towns, its lucrative citrus industry and the bulk of its tourist infrastructure.

While the forced division of Cyprus served certain short-term military and political purposes, and Turkish Cypriots received protection from Turkey, the final result was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory for the Turks. Makarios escaped assassination by the coup plotters, the military junta collapsed and the desire for enosis dissipated, as Cyprus became preoccupied with its internal problems.

The declaration of a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC; KKTC in Turkish) by President Rauf Denktaş in 1983 was recognised by no nation other than Turkey. The Cold War came to an end in 1991, by which time half the population of native Turkish Cypriots had fled the island for the UK, Canada and Australia.

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Cyprus today

The Greek Cypriots quickly regrouped and put their energies into rebuilding their shattered nation. Within a few years the economy was on the mend, and the Republic of Cyprus continues to enjoy international recognition as the sole legitimate representative of Cyprus. The economy is booming: the Cyprus Stock Exchange opened in mid-1999 and initially absorbed vast amounts of private funds. Later, the stock exchange took a nose dive and many Cypriots lost huge amounts of money. Tourism is generally buoyant, though 2002 saw a downward trend sparking some concern in the industry.

Known by most foreigners simply as ‘Northern Cyprus’ and by Greeks as the ‘Occupied Territories’ (ta katehomena), the northern segment of Cyprus as a separate entity defies logic; despite international economic sanctions, it continues to survive and develop, supported largely by its client and sponsor nation, Turkey.

Talks to reunite Cyprus have taken place sporadically since 1974 but little ground has been gained, with both sides presenting an entrenched and uncompromising point of view. The UN has maintained peace along the Green Line since 1964; in 1974, it was called on to patrol and monitor the cease-fire line, now called the Attila Line, the border that runs the entire length of the island.

When Cyprus and Turkey were seeking entry to the EU, the leaders of both the South and the North had thrice-weekly talks during the spring and summer of 2002 aimed at reunification, but talks became bogged down in the fine print. The first real changes in the relations between the two communities started in April 2003, after a surprise announcement by Rauf Denktaş stated a decision to ‘amend travel’ and allow Cypriots from both sides to visit the opposing parts of the island, so long as they returned home by the end of the day. Since then, four checkpoints have been opened along the border, and visiting time has been extended to up to three months.

During this period Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, tried to broker an agreement that would allow a referendum on reunification, which was rejected by a vast majority of Greek Cypriots (nearly 76%) and endorsed by more than half of Turkish Cypriots (65%). While Turkey’s application for admission to the EU was deferred in January 2003, Cyprus’ application (with or without the North) was approved and the southern Republic of Cyprus alone became a part of the EU in May 2004.

The following April, the 30-year Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktaş, lost the presidential elections to his prime minister Mehmet Ali Talat. Talat, a more modern leader and head of the centre-left Cumhuriyetçi Türk Partisi (CTP; Republican Turkish Party), is a supporter of unification and was vocal in his support of Kofi Annan’s plan.

Cyprus’ relationship with Turkey is also looking to improve following the commencement of the formal talks on Turkey’s EU admission, which started in 2005 and are predicted to go on for ten years. Turkey’s controversial EU entry rests on several conditions, one of which is its eventual recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. It remains to be seen how the Cyprus problem will be solved after this.

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