To gain some understanding of Cyprus' modern political and territorial situation, it's important to look back on the complicated weave of events which have helped shape the current climate. The island's position, at the nautical crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean basin, has been the catalyst for an extraordinarily turbulent history that more than equals its present-day problems, and stretches way back over the centuries with waves of invaders influencing and leaving their mark here.
City Kingdoms of Cyprus
Visitors to Cyprus today can see extraordinary remains of ancient city-kingdoms – excavations have revealed that they were both highly prosperous and influential during the Hellenistic period. These city-kingdoms were established at Kourion, Pafos, Marion (now Polis), Soloi, Lapithos, Tamassos and Salamis, with two others later established at Kition and Amathous. The Phoenicians, great traders from across the sea in Lebanon, also settled here during this time in Kition (Larnaka) and introduced the Greek alphabet to Cyprus (the Phoenician phonetic alphabet is believed to be the ancestor of virtually all modern alphabets).
Between 1400 and 1200 BC, Mycenaean and Achaean Greek settlers began to arrive en masse, bringing with them language, culture, art and gods. The Cypriots found a particular affiliation with the fertility goddess, Aphrodite, and Cyprus is her legendary birthplace – the rock near Pafos marks the spot and to this day remains firmly on the tourist trail.
From 750 BC to 475 BC, the city-kingdoms oversaw a period of advancement and increasing prosperity as demonstrated by the spectacular Necropolis of Salamis (Royal Tombs) which contain extravagant examples of wealth, and closely match Homer’s descriptions of Mycenaean burials in The Iliad. Ancient Salamis is the most significant of the ancient city-kingdoms’ archaeological sites that can be visited today.
During this time, Greek influence spread throughout the island, and Cyprus attracted a string of foreign rulers including the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians. These powers sought control through tribute more than settlement, essentially leaving the city-kingdoms to self-govern.
In 498 BC, under King Onesilos of Salamis, the city-kingdoms joined in the Ionian revolt against Persian rule, with the exception of Amathous, which aligned itself with the Phoenicians. The Persians landed their army just off Salamis and a ferocious battle raged. Ultimately the King of Kourion, Stesenor, betrayed the Greeks. Onesilos was killed and the revolt was crushed.
The island maintained its strong links with Hellenism, despite Persian hegemony. In 381 BC King Evagoras of Salamis tried to unite the city-kingdoms with the Greek states and attempted to overcome the Persians once more. He was defeated and assassinated seven years later, effectively ending the Classical Age of Greek influence (the remains of which are prevalent on the island to this day).
Alexander the Great’s emphatic victory over Persian ruler Darius III at Issus in 333 BC released the island from the Persian empire. However, Alexander’s control of Cyprus, as a part of the Greek empire, was fleeting. He asserted his authority by giving the city-kingdoms autonomy but refusing to allow them to make their own coins. After his death in 323 BC and after some quarrelling among his successors, the city-kingdoms were subjugated by Ptolemy I of Egypt, who took over the island as a part of Hellenistic Egypt.
The island’s capital was moved from Salamis to Pafos, which was easily accessible by sea from Alexandria in Egypt. From this time, Egyptian influences prevailed, with local cults being introduced and assimilated with Egyptian gods and goddesses. Cyprus also grew to become an intermediary between the Greek world and the near east, with craftspeople, sculptors and merchants from throughout the eastern Mediterranean introducing ceramics, sculpture and jewellery.
Nicocreon, the last king of Salamis, assisted Ptolemy in centralising power away from the city-kingdoms to a single appointed governor general in Pafos. Later suspected of betrayal, he burned his opulent Salamis palace to the ground before committing suicide.
A demos (house and senate) version of parliament was subsequently established on the island and it remained a Ptolemaic colony (and relatively peaceful) for a further 200 years, languishing under the rule of an appointed governor general.
Romans & Rising Christianity
Cyprus was annexed by the expanding Roman Empire in 58 BC, orator and writer Cicero becoming one of its first proconsuls. Despite being briefly given to Cleopatra VII of Egypt by Mark Anthony (her lover) and subsequently handed back to Roman control, Cyprus enjoyed some 600 years of relative peace and prosperity under Roman rule, and many public buildings, aqueducts, harbours 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. Many of these ancient ruins can still be seen today, along with the many mosaic floors depicting scenes from Greek mythology. Trade also flourished, with exports including decorative pottery, copper and glassware.
Island of Saints
Christianity made its early appearance on the island in AD 45. It was during this period that the Apostle Paul began spreading the new religion on the island, accompanied by Barnabas, a Greek Jewish native of Salamis. He was later canonised St Barnabas (Agios Varnavas in Greek). The missionaries travelled across the island preaching the word of God and converting many locals. Once they reached Pafos, the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus granted them an audience. A court magician mocked the Apostles upon their speech about Jesus, angering Paul, who is said to have temporarily blinded the sorcerer for his disbelief. The proconsul was so struck by this act that he was among the first to convert to Christianity. Cyprus became the first country in the world to be ruled by a Christian and Christianity flourished on the island.
The Apostles set up the Church of Cyprus, one of the oldest independent churches in the world, and the island quickly became known as ‘The Island of Saints’.
A number of those involved in the early development of Christianity were sanctified, including Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus, who became the archbishop of Kition. St Helena also visited the island with pieces of the ‘Holy Cross’ that she left in the protection of Stavrovouni Monastery and at Tochni, where they can still be found today.
By the time of Constantine the Great, Christianity had almost completely supplanted paganism.
Feature: House of Stone
Human habitation of the island began around 10,000 BC, when hunter-gatherers roamed the coastal caves of Akrotiri Aetokremnou (Vulture Cliff) and its peninsula in the South. These people may have brought about the extinction, via hunting, of the Pleistocene-era pygmy hippopotamus and dwarf elephant (a skeleton of the latter was discovered in a cave near Kyrenia in 1902).
Eventually, in around 6000 BC, these nomads built stone villages such as the Aceramic Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia; a fascinating site near Larnaka which can be visited today.
Built on the side of a hill, beside the banks of a river, its more than 300 inhabitants lived in round, flat-roofed tholoi (huts) made of stones and mud. They were similar to the contemporary buildings found in Crete and Mesopotamia. The huts were organised within a protective rock wall, around a central courtyard, with some chambers dedicated to cooking and eating, others to sleeping and storage.
Evidence shows the inhabitants produced stone tools, weapons, containers and jewellery. They picked fruit, fished and kept sheep and goats. They even kept pets. The oldest known feline-human connection – a domesticated cat buried with its owner – was unearthed here, far predating similar ancient Egyptian finds.
Feature: Copper Island
Once copper was discovered in around 2600 BC, it progressively replaced the old stone repertory and led to the excavation of abundant copper deposits in the Troödos Mountains. The country’s production and export of copper became highly organised, and trade with Mediterranean islands and Egypt began in earnest. This gave Cyprus great commercial importance in the civilised Mediterranean world.
During the island’s transition to the Bronze Age, around 2000 BC, a wave of foreign influence, from immigrants such as the Hittites, brought new technologies and styles. This age also saw new towns established around the coast, with overseas trade of pottery containers and copper ingots (shaped like oxhide) expanded further.
Cyprus enjoyed an unprecedented level of prosperity, accompanied by the movement of foreign goods and people into the island. It became a meeting point of Western and Eastern civilisations thanks to its location and natural wealth.
The Roman Empire was divided in AD 395 and Cyprus fell under its eastern half, the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. Byzantine rulers were sent to Cyprus to govern the island.
The island was able to keep a considerable degree of ecclesiastical autonomy when the Archbishop of Cyprus convinced the Byzantine emperor that the Church of Cyprus had been founded by the Apostles. In AD 488 the archbishop was granted the right to carry a sceptre instead of an archbishop’s crosier. He was also given authority to write his signature in imperial purple ink, a practice which continues to this day.
During this period many of the stunning churches of the island were built, with frescoed walls, mosaics and domed roofs, including the church of St Barnabas, built over his grave in Famagusta (Gazimağusa).
This relative stability would not last long, as the island would soon be at the forefront of clashes between the Byzantines and the growing Islamic empire.
Islamic expansion in the 7th century had a profound effect on the island. The lands of the Byzantine Empire were attacked by Muslim Arabs. Fleets of ships began a series of bloody raids starting in AD 647, killing many and destroying coastal cities. Salamis (Constantia) was ravaged and sacked heavily, never quite recovering. The city-kingdom of Kourion declined dramatically and coastal settlers moved inland.
In response, fortifications and castles were built, the three grandest being those of St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara in the Kyrenia mountains, defending the north coast.
During one such raid in Kition, Umm Haram, the wife of an Arab commander and the aunt of the Prophet Muhammad, fell from her mule and died. The mosque at Hala Sultan Tekke was built at the site of her fall on the edge of Larnaka’s salt lake. It is among the holiest places in the Muslim world.
In AD 688 a truce was called when Justinian II and the Arab caliph Abd-al-Malik signed an agreement for the joint rule of Cyprus. This agreement remained until AD 965, when Emperor Nikiforos Fokas sent an army of men to the island to regain complete control for the Byzantines.
New governors were sent to Cyprus as dukes. Due to the devastation of the coastal cities, the capital was moved inland to Nicosia and built on the remains of the old city of Ledra.
Byzantine rule may well have continued had it not been for renegade governor Isaak Komninos, who proclaimed himself emperor of Cyprus in 1184.
On his way to the Holy Land as part of the Third Crusade, King Richard the Lionheart’s fleet met with inclement weather and was forced to dock in Lemesos. The first ship to make port was that of the recently widowed Queen Joan of Sicily, Richard’s sister, and his fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre.
Komninos attempted to capture the royal party and hold them to ransom. King Richard was outraged at this news and marched on Lemesos, overthrowing Komninos and seizing control of the island. This effectively brought an end to Byzantine rule.
Komninos fled to Kantara Castle in the north, and King Richard married his queen in Lemesos Castle’s Agios Georgios chapel in 1191. To this day Cyprus is the only foreign country to have held an English royal wedding.
Richard fell ill and stayed in Cyprus, postponing his campaign to the Holy Land. He was joined by the French knight Guy de Lusignan, who assisted him in defeating Komninos. Upon Komninos’ capture, he was chained in silver, instead of iron, at his pleading.
Richard went on to conquer the entire island and stayed for a year until he was well enough to travel. He then sold Cyprus to the Knights Templar, to boost his coffers. The Knights ultimately were unable to afford the upkeep and, in turn, sold it to the dispossessed king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, in 1192.
The French-speaking lord of Cyprus, Guy de Lusignan, established a lengthy dynasty that brought mixed fortunes to the island. He died in 1194 and was buried at the Church of the Templars in Nicosia and succeeded by his brother, Amalric.
Guy had invited Christian families who had lost property in the Holy Land to settle in Cyprus, many of whom were still concerned with the territorial affairs and disputes in Jerusalem. This proved to be a great economic strain on Cyprus, until the fall of Acre (Akko) in 1291.
For 100 years or so thereafter, Cyprus enjoyed a period of immense wealth and prosperity, with current-day Famagusta the centre of unrivalled commercial activity and trade. Many of the Byzantine castles were added to in grandiose style, and fine buildings and churches were erected. The Church of Agia Sofia in North Nicosia (Lefkoşa), Bellapais Abbey near Kyrenia and Kolossi Castle, near Lemesos (Limassol), were completed during this period.
Lusignan descendants continued to rule the Kingdom of Cyprus until 1474. The island’s prosperity reached its zenith under King Peter I (r 1359−69), who spent much of his time overseas at war. He squashed many attempts at Turkish piracy raids, before mounting a counterattack in 1365. During this unsuccessful crusade, he only managed to sack the city of Alexandria. Upon his assassination at the hands of his nobles, the fortunes of the Lusignans took a turn for the worse.
Eyeing Cyprus’ wealth and strategic position as an entrepôt, Genoa and Venice jostled for control. Genoa ultimately seized Famagusta and held it for 100 years; the fortunes of both Famagusta and the island declined as a result. The last Lusignan king was James II (r 1460−73), who managed to expel the Genoese from Famagusta. He married Caterina Cornaro, a Venetian noblewoman, who went on to succeed James. She was the last queen of Cyprus and the last royal personage from the Lusignan dynasty. Under pressure, she eventually ceded Cyprus to Venice.
The Venetians ruled Cyprus from AD 1489 to 1571. Their control was characterised by indifference to the Greek population, who fared no better under their new overlords than they had under the Genoese.
As excellent traders, the Venetians’ chief concern was the expansion of their maritime empire. They used the island for its position along the vital Silk Route to China and as a defence against the growing Ottoman threat. They built heavy fortifications around the cities of Nicosia and Famagusta, believing the Ottomans would attempt to strike there.
The Ottomans first attacked Nicosia, defeating it swiftly and slaughtering the garrison. They then turned their attentions to Famagusta. The severed head of Nicosia’s governor was sent as a grim message to Famagusta’s Venetian captain-general Marcantonio Bragadino. He quickly prepared for the assault, with some 8000 men at the ready.
The Ottomans laid siege to the city with over 200,000 men and 2000 cannon. Bragadino held out for nearly a year, completely surrounded, with Famagusta Bay filled with Ottoman ships.
Upon his capture, Bragadino was tortured horrifically for his defiance. His ears and nose were cut off before he was skinned alive.
The fall of Famagusta signalled the end of a Western presence and Christian outpost in the Levant for the next 300 years.
Over 20,000 Turks settled in Cyprus following its capture from the Venetians in 1571, but the island was not a high priority for the Ottomans. The ruling sultan sent Turkish governors to rule the island, who quickly suppressed the Latin church. They abolished serfdom and restored the Orthodox hierarchy and Church of Cyprus, to better appease and control the population.
From then on, taxes were arbitrarily increased for the Greek Cypriot population, and the Orthodox archbishop (considered the leader) was made responsible for their collection. In the wake of huge taxes, some Greeks converted to Islam to avoid oppression.
The Ottomans appointed a dragoman of the serai (translator to the governor’s palace) to each town. They resided in opulent stone houses and acted as arbitrators for all business with Greek Cypriots.
In 1821, Greeks from the mainland were fighting the great war of liberation against the Ottomans. Cypriot Orthodox Archbishop Kyprianos sent money and support to Greece, in the hope that it would help to free Cyprus also. When the paşa (lord) Mehmed Silashor found out, he had the archbishop hanged in the public square in front of the serai (palace). Any support for the growing Greek revolution was quickly crushed. Another three bishops were beheaded on similar suspicions, and several priests, including the abbot of Kykkos, were put to death.
The Ottomans remained in control of the island until 1878, when the British sought authority 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. In 1914 the start of WWI meant the parties were at war. Britain assumed outright sovereignty of the island, but Turkey would not recognise the annexation of its territory until the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. This treaty also included 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 (union) with Greece. Turkish Cypriots, a 17% minority of the population, were less than enthusiastic at the prospect, fearing they would be ostracised.
Between 1955 and 1958 a Cypriot lieutenant colonel, Georgios ‘Digenis’ Grivas, founded the Ethniki Organosi tou Kypriakou Agona (EOKA; National Organisation for the Cypriot Struggle), and launched a series of covert attacks on the British military and administration. The EOKA began these attacks to show their frustration with the British for not helping to further their ultimate goal of enosis. Find out more about this tumultuous period by visiting the Agios Georgios Museum in Pafos.
The British came up with various proposals for limited home rule, but Turkish Cypriots began to demand taksim (partition), whereby the island would be divided between Greece and Turkey.
In 1959 Greek Cypriot ethnarch Archbishop Makarios III and Turkish Cypriot leader Faisal Küçük met in Zurich. They came to ratify a previously agreed plan where independence would be granted to Cyprus under conditions that would satisfy all sides.
The British were to retain two military bases and a number of other sites as part of the agreement. Cyprus also agreed not to enter into any political or economic unions with Turkey or Greece, or to be partitioned. Political power was to be shared on a proportional basis of 70% Greek and 30% Turkish. Britain, Turkey and Greece were named as the 'guarantor powers' of the island.
The independent Republic of Cyprus was realised on 16 August 1960. Transition from colony to independent nation was difficult, with sporadic violence and protest, as extremists from both sides pushed opposing agendas.
Serious sectarian violence broke out in 1963, further dividing the Greek and Turkish communities. Turkish Cypriots withdrew from government, claiming that President Archbishop Makarios was pro-enosis, and wasn’t doing enough to control radicals.
In 1964 the UN sent a peacekeeping force to the island headed by Major General Peter Young. The general drew a green line on a map of Nicosia separating the Greek and Turkish areas of the capital, thus forming the 'Green Line', which would go on to divide the entire island. Many Turkish Cypriots moved to enclaves around the island, separating themselves from the Greeks.
With the Cold War at its peak, Cyprus had strategic value for the British and Americans in monitoring Soviet activity. Makarios sought a position of political nonalignment and was suspected of being a communist. The Americans and their British allies feared another Cuban crisis – only in the Mediterranean – which added urgency to their interference.
While the island was still politically unstable, the situation on the ground quietened between 1964 and 1967, as Turkish Cypriots withdrew to consolidated areas. This included setting up a provisional government in North Nicosia.
Coup d'État & Invasion
Discussion of segregating the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities stepped up again in 1967. A coup in Greece installed a right-wing military junta and Greece’s relations with Cyprus cooled. Makarios had a number of diplomatic meetings with the Soviets, in keeping with his policy of nonalignment. Both the Greek junta and the Americans were suspicious of this and were fearful that the island would lean towards communism.
In July 1974 the CIA sponsored a Greek junta−organised coup in Cyprus, with the intention of installing a more pro-Western government.
On 15 July a renegade detachment of the National Guard (numbering a mere 180), led by officers from mainland Greece, launched an attempt to assassinate Makarios and establish enosis. Makarios narrowly escaped as the presidential palace was laid to waste. Cypriot Nikos Sampson, a former EOKA member with ties to the Greek junta, was proclaimed president of Cyprus.
Five days later, Turkish forces landed troops close to Kyrenia, using the right to restore a legal government as the pretext.
The regular Greek Cypriot army tried to resist the Turkish advance. However, once the Turks established the bridgehead around Kyrenia, they quickly linked with the Turkish sector of North Nicosia. From this point the Greek Cypriot army was outnumbered and could not stop the crushing Turkish assault.
On 23 July 1974, Greece’s junta on the mainland fell and was replaced by a democratic government under Konstantinos Karamanlis. At the same time, the Cypriots removed Sampson and replaced him with Glafkos Clerides, president of the House of Representatives and a member of the democratic government.
The three guarantor powers − Britain, Greece and Turkey − met for discussions in Geneva, as required by the treaty, but it proved impossible to make the Turkish halt their advance. They pressed on for over three weeks until 16 August 1974. At that time Turkey controlled 37% of the northern part of the island. By the time Makarios returned to resume his presidency, having escaped the assassination attempt, Cyprus was divided.
A total of 190,000 Greek Cypriots who then lived in the northern third of Cyprus were displaced, losing their homes, land and businesses. Many were caught in the onslaught and killed; the rest fled south for safety. At the same time around 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moved from the South to the Turkish-controlled areas in the North.
The human and economic cost to the island was catastrophic. The now-truncated Republic of Cyprus was deprived of some of its best land, two major cities, its lucrative citrus industry and the bulk of its tourist infrastructure. There was also widespread looting.
The invasion and forced division of Cyprus served convoluted political and military purposes. Reinstatement of the rightful government and dissipation of the military junta did not alter the Turkish government’s stance. It forcibly continued its illegal occupation of the North and the Turkish troops remained.
The UN has maintained a peacekeeping force along the Green Line and the border that runs the length of the island ever since. They oversee the buffer zone that runs parallel to the Green Line with barbed wire and regular patrols. This no-man's land with its bombed-out buildings is a poignant reminder of the brutality of the conflict.
The declaration of a separate Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), by President Rauf Denktaş, came in 1983. It is only officially recognised by Turkey.
In the years since division, there have been several negotiation attempts to reunite the island, with both sides presenting entrenched and uncompromising points of view.
During the spring and summer of 2002, Cyprus and Turkey were seeking entry into the EU and the leaders of both the North and the South had thrice-weekly talks aimed at reunification. Again discussions got bogged down by the intricacies of land ownership and the real number of Turkish mainland settlers.
In April 2003 Northern Cyprus leader Rauf Denktaş made the surprise announcement that travel restrictions across the Green Line would be eased, allowing both Greek and Turkish Cypriots access to visit the opposite sides. Since then seven checkpoints have been opened and crossing the buffer zone has become a normal, everyday occurrence for some.
During this period Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, brokered an agreement allowing separate island-wide referendums on a reunification plan. The 'Annan Plan', as it was known, was designed to make Cyprus a federation of two constituent states, with shared proportional power. Political leaders on both sides campaigned for a 'no' vote. Greek Cypriots rejected the plan (76%), while Turkish Cypriots endorsed it (65%).
Peace talks were revived in 2008, however, when the Republic’s president Demetris Christofias promised to work with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, generating over 100 meetings. Their attempts at camaraderie, aimed at creating a 'climate of peace', began to worry officials on the Turkish mainland. The situation was quickly blunted when the pro-Turkish Derviş Eroğlu came to power in 2010.
For the following few years there was the usual rhetoric regarding talks with UN mediators. However, in 2013 Nicos Anastasiades was elected as the new president in the Republic and in February 2014 it seemed a corner was turned when, for the first time in 55 years, talks took place in Athens and Ankara simultaneously. The talks ultimately failed and it wasn't until Mustafa Akinci won the Northern Cyprus election in 2015 that a peace plan was once again on the agenda.
Repairing the Damage
Many Greek Cypriots quickly regrouped after 1974, putting their energies into rebuilding their shattered nation. Within a few years the economy was on the mend and the Republic of Cyprus was recognised internationally as the only legitimate representative of the island. The economy pushed ahead through the 1980s. The opening of the Cyprus Stock Exchange in 1999 initially absorbed vast amounts of private funds, although in the early 2000s the stock exchange took a full-size nose dive and many lost huge amounts of money.
The first decade of the 21st century saw considerable changes in demographics, with foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and India filling the labour markets, creating cheap labour. EU succession (2004) also changed the landscape in the Republic of Cyprus in a variety of areas, including skyrocketing prices of services and food.
Between 2012 and 2013, a combination of joining the eurozone and sharing close financial ties with Greece had a severe and negative impact on Cypriot banks (who were major holders of Greek government and corporate bonds). In March 2013 banks closed for 12 days while a deal was struck for a €10 billion bailout by the International Monetary Fund and the EU. The loan was conditional on Cyprus raising €5.8 billion through various austerity measures. Tourism remained stable throughout this period, however. The economy shrunk by just 5.4% (as opposed to the 20% predicted) and within a year there were cautious signs of recovery.
North of the Green Line is known by most foreigners simply as 'Northern Cyprus' and by the Greeks as the 'Occupied Territories' (ta katehomena). This area, by comparison to the South, has developed at a snail’s pace. An influx of Turkish mainlanders and international economic sanctions against the unrecognised Northern government has made progress difficult. It remains largely supported by its client and sponsor nation, Turkey, through direct funding and its use as a Turkish military outpost.
Feature: The Case of the Kanakaria Mosaics
Resembling some Raymond Chandler crime thriller, one of the most famous cases of looting concerned the Kanakaria mosaics which were stolen, sometime between 1974 and 1979, from the Panagia Kanakaria church in the Karpas Peninsula. The priceless mosaics later turned up in Indianapolis, where an art dealer was hawking them around museums and galleries for a hefty $20 million or so. The wised-up curator at the J Paul Getty Museum in California became suspicious and contacted the Greek Cypriot authorities, who confirmed that these were, indeed, the stolen mosaics from the Panagia Kanakaria church. They were duly returned in 1991 and can be seen today at the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia (Lefkosia).
The Turkish art dealer, who was later identified as Aydın Dikmen, was eventually located in Munich in 1997 after an eight-month sting operation. His apartment was raided by police who discovered a further priceless collection of some 5000 Cypriot icons, frescos and other treasures concealed inside the walls and under the floorboards at his apartment. These included two priceless icons stolen from the monastery of St Chrysostomos.
The art treasures were eventually returned to Cyprus in 2010, after more than a decade of legal wrangling in the Bavarian courts.
Feature: Rauf Denktaş: Portrait of a Renegade
Viewed as the bane of Cypriot society by Greek Cypriots and saviour of the nation by many Turkish Cypriots, Rauf Denktaş still provokes strong feelings. Before he stepped down as president of the self-proclaimed independent republic in 2005, this one-time lawyer was matched in resilience and political longevity by few neighbouring Middle Eastern political leaders. He used charm and tenacity to lead the Turkish Cypriot community from well before the forced division of Cyprus in 1974. Until Mehmet Ali Talat won the 2005 election, he had been leader for 31 years.
A mercurial character, Denktaş was born near Pafos on the island’s southern coast and trained as a barrister in London before commencing his long political career. As leader of the Turkish Communal Chamber from 1960, he was in and out of the spotlight – and trouble – until 1974, when he became leader of the partitioned Turkish Cypriots.
Denktaş was known for his persistence and perceived intransigence in seeking a solution for reuniting Cyprus. His drive to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the political impasse was compromised by a steadfastness and unwillingness to deviate from the long-held party line. At thrice-weekly talks held in the UN buffer zone during the spring and summer of 2002, Denktaş refused to concede any ground from the position of his Turkish-mainland backers. They insisted on a bizonal, bicommunal state, with a large degree of autonomy and separation between the two communities. These talks sputtered on into 2003 without any progress.
During that year, Denktaş made the surprise announcement that he would ease border controls between the two parts of the island, thus allowing Cypriots from both sides to cross with immediate effect. This decision marked a major point in Cyprus' history and was a crucial step towards a different future for the island.
Feature: A Green Light on the Green Line
It all happened in a matter of hours. On 23 April 2003 Rauf Denktaş, then leader of the Turkish Cypriots, made the surprise announcement that the Green Line would open that day for all Cypriots to cross from 9am to midnight. The Greek Cypriot government, gobsmacked by the news, was silent. No one knew how the Cypriot people would react and what the consequences of this decision would be.
Starting with a few eager early-morning visitors, thousands of people crossed the UN Buffer Zone over the coming days. Friends and family met, and many tears were shed. Greeks and Turks visited their former homes and were welcomed by the current inhabitants. The two peoples treated each other with civility and kindness and, more than a decade after the checkpoints’ opening, no major incidents have been reported.
Many Turkish Cypriots now cross the line every day on their way to work in the southern part of the island. Serdar Denktaş, the son of Rauf and the man behind the realisation of the Green Line opening, dubbed the events 'a quiet revolution'. Many compared it to the the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, minus the dramatic knocking down of the buffer zone, an event still to take place.
Feature: Green Line Bloodshed
On 11 August 1996, a Berlin-to-Cyprus peace ride by motorcyclists from around Europe ended at the Greek Cypriot village of Deryneia. The village adjoins the Green Line that divides Northern Cyprus from the Republic of Cyprus. Among the riders that day was a young Greek Cypriot from Protaras by the name of Tasos Isaak.
During the riders’ protest at the Green Line, to show their ongoing frustration at the continuing occupation of the North by Turkish forces, a melee ensued. Clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots broke out in the UN Buffer Zone that separates the two communities.
In the chaos, Tasos Isaak was cut off from his fellow demonstrators, and surrounded by Turks. Despite the fact that he was unarmed, he was set upon and beaten to death. Isaak’s body was later recovered by UN personnel.
Three days later, after Isaak’s funeral, a crowd once more gathered at the Deryneia checkpoint, to protest against the death. Among the protesters this time was Solomos Solomou, a 26-year-old who was enraged at the death of his friend, Isaak. Despite repeated attempts to hold him back, Solomos eluded the UN peacekeepers and slipped across no-man’s land to one of the flagpoles carrying the Turkish Cypriot flag. Cigarette in mouth, he managed to climb halfway up the flagpole, before being struck by five bullets. The shots came from the nearby Turkish Cypriot guard post, and quite possibly from bushes sheltering armed soldiers. Solomos’ death was captured on video, and is replayed at the viewing points that overlook the tragic site of the Deryneia deaths.