Prehistoric and Ancient Cyprus
The oldest known site of human activity on Cyprus is Aetokremnos, located on the island’s south coast, showing that hunter-gatherers were active on the island about 10,000 BC, with established village populations going back to 8200 BC. The extinction of dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants coincides with the advent of the first humans. Archaeologists found water wells in western Cyprus that are thought to be among the oldest in the world, dating from 9,000 to 10,500 years old.
At a different Neolithic site in Cyprus, the remains of an 8-month-old cat were found buried alongside a human corpse. The tomb is believed to be 9,500 years old (7500 BC), predating ancient Egyptian civilization and considerably postponing the first documented feline-human connection. Khirokitia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dated from about 6800 BC, is a remarkably well-preserved Neolithic town.
During the late Bronze Age, the island was settled by two waves of Greeks. The first wave was made up of Mycenaean Greek merchants who arrived in Cyprus about 1400 BC. Following the Bronze Age fall of Mycenaean Greece around 1100 to 1050 BC, a significant wave of Greek colonization is thought to have occurred, with the island’s mainly Greek character originating from this time. Cyprus is significant in Greek mythology as the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis, as well as the residence of King Cinyras, Teucer, and Pygmalion. Beginning in the eighth century BC, Phoenician settlements were established on Cyprus’s south coast, near present-day Larnaca and Salamis.
Cyprus is strategically located in the Middle East. It was controlled for a century by Assyria beginning in 708 BC, followed by a short period under Egyptian authority and, finally, Persian rule in 545 BC. The Cypriots, commanded by King Onesilus of Salamis, joined their fellow Greeks in the Ionian towns during the failed Ionian Revolt against the Achaemenid Empire in 499 BC. The rebellion was put down, but Cyprus was able to retain a high level of autonomy while being oriented toward the Greek world.
Alexander the Great captured the island in 333 BC. Following his death and the following partition of his kingdom and battles among his successors, Cyprus became a member of Ptolemaic Egypt’s Hellenistic empire. During this time, the island was completely Hellenized. Cyprus was taken over by the Roman Republic in 58 BC.
When the Roman Empire was split into Eastern and Western sections in 395, Cyprus became part of the East Roman, or Byzantine Empire, and remained so for the next 800 years, until the Crusades. Under Byzantine control, the Greek orientation that had been prevalent since antiquity evolved into the strong Hellenistic-Christian character that is still a characteristic of the Greek Cypriot population today.
Beginning in 649, Cyprus was subjected to catastrophic invasions by Muslim troops from the Levant, which lasted for 300 years. Many were short piratical assaults, while others were large-scale operations in which many Cypriots were killed and vast sums of money were taken or destroyed.
There are no Byzantine churches from this era that have survived; thousands of people were murdered, and numerous towns, like Salamis, were destroyed and never rebuilt. Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas won significant victories on land and water in 965, restoring Byzantine control.
During the Third Crusade, Richard I of England took the island from Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus in 1191. He utilized it as a key supply depot that was largely secure from Saracen attack. A year later, Richard ceded the island to the Knights Templar, who sold it to Guy of Lusignan after a violent rebellion. Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, recognized his brother and successor Amalric as King of Cyprus.
Following the death of the last Lusignan monarch, James II, in 1473, the Republic of Venice took control of the island, with the late king’s Venetian widow, Queen Catherine Cornaro, reigning as figurehead. Following Catherine’s resignation, Venice officially conquered the Kingdom of Cyprus in 1489. The Venetians fortified Nicosia and exploited it as an important trade center by constructing the Venetian Walls. Throughout Venetian control, the Ottoman Empire invaded Cyprus on a regular basis. Fearing for their lives after the Ottomans devastated Limassol in 1539, the Venetians fortified Famagusta and Kyrenia.
There were two civilizations in Cyprus throughout the almost four centuries of Latin rule. The first included Frankish nobility and their entourages, as well as Italian merchants and their families. The second group, which made up the bulk of the population, was made up of Greek Cypriots, serfs, and workers. Despite a concerted attempt to replace local customs and culture, the endeavor failed.
Cyprus under the Ottoman Empire
Despite strong opposition from the residents of Nicosia and Famagusta, a full-scale Ottoman invasion with 60,000 soldiers placed the island under Ottoman control in 1570. When Ottoman troops conquered Cyprus, they murdered numerous Greek and Armenian Christian residents. The old Latin aristocracy were eliminated, and the emergence of a Muslim population resulted in the first major demographic shift since antiquity. Soldiers from the conquest lived on the island, while Turkish peasants and artisans were recruited from Anatolia. This new society also comprised exiled Anatolian tribes, “unwanted” people, and members of different “troublesome” Muslim sects, as well as a number of fresh converts to Islam on the island.
The Ottomans destroyed the old feudal system and implemented the millet system, under which non-Muslim peoples were ruled by their own religious authority. In a departure from Latin authority, the head of the Church of Cyprus was invested as the leader of the Greek Cypriot people and served as a mediator between Christian Greek Cypriots and Ottoman authorities. This status meant that the Church of Cyprus could put a stop to the Roman Catholic Church’s continuous encroachments. The Ottoman control of Cyprus was indifferent at times, harsh at others, depending on the temperaments of the sultans and local authorities, and the island started a 250-year economic slide.
Throughout Ottoman rule, the proportion of Muslims to Christians varied. In 1777–78, 47,000 Muslims outnumbered 37,000 Christians on the island. By 1872, the island’s population had grown to 144,000, with 44,000 Muslims and 100,000 Christians. The Muslim population contained many crypto-Christians, notably the Linobambaki, a crypto-Catholic group that emerged as a result of Ottoman authorities’ religious persecution of the Catholic community; this community would integrate into the Turkish Cypriot community under British administration.
Several Greek Cypriots fled for Greece to join the Greek troops as soon as the Greek War of Independence began in 1821. In retaliation, the Ottoman ruler of Cyprus imprisoned and killed 486 important Greek Cypriots, including Kyprianos, the Archbishop of Cyprus, and four other bishops. In 1828, Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first president of modern Greece, advocated for the unification of Cyprus with Greece, sparking a series of small uprisings. In response to Ottoman misrule, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots staged uprisings, although none were successful. After centuries of neglect at the hands of the Turks, the unrelenting poverty of the majority of the population, and the ever-present tax collectors fueled Greek nationalism, and by the twentieth century, the idea of enosis, or union, with newly independent Greece was firmly rooted among Greek Cypriots.
Cyprus under the British Empire
Following the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) and the Berlin Congress, Cyprus was leased to the British Empire, which de facto took over administration in 1878 (though, in terms of sovereignty, Cyprus remained a de jure Ottoman territory until 5 November 1914, along with Egypt and Sudan), in exchange for guarantees that Britain would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire.
The island would serve as a vital military station for Britain’s imperial routes. By 1906, when the Famagusta harbour was finished, Cyprus had become a key naval station overlooking the Suez Canal, the vital primary route to India, which was Britain’s most important foreign asset at the time. Following the beginning of the First World War and the Ottoman Empire’s decision to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers, the British Empire officially seized Cyprus on 5 November 1914 and proclaimed the Ottoman Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan a Sultanate and British protectorate.
Britain offered Cyprus to Constantine I of Greece in 1915 on the condition that Greece join the British side in the war, which he refused. The fledgling Turkish republic renounced all claim to Cyprus at the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, and it was proclaimed a British crown territory in 1925. During both world wars, many Greek and Turkish Cypriots served in the British Army. Many people joined in the Cyprus Regiment during WWII.
Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot populace had grown optimistic that the British rule would result in enosis. The concept of enosis was historically part of the Megali Idea, a larger political ambition of a Greek state encompassing territories with Greek inhabitants in the former Ottoman Empire, including Cyprus and Asia Minor, with a capital in Constantinople, and was actively pursued by the Cypriot Orthodox Church, whose members were educated in Greece. These religious leaders, together with Greek military commanders and professionals, some of whom remained committed to the Megali Idea, would eventually form the guerrilla organization Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, or National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA). The Greek Cypriots saw the island as historically Greek and saw unification with Greece as a natural right. The pursuit of enosis became a component of Greek national strategy in the 1950s.
Turkish Cypriots initially supported the continuance of British administration. They were concerned, however, by Greek Cypriot demands for enosis since they viewed the union of Crete with Greece, which resulted in the flight of Cretan Turks, as a precedent to be avoided, and they adopted a pro-partition position in reaction to EOKA’s violent activities. Turkish Cypriots, like Greek Cypriots, saw themselves as a different ethnic group on the island and felt they had a separate right to self-determination from Greek Cypriots. Meanwhile, in the 1950s, Turkish leader Menderes saw Cyprus as a “extension of Anatolia,” opposed ethnic partitioning of the island, and advocated for Turkey’s annexation of the whole island. Nationalistic slogans centered on the notion that “Cyprus is Turkish,” and the governing party proclaimed Cyprus to be a crucial component of the Turkish motherland. When it became clear that the Turkish Cypriot population represented just 20% of the islands, annexation became impossible, and the national strategy was altered to favor division. Starting in the late 1950s and continuing until the 1960s, the phrase “Partition or Death” was often used in Turkish Cypriot and Turkish demonstrations. Although Turkey appeared to accept the existence of the Cypriot state and to distance itself from its policy of favoring island partition after the Zürich and London conferences, the goal of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders remained the establishment of an independent Turkish state in the northern part of the island.
In January 1950, the Church of Cyprus held a referendum under the supervision of clerics and with no Turkish Cypriot involvement, in which 96 percent of the participating Greek Cypriots voted in favor of enosis. At the time, Greeks made up 80.2 percent of the entire island’s population (census 1946). The British government offered limited autonomy under a constitution, but it was ultimately rejected. The EOKA organization was established in 1955 with the goal of achieving unification with Greece via military action. At the same time, the Turkish Cypriots formed the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT) as a counterbalance, pushing for Taksim, or division. The British had also adopted a “divide and rule” strategy at the time. Woodhouse, a British officer in Cyprus, stated that at the time, British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan “urged the Britons in Cyprus to incite the Turks in order to neutralize Greek unrest.” T.M.T., a Turkish underground organization, was also allowed by British authorities. In a letter dated 15 July 1958, the Secretary of State for the Colonies urged the Governor of Cyprus not to move against T.M.T despite its unlawful activities in order not to jeopardize British relations with the Turkish government.
Independence and inter-communal violence
Cyprus gained independence on August 16, 1960, as a result of the Zürich and London Agreement signed by the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey. Cyprus had a total population of 573,566 people, of whom 442,138 (77.1%) were Greeks, 104,320 (18.2%) Turks, and 27,108 (4.7%) others. The United Kingdom retained control of the two Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, while government posts and public offices were allocated based on ethnic quotas, giving the minority Turkish Cypriots a permanent veto, 30 percent representation in parliament and administration, and granting the three mother-states guarantor rights.
However, the constitutionally mandated split of power quickly resulted in legal impasses and dissatisfaction on both sides, and nationalist extremists resumed training with the military backing of Greece and Turkey, respectively. The Greek Cypriot leadership believed that the rights granted to Turkish Cypriots under the 1960 constitution were overly broad and devised the Akritas plan, which aimed to reform the constitution in favor of Greek Cypriots, persuade the international community of the correctness of the changes, and violently subjugate Turkish Cypriots in a matter of days if they did not accept the plan. Tensions rose when Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III sought for constitutional reforms, which Turkey rejected and Turkish Cypriots opposed.
Intercommunal rioting occurred on December 21, 1963, when two Turkish Cypriots were murdered by Greek Cypriot police. The violence killed 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots, destroyed 109 Turkish Cypriot or mixed communities, and displaced 25,000–30,000 Turkish Cypriots. The crisis ended in the termination of Turkish Cypriot participation in the government, as well as their assertion that it had lost legitimacy; the nature of this event is still debatable. In certain places, Greek Cypriots stopped Turkish Cypriots from traveling or accessing government facilities, while some Turkish Cypriots left voluntarily in response to Turkish Cypriot administration requests. Turkish Cypriots began to live in enclaves; Makarios unilaterally altered the republic’s organization; and Nicosia was separated by the Green Line, with the deployment of UNFICYP soldiers.
In reaction to the ongoing intercommunal violence among Cypriots, Turkey attempted to invade Cyprus in 1964. On 5 June, however, Turkey was halted by a strongly worded telegraph from US President Lyndon B. Johnson, who warned that the US would not stand by Turkey in the event of a subsequent Soviet assault on Turkish territory. Meanwhile, by 1964, enosis had become an unavoidable Greek policy; Makarios and Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou agreed that enosis should be the ultimate goal, and King Constantine wished Cyprus “a rapid union with the mother nation.” Greece has sent 10,000 soldiers to Cyprus in preparation for a potential Turkish invasion.
1974 coup, Turkish invasion and division
On 15 July 1974, the Greek military junta led by Dimitrios Ioannides staged a coup in Cyprus in order to unify the island with Greece. The coup deposed President Makarios III, who was succeeded by pro-enosis nationalist Nikos Sampson. In reaction to the coup, the Turkish army invaded the island five days later, on July 20, 1974, claiming a right to intervene to restore constitutional order under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. The United Nations and the international community have rejected this explanation.
Turkish aircraft began bombing Greek positions in Cyprus, and hundreds of paratroopers were dropped in the area between Nicosia and Kyrenia, where well-armed Turkish Cypriot enclaves had long existed; while Turkish troop ships landed 6,000 men, as well as tanks, trucks, and armoured vehicles, off the coast of Kyrenia.
Three days later, after a cease-fire was agreed upon, Turkey deployed 30,000 soldiers on the island and seized Kyrenia, the corridor connecting Kyrenia to Nicosia, and the Turkish Cypriot part of Nicosia itself. The junta in Athens, followed by the Sampson government in Cyprus, were deposed. Glafkos Clerides seized the president in Nicosia, restoring constitutional order and eliminating the excuse for the Turkish invasion. However, after the peace talks in Geneva, the Turkish authorities strengthened its Kyrenia bridgehead and launched a second invasion on August 14. Morphou, Karpass, Famagusta, and the Mesaoria were captured as a consequence of the invasion.
International pressure resulted in a truce, but by then, the Turks had taken over 37 percent of the island, and 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been expelled from their homes in the north. At the same period, about 50,000 Turkish Cypriots migrated to regions under Turkish Forces control and lived in the properties of the displaced Greek Cypriots. Among other penalties imposed on Turkey, the US Congress placed an arms embargo on Turkey in mid-1975 for utilizing American-supplied weapons during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. As a consequence of the conflict, 1,534 Greek Cypriots and 502 Turkish Cypriots have gone missing.
Turkish soldiers remained in Cyprus after the restoration of constitutional order and the return of Archbishop Makarios III in December 1974, occupying the northeastern part of the island. The Turkish Cypriot leader declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983, which is solely recognized by Turkey.
The events of the summer of 1974 continue to dominate island politics as well as Greek-Turkish relations. Around 150,000 Turkish immigrants are said to be residing in the north, many of whom were forcibly removed from Turkey by the Turkish government, in violation of the Geneva Convention and numerous UN resolutions.
The Turkish invasion, occupation, and proclamation of independence of the TRNC have all been denounced by UN resolutions, which are repeated every year by the Security Council. The Annan Plan, proposed by then-Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004, was the most recent significant attempt to resolve the Cyprus conflict. Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus both held referendums on the proposal. 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the proposal, but 74 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against it, saying that it favored the Turkish side disproportionately. The Annan Plan V was rejected by 66.7 percent of voters. Cyprus, together with nine other nations, entered the European Union on May 1, 2004. Cyprus was admitted to the EU as a whole, but EU law remains blocked in Northern Cyprus until the Cyprus issue is resolved. Due to the war between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2006, the island acted as a safe haven for refugees leaving Lebanon (also called “The July War”).
Efforts have been made to improve movement between the two sides. Northern Cyprus unilaterally relaxed border controls in April 2003, allowing Cypriots to travel between the two sides for the first time in 30 years. A wall that had existed for decades along the border between the Republic of Cyprus and the UN buffer zone was dismantled in March 2008. The wall, which ran through the center of Nicosia, was regarded as a powerful reminder of the island’s 32-year split. Ledra Street reopened on April 3, 2008, in the presence of Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities. On May 15, 2015, the North and South resumed reunification negotiations.