Cyprus Table of Contents

THE REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS was established in 1960, after the former colony gained independence from Britain. Since 1974, however, a de facto division of the island has existed, with the Greek Cypriot community controlling 63 percent of the territory, and the Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkish army units, 37 percent. The scene of constant anticolonial and intercommunal strife since the mid-1950s, Cyprus assumed an importance out of proportion to its size and population because of its strategic location and its impact on the national interests of other nations. The island's location in the eastern Mediterranean Sea has made it easily accessible from Europe, Asia, and Africa since the earliest days of ships. Its timber and mineral resources made it important as a source of trade goods in the ancient world, but attracted conquerors, pirates, and adventurers in addition to merchants and settlers. About the middle of the second millennium B.C. Cyprus was subjected to foreign domination for the first time, and from then until 1960, almost without interruption, outside powers controlled the island and its people.

Christianity was introduced early in the Christian Era, when Cyprus was under Roman rule, by the apostles Paul, Mark, and Barnabas. The martyrdom of Barnabas and the later discovery of his tomb are particularly important events in the history of the Church of Cyprus and were instrumental in its becoming autocephalous rather than remaining subordinate to the patriarchate of Antioch. After doctrinal controversies split Christianity between East and West, the church survived 400 years of attempts by Roman Catholic rulers to force recognition of the authority of the pope in Rome. After Cyprus's conquest by Ottoman Turks in the sixteenth century, the sees of the Orthodox bishops were reestablished, according to the Ottoman practice of governing through a millet (a community distinguished by religion) system. Provided a millet met the empire's demands, its leaders enjoyed a degree of autonomy. The head of the Greek Cypriot millet, the archbishop, was therefore both a religious and a secular leader, and it was entirely consistent with historical tradition that, in the anticolonial struggle of the mid-1950s, Archbishop Makarios III emerged as the leader of the Greek Cypriots and was subsequently elected president of the new republic.

After Greece had won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, the idea of enosis (union with Greece) took hold among ethnic Greeks living in the Ionian and Aegean islands, Crete, Cyprus, and areas of Anatolia. Britain ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece in 1864, and after control of Cyprus passed from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire in 1878, Greek Cypriots saw the ceding of the Ionian islands as a precedent for enosis for themselves. Under British rule, agitation for enosis varied with time. After World War II, in the era of the breakup of colonial empires, the movement gained strength, and Greek Cypriots spurned British liberalization efforts. In the mid-1950s, when anticolonial guerrilla activities began, Turkish Cypriots--who until that time had only rarely expressed opposition to enosis--began to agitate for taksim, or partition, and Greece and Turkey began actively to support their respective ethnic groups on the island.

After four years of guerrilla revolt by Greek Cypriots against the British, a compromise settlement was reached, in Zurich between Greece and Turkey and in London among representatives of Greece, Turkey, and Britain and the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. As a result of this settlement, Cyprus became an independent republic. Independence was marked on August 16, 1960. In separate communal elections Makarios became president, and Fazil Küçük, leader of the Turkish Cypriots, became vice president. In the early 1960s, political arguments over constitutional interpretation continually deadlocked the government. Greek Cypriots insisted on revision of the constitution and majority rule. Turkish Cypriots argued for strict constructionism, local autonomy, and the principle of minority veto. The result was stalemate. Intercommunal violence broke out in December 1963, and resulted in the segregation of the two ethnic communities and establishment of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Even with United Nations (UN) troops as a buffer, however, intermittent conflict continued and brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war in 1964 and 1967.

The irony of the divided Cyprus that has existed since 1974 is that the stage was set for Turkish intervention by the Greek government in Athens. The military junta that controlled Greece came to view Archbishop Makarios as an obstacle to settlement of the Cyprus problem and establishment of better relations between Athens and Ankara. A successful coup was engineered in Cyprus in July 1974, Makarios was ousted, and a puppet president installed. Turkey, as one of the guarantor powers according to the agreements that led to Cypriot independence, sent troops into Cyprus to restore order. Britain, as another guarantor power, refused to participate. Meanwhile, in Greece the junta had collapsed, and a new government was being established. After a short cease-fire and a few days of hurried negotiations, the Turkish government reinforced its troops and ordered them to secure the northern part of the island.

Turkish forces seized 37 percent of the island and effected a de facto partition that was still in existence at the beginning of the 1990s. Turkish Cypriots declared the establishment of their own state in 1983, but as of 1990 only Turkey had recognized the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Although more populous and considerably richer, and enjoying international recognition, the Republic of Cyprus had not been able to regain its lost territory. Increased military expenditures could not offset the considerable Turkish military presence on the island. Years of laborious negotiations at numerous venues had also achieved little toward ending the island's tragic division.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress