Cyprus: History


Excavations have proved the existence of a Neolithic culture on Cyprus in the period from 6000 b.c. to 3000 b.c.; the earliest known settlement dates to the 10th millennium b.c. Contact with the Middle East and, after 1500 b.c., with Greece greatly influenced Cypriot civilization. Phoenicians settled on the island c.800 b.c. Cyprus subsequently fell under Assyrian, Egyptian, and Persian rule. Alexander the Great conquered it in 333 b.c., after which the island again became an Egyptian dependency until its annexation by Rome in 58 b.c. Ancient Cyprus was a center of the cult of Aphrodite.

After a.d. 395, Cyprus was ruled by the Byzantines until 1191, when Richard I of England conquered it. In 1192, Richard bestowed the island on Guy of Lusignan. In 1489, Cyprus was annexed by Venice. The Turks conquered it in 1571. At the Congress of Berlin (1878) the Ottoman Empire placed Cyprus under British administration, and in 1914, Britain annexed it outright.

Under British rule the movement among the Greek Cypriot population for union (enosis) with Greece was a constant source of tension. In 1955 a Greek Cypriot organization (EOKA), led by Col. George Grivas, launched a campaign of widespread terrorism. Tension and terror mounted, especially after British authorities deported (1956) Makarios III, the spokesman for the Greek Cypriot nationalists. The conflict was aggravated by Turkish support of Turkish Cypriot demands for partition of the island. Negotiations (1955) among Britain, Greece, and Turkey on the status of Cyprus broke down completely. Finally in 1959, a settlement was reached, providing for Cypriot independence in 1960 and for the terms of the constitution. Treaties precluded both enosis and partition. Makarios was elected president in 1959 and reelected in 1968 and 1973.

In 1961, Cyprus joined the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. Large-scale fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots erupted several times in the 1960s, and a UN peacekeeping force was sent in 1965. In Mar., 1970, there was an attempt on Makarios's life by radical Greek Cypriots. The government was also fearful of a possible coup led by Grivas, who favored enosis. Turkish Cypriots demanded official recognition of their organization (which exercised de facto political control in the 30 Turkish enclaves) and the stationing of Turkish troops on the island to offset the influence of the Cypriot national guard, which was dominated by officers from Greece. Greek Cypriots interpreted the proposal as amounting to partition. Acts of violence against the government increased and were met in 1973 by an effort to suppress the guerrillas by the national police force (which had been created by Makarios to counter the national guard). Grivas died in Jan., 1974, and although EOKA was split between hard-liners and moderates, it continued to be dominated by Greek officers.

On July 15, 1974, following a large-scale national police assault on EOKA, the Makarios government was overthrown by the national guard. Nikos Sampson, a Greek Cypriot newspaper publisher, acceded to the presidency and Makarios fled the country. Both Greece and Turkey mobilized their armed forces. Citing its obligation to protect the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey invaded (July 20) N Cyprus, occupied over 30% of the island, and displaced about 200,000 Greek Cypriots. The invasion precipitated the fall of the military regime in Athens and also resulted in the resignation of Sampson. He was replaced by Glafkos Clerides, the conservative Greek Cypriot president of the house of representatives.

A UN-sponsored cease-fire was arranged on July 22, and Turkey was permitted to retain military forces in the areas it had captured. Makarios was returned to office in Dec., 1974. In 1975 the island was partitioned into Greek and Turkish territories separated by a UN-occupied buffer zone. Makarios remained president until his death in 1977 and was succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou (1977–88). In 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared themselves independent from the Cypriot state; the resulting Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with Rauf Denktash as president, was recognized only by Turkey. Negotiations to end the division of the country continued intermittently and inconclusively in the subsequent decades.

George Vassiliou, a leftist, defeated Clerides in the presidential elections of 1988, but Clerides was elected president in 1993 and again in 1998. By the late 1990s it was estimated that over half the population of Turkish Cyprus consisted of recent settlers from Turkey. In 1998, Cyprus began membership talks with the European Union (EU), a move that was bitterly opposed by Turkish Cypriots, and Turkey insisted on a political settlement for the island prior to its joining the EU. Denktash was elected to his fourth term as president in 2000, but Clerides lost his bid for a third consecutive term in 2003, losing to Tassos Papadopoulos of the Democratic party.

In Apr., 2003, long-standing Turkish Cypriot restrictions on cross-border travel were eased, and the Greek south ended a ban on trade with the north. The United Nations sponsored renewed negotiations to reunify the island, and an accord establishing a federation was reached in 2004, but failed to win approval in a referendum in April. Although Turkish Cypriot voters approved the accord, the Greek population rejected it. Turkish approval of the accord, however, did result in many nations, including S Cyprus, ending or reducing the economic embargo the north had been under since the Turkish invasion.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but the north was excluded due to the failure of the referendum in the south. The Turkish Cypriot government subsequently fell, but elections (Feb., 2005) returned the government to power. In April, Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was elected to succeed Denktash as Turkish Cypriot president. Cyprus adopted the euro in Jan., 2008. In Feb., 2008, Demetris Christofias, the AKEL (Communist) party candidate, was elected president of Cyprus after a runoff; Papadopoulos was eliminated in the first round. Subsequently, Greek and Turkish Cypriots agreed to restart reunification talks, which began in Sept., 2008. Slow progress, however, led to popular dissatisfaction in the north, and in 2010 the nationalist candidate, Derviş Eroğlu, defeated Talat to win the Turkish Cypriot presidency. In subsequent years, reunification talks sometimes experienced prolonged interruptions.

In June, 2012, the government of Cyprus announced plans to seek loans from the eurozone bailout funds because of the country's exposure to the Greek economy, but a rescue plan, involving some €10 billion in aid, was not agreed on until Mar., 2013. Under that plan large depositors at Cyprus's two largest banks had significant losses, and the government imposed controls on currency transfers that were not lifted until 2015. The Feb., 2013, presidential election in Cyprus was won by Nikos Anastasiades of the conservative Democratic Rally.

The European Court of Human Rights in May, 2014, ordered Turkey to pay Cyprus €90 million as compensation for the effects of the Turkish invasion in 1974; the case had been brought by Cyprus in 1994 and had been decided in the country's favor in 2001. Turkey, however, said it would not make the payment. Mustafa Akıncı defeated Eroğlu to win the Turkish Cypriot presidency in Apr., 2015; Akıncı had promised to work toward reunification with greater urgency. Subsequently, unification talks resumed on a recurring basis, but a number of issues remained stumbling blocks. Anastasiades won a second term in Feb., 2018. In Oct., 2020, Akıncı lost his bid for a second term as Turkish Cypriot president to Ersin Tatar, a conservative Turkish nationalist opposed to reunification.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Cyprus Political Geography