The history of Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is among the oldest in the world. The first signs of civilization date back to the 9th millennium B.C., covering 11.000 years of history.
Cyprus strategically, is located at the crossroads of three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe). Many great powers, coming from Eastern Mediterranean, conquered Cyprus at various periods. As a result, the island has managed to assimilate various cultural influences that help Cyprus to emerge as a modern European state that keeps its own unique character.
During the ancient times, the Greek language and tradition became the dominant features within the prehistoric Cypriot society. The earliest settlement on the island goes back to Neolithic Age and ends with the Roman establishment. At the same time, Cyprus has formed its traits that led to the introduction of Christianity and the development of Byzantine traditions on the island. The western European understanding was introduced for the first time during the Frankish era in Cyprus. The economy and the trade expanded and flourished because of the arrival of merchants from Genova, Amalfi, Venice etc.
The Venetian establishment brought many changes to the island, among them the most significant one was the creation of a defensive system that aimed to protect the island from potential Ottoman attacks. The en masse building of bastions, made the island one of the most important fortresses in the Mediterranean Sea. However, having little luck on their side the island fall in Ottoman’s control. The year 1570, marked thus not only the beginning of the Ottoman establishment in Cyprus, that it lasted almost 300 years, but it marked the leaving of Christian Europeans from the island.
The Ottoman period was tensionless. The millet system, which is linked to the minorities that lived under ottoman rule, was introduced to Cyprus and to the Cyprus Church. The main advantage of this system is that it gave to the island and the Cyprus Church the opportunity to administrative their own affairs. During the same period the Christian population of the island and the island itself fall under the protection of Russia which increased her influence through the Treaty of Küçük Kainardji in 1774.
The beginning of the 19th century set in motion the rise of nationalist movements around Europe. The Greek War of Independence, waged by the Greek revolutionaries against the Ottoman establishment, had a significant impact on the island and its future political development. Cyprus, gradually, became part of the Megali Idea, which goal was to unite all Greeks including those who live in Cyprus.
The importance of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox church in the struggle for unification, represented the institution of the church as the leading figure in the struggle against the Ottoman and the new British rulers who acquired the island in 1878.
Upon the British arrival to the island, the Greek Cypriots underscored their demand for unification with Greece. The British administration granted the local population a greater degree of autonomy than previously enjoyed, in the form of a legislative council consisting of Christian Orthodox, British officials and Moslems. The Moslems and British officials balanced the Christian Orthodox, with the casting vote going to the British High Commissioner.
A guerrilla campaign for liberation and union with Greece was born in Cyprus, under the name EOKA ( National Organization of Cypriot Fighters) in 1955.
In 1960, Great Britain, Turkey and Greece agreed on a draft plan for the independence of Cyprus. In London they finalize all the arrangements that ended the British rule. However, by the end of the negotiations Britain kept various base areas, overflying rights and various rights of passage.
The final agreement gave Turkish Cypriots 30% of civil services and the right to veto.
The constitution in particular, categorized citizens as Greeks or Turks. Elected positions were filled by separate elections. Separate municipalities were established in each town and separate elections were to be held for all elected public posts. Posts filled by appointment and promotion, such as the civil service and police, were to be shared between Greeks and Turks at a ratio of 70 to 30. In the army this ratio rose to 60 to 40. The President was designated Greek and the Vice-President Turkish, each elected by their respective community. The Turkish Cypriot community also enjoyed vetoes in both the executive and legislative branches of the government. The Turkish-Vice President could block the decisions of the President whereas in the House of Representatives fiscal, municipal and electoral legislation required separate majorities.
In 1963, after the Turkish members of the House of Representatives had rejected the budget, President Makarios decided to submit to the Turkish Cypriot Vice-President for consideration, proposals for constitutional amendment. Despite the fact that his proposals aimed toward removing certain causes of friction between the two communities and of the obstacles to the smooth functioning and development of the state, the government of Ankara opposed the amendments outright, even before their consideration by the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriot leadership followed suit. In December 1963 tensions rose when police cars used by Turkish Cypriot policemen suspected of engaging in the distribution of weapons refused to submit to government inspection.
In December 1963 armed clashes broke out in Cyprus. Immediately the Turkish Cypriot leadership openly called for partition, Turkish policemen and civil servants withdrew from their posts en masse and Ankara threatened to invade. Facing a very grave threat to the Republic’s existence, the government tried to contain the revolt but could do little to prevent armed civilians of both sides from taking part in the clashes. The instances when these irregulars failed to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants tainted the conflict with sectarian violence and loss of innocent lives in both communities.
These tragic but isolated events were utilised by the Turkish Cypriot nationalist leaders in their propaganda that the two communities could not live together, in spite the fact that this leadership bore a heavy responsibility for the political situation. A large number of Turkish Cypriots withdrew into enclaves, partly as a consequence of the hostilities that had taken place but mostly due to the efforts of their nationalist leadership to enforce a de-facto partition of the island. In doing so, the Turkish Cypriot nationalist leadership had turned against members of their community who stood for co-operation between the two communities.
In April 1965 another prominent Turkish Cypriot, in charge of the Turkish section of the bi-communal trade unions, was ambushed and murdered by the TMT. This policy of murderous intimidation against supporters of intercommunal co-operation continued through the years of independence.
The pattern of establishment of the enclaves did not necessarily follow the distribution of the Turkish population. The Turks attempted with some success to occupy strategic positions such as the Kokkina enclave on the northern coast, through which military personnel and hardware were transported to the island from Turkey, as well as the medieval St Hilarion castle, commanding the road linking the capital to the coastal town of Kyrenia. The largest enclave was set up by the Turkish military contingent, which, in open violation of the Treaty of Guarantee, abandoned their camp and established themselves north of the capital, thus cutting the road between Nicosia and Kyrenia. For Turkey, these enclaves were primarily bridgeheads for facilitating the planned invasion. Indeed, when in August 1964 the government attempted to contain the Kokkina bridgehead, Turkey’s air force bombed the National Guard and neighbouring Greek villages with napalm and threatened to invade.
Turkey found the pretext to impose its partitionist plans against Cyprus following the coup of July 15, 1974, perpetrated against the elected government of President Makarios by the Athens military junta. On July 20, claiming to act under article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee, the Turkish armed forces staged a full scale invasion against Cyprus. Though the invasion was in violation of all rules of international legality, including the UN Charter, Turkey proceeded to occupy the northern part of the island and empty it from its Greek inhabitants. By the end of the following year, the majority of the Turkish Cypriots living in the areas left under the control of the Republic had also made their way to the part of Cyprus occupied by the Turkish army. Thereby, the policy adopted by Ankara twenty years earlier, of partition and forcible population expulsion, had been enforced. The human cost was immense. Thousands of Greek Cypriots were killed or maimed as a result of the actions of the invading Turkish army. Moreover, till today the fate of approximately 1500 persons is not known and they are still missing. 1493 of these cases were submitted for investigation to the Committee on Missing Persons, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations. Over 36% of the Republic of Cyprus territory, representing 70% of the economic potential came under the occupation of the Turkish military. One third of the Greek Cypriots became refugees in their own country and are to this day prevented from returning to their homes by the Turkish occupation authorities. In an effort to alter the country’s demographic structure Ankara has brought into Cyprus over 160,000 colonists from Turkish Anatolia. In view of the mass emigration of Turkish Cypriots from the occupied area the total number of Turkish troops and settlers is now greater than that of the Turkish Cypriots remaining.
The United Nations have in several resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council demanded respect for the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus, the return of refugees to their homes and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the island. All of these resolutions have been consistently ignored by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership. The basis for a solution of the Cyprus Problem has been set in two High Level Agreements. Both agreements, (between President Makarios and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr. Denktash, in February 1977 and between President Kyprianou and Mr. Denktash in May 1979), were concluded under the auspices of the UN Secretary General and provided for a solution to the problem in accordance with UN resolutions.
Though since 1977 several rounds of talks under UN auspices have taken place, they have produced no result, given that the Turkish side refuses to abide by UN resolutions. In January 1989 the government of Cyprus submitted “Outline Proposals for the Establishment of a Federal Republic and the Solution of the Cyprus Problem”, which were in accordance with the UN resolutions on Cyprus and the two High Level Agreements. Another demonstration of the government’s willingness to work toward a just solution of the issue was given by President Clerides' proposals of December 17, 1993, according to which the Republic was prepared to disband the National Guard and hand over all its weapons to the custody of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus.
In 2004 the Republic of Cyprus joins the European Union.