According to archaeological evidence, Cyprus' history goes back 11,000 years to the 9th millennium BC (early Neolithic Period or Stone Age).
The island acquired its Greek character after it was colonized by the Mycenaean and Achaean Greeks between the 13th and 11th century BC. It subsequently came under Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian domination (8th - 4th century BC). It became part of the Roman Empire between 30 BC and 330 AD.
However, it retained its Greek identity and, as part of the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies (310-30 BC) and of the Greek-speaking world of Byzantium (330 AD-1191), its ethnic heritage was reinforced. The Greek language and culture also prevailed throughout the centuries that followed even though Cyprus came under the rule of successive colonial powers, including the Franks (Lusignans) (1192-1489), the Venetians (1489-1571), the Ottomans (1571-1878) and the British (1878-1960).
The Greek Cypriots mounted a liberation struggle against British rule from 1955 to 1959 and in 1960 Cyprus gained its independence. Greece, Turkey and Britain were to stand as guarantors of the country's independence under the Zurich-London agreements and Britain would have two sovereign base areas.
According to the 1960 Constitution, power would be shared between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a 7:3 ratio, while the Turkish Cypriots, who comprised 18% of the population of the island, were also granted veto rights.
Relations between the two communities had for centuries been peaceful and amicable. But a conflict of aims after independence led to brief intercommunal clashes in 1963, 1964 and 1967 and the withdrawal in December 1963 of the Turkish Cypriots from the administration and legislature.
Turkish Invasion and Occupation
On 15 July 1974 the ruling military junta of Greece staged a coup to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Cyprus.
On 20 July, in violation of the international codes of conduct established under treaties to which it is a signatory, Turkey invaded Cyprus, purportedly to restore constitutional order. Instead it seized 35% of the territory of Cyprus in the north - an act universally condemned as a gross infringement of international law and UN Charter.
The invasion and occupation had disastrous consequences. About 142.000 Greek Cypriots living in the north - nearly a quarter (23%) of the population - were driven from their homes and became refugees. A further 20,000 Greek Cypriots enclaved in the occupied area were gradually forced through intimidation and denial of their fundamental human rights, to abandon their homes and find refuge in the Government-controlled area. Today there are fewer than 600 enclaved people. Seventy per cent (70%) of the productive potential of the island was lost and 30% of the population became unemployed.
Some 1,500 Greek Cypriot civilians and soldiers disappeared during and after the invasion. Many were in Turkish custody and some seen in prisons in Turkey and the occupied area before their disappearance. The fate of all but a handful is still not known as Turkey is unwilling to investigate their whereabouts.
In a landmark judgment on 10 May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe found Turkey guilty of 14 violations of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the refugees, the enclaved persons and the missing.
Since the invasion at least 115,000 Turks from the mainland have been illegally settled in the occupied area. The large influx of settlers has had a dire effect on the living conditions of the Turkish Cypriots. Poverty and unemployment has forced over 55,000 to emigrate, with the result that they now make up only 11% of the native population.
On 15 November 1983 the Turkish-occupied area was unilaterally declared an "independent state". The UN Security Council, in Resolution 541, considered the declaration legally invalid and called for its withdrawal. To this day no country in the world except Turkey has recognized this illegal entity.
The United Nations has emphasized that a fair and viable settlement must envisage a single state with a single sovereignty and respect of human rights under a bicommunal and bizonal federal structure. It has, moreover, stressed the importance of demilitarization. The European Union has given its unqualified support to these positions.