According to archaeological evidence, the civilisation of Cyprus goes back 11.000 years to the 9th millennium B.C. (early Neolithic Period or Stone Age). The island acquired its Greek character after it was settled by the Mycenaean-Achaean Greeks between the 13th and 11th century B.C. In the mid- 9th century B.C. Phoenician settlers began to arrive, concentrating mainly in the coastal city of Kition. Despite being conquered by many invaders Cyprus continued to prosper. Cypriot kingdoms were ruled by a succession of foreign invaders: after the Assyrians came the Egyptians and then the Persians (8th – 4th century B.C.). King Evagoras of Salamis (who ruled from 411-374 B.C.) unified Cyprus and made the island one of the leading political and cultural centres of the Greek world. The city-kingdoms of Cyprus welcomed Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, and Cyprus became part of his empire. After the rivalries for succession between Alexander's generals, Cyprus eventually came under the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies of Egypt and from then on was part of the Greek Alexandrine world (310 - 30 B.C.). The Ptolemies abolished the city-kingdoms and unified Cyprus. Pafos became the capital.

Cyprus became part of the Roman Empire between 30 BC and 330 AD. It was then that Christianity came to Cyprus. However, it retained its Greek identity and, as part of the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies (310-30 B.C.) and of the Greek-speaking world of Byzantium (330 A.D.-1191), its ethnic heritage was kept alive. The Greek language and culture also prevailed throughout the centuries that followed, even though Cyprus came under the rule of successive foreign powers – King Richard I (the Lionheart) of England and the Knights Templar (1191-1192), the Franks (Lusignans) (1192-1489), Venetians (1489-1571), Ottoman Turks (1571-1878) and British (1878-1960).

In 1570 Ottoman troops attacked Cyprus, captured Nicosia, slaughtered twenty thousand people and laid siege to Famagusta for a year. After a brave defence by Venetian commander Marc Antonio Bragadino, Famagusta fell to Lala Mustafa Pasha, who at first allowed the besieged a peaceful exodus, but later ordered the flaying of Bragadino. On annexation to the Ottoman Empire, Lala Mustafa Pasha became the first governor. The Ottoman Turks, whose descendants together with the descendants converts from the Christian inhabitants of Cyprus form today the largest part of the Turkish Cypriot community, were to rule Cyprus until 1878. During the Ottoman period, the Muslim minority acquired a Cypriot identity. As the power of the Ottoman Turks declined, their rule became increasingly corrupt. In many instances Greek and Turkish Cypriots struggled together against oppressive of Ottoman rule.

Under the 1878 Cyprus Convention, part of the Treaty of Berlin (1878), the Ottoman Turks handed over the administration of the island to Britain in exchange for guarantees that Britain would protect the crumbling Ottoman Empire against possible Russian aggression. It remained formally part of the Ottoman Empire until the latter entered World War I on the side of Germany, and Britain annexed the island in 1914. In 1923 under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey relinquished all rights to Cyprus, which in 1925 was declared a Crown colony. Hopes for self-determination in the post-war period which in the minds of the Greek Cypriot inhabitants who made more than 80% of the population was at the time synonymous with Union with Greece, were shattered by the British, who considered the island vitally strategic, especially after the debacle of Suez in 1956. In addition Ankara was averse to having a Greek island so close to its southern border.

After all peaceful means to achieve freedom had been exhausted, a national liberation struggle was launched in 1955 against colonial rule and for union with Greece. The liberation struggle ended in 1959 with the Zurich-London agreements signed by Britain, Greece and Turkey as well as representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, leading to Cyprus' independence.

As a result of the Zurich-London agreements, Cyprus became an independent Republic on 16 August 1960. The 1960 constitution incorporated a system of entrenched community rights for Turkish Cypriots unparalleled in any other country and a heavy inefficient biocommunal structure. In November 1963, Cyprus' first president, Archbishop Makarios, put forward proposals for amendment to the constitution in order to improve the functionality of the state. Turkey and the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community outrightly rejected the proposal.

As a consequence of the ensuing standoff, the Turkish Cypriot ministers withdrew from the Council of Ministers, and Turkish Cypriot civil servants ceased attending their offices. The deadlock gave rise to intercommunal clashes and threats on the part of Turkey to invade Cyprus. The government of Cyprus appealed to the UN Security Council which confirmed the sovereignty and legality of the Republic of Cyprus and its government, sent a peace keeping force (UNFICYP) to help, inter alia, restore law and order and put in motion a process for a peaceful settlement.

Intercommunal strife subsided relatively quickly and the Cyprus government at the time made all efforts to restore the situation to normality. In 1968 the government initiated intercommunal talks with the Turkish Cypriot leadership under UN auspices for a negotiated agreement on a more functional constitutional system for Cyprus. By 1974 significant progress was achieved through the intercommunal talks but developments that summer interrupted the process, with devastating consequences for the island.

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, Turkey, invaded Cyprus, allegedly to restore constitutional order. It seized about 36.2 percent of the territory of the island in the north, an act universally condemned as a gross infringement of international law and the UN Charter.

President Makarios reviews the damage to the Presidential Palace as a result of the 1974 military coup by the junta of Greece. The invasion and occupation had disastrous consequences. More than 160,000 Greek Cypriots living in the north, nearly one third of the population of Cyprus at that time, were forcibly expelled from the occupied northern part of the island where they constituted 80 percent of the population. These people are still prevented by Turkish military presence from returning to their homes and properties. A further 20, 000 persons, the majority of which Greek Cypriots enclaved in the occupied areas were gradually, through intimidation and denial of their basic human rights, forced to abandon their homes. According to the latest report of the Secretary General to the Security Council there are only around 384 Greek Cypriots and 142 Maronites enclaved persons.

The invasion had a disastrous effect both on the purely human as well as the economic level. The economy was practically destroyed, as a result of the invasion and there were thousands of people killed or missing. In the aftermath of the invasion Turkey promoted demographic changes in the occupied territory through the import Anatolian settlers. The large influx of settlers has also negatively affected the living conditions of the Turkish Cypriots, forcing over fifty-five thousand to emigrate.

Seeking a negotiated solution
Successive rounds of UN-sponsored talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities since 1974 to resolve the Cyprus problem and reunite the country have been so far fruitless largely due to Turkey's intransigent positions.

The government of Cyprus remains committed to the Secretary-General's mission of good offices and to a sustained process that will facilitate a comprehensive settlement.

Despite the persistence of the de facto division of the island with disastrous consequences for the whole of the population whatever their ethnic origin, Cyprus is standing firm, is a modern, democratic and forward looking society being proactive and creative as a member of the EU, moving ahead for the benefit of all Cypriots themselves and of the European family as a whole.

© 2006 - 2017 Republic of Cyprus, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
High Commission of the Republic of Cyprus in Canberra

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