Cyprus΄ civilisation, according to archaeological evidence, 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 settled by the Mycenaean-Achaean Greeks between the 13th and 11th century BC. In the mid-9th century BC Phoenician settlers began to arrive, concentrating mainly in the coastal city of Kition. Subsequently, Cyprus came, in turn, under Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian domination (8th – 4th century BC). It 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 BC) and of the Greek-speaking world of Byzantium (330 AD- 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).
The Greek Cypriots mounted an anti-colonial liberation struggle against British rule from 1955 to 1959. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence and became a constitutional Republic. Greece, Turkey and Britain were to stand as guarantors of the country’s independence under the Zurich-London Agreements and Britain would retain two sovereign base areas. The military bases, one at Akrotiri/Episkopi and the other at Dhekelia, cover 2,7% of the island’s territory.
Political power was to be shared between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a 7:3 ratio. Relations between the two communities had for centuries been peaceful and amicable. However, certain provisions of the Zurich-London Agreements and the 1960 Constitution (which were effectively imposed on the people of Cyprus) were to prove conducive to domestic conflict and foreign interference. The Constitution itself emphasised differences between Greek and Turkish Cypriots thereby encouraging divisive rather than integrative tendencies between the two communities. Greek Cypriots were determined to strengthen the unity of the state but the Turkish Cypriot leadership, at the strong urging of Turkey, sought ethnic segregation and geographic separation. This led to brief intercommunal clashes during 1963 to1967 and air attacks and threats to invade by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots ceased to participate in the government, the legislature and civil service in 1964.
UN sponsored intercommunal talks to reach a settlement were held during 1968-1974. Intercommunal tensions subsided and violence virtually disappeared during this period.
A UN Peace-keeping Force (UNFICYP) for Cyprus (currently less than 1.000 military persons) was established in 1964 following the outbreak of intercommunal clashes in December 1963 and threats by Turkey to invade. Its chief task now is to supervise the buffer zone and maintain the 1974 UN ceasefire, given that more than 43.000 troops from Turkey are still occupying the northern part of the island.