The History of Cyprus

LEARN Tuesday, 03 February, 2015

The History of Cyprus

Periods of History : Neolithic Period II / Chalcolithic Period / Aphrodite / Early Bronze Age / Middle Bronze Age / Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age / Archaic Period / Classical Period / Hellenistic Period / Roman Period / Byzantine Period / Frankish Period / Turkish Occupation / British Period / Ethnic Consciousness of the Cypriots

The turbulent history of the island can be traced back over 8000 years. Like many Mediterranean islands, Cyprus has long been seen as an important strategic base and has suffered a variety of occupations. The Athenians, the Persians, the Egyptians, Alexander the Great and the Romans were the most important invaders during the ancient period. After the partition of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD, the island became part of the Eastern Byzantine Empire. It was subsequently a temporary casualty of the Arab invasions between 648 and 746. During the Third Crusade, Richard I of England conquered Cyprus and installed Guy of Lusignan (previously King of Jerusalem), whose house ruled until the island passed to the control of Venice in 1489. From 1571, the Ottoman Turks ruled Cyprus for over three centuries, before ceding it to Britain in 1878. Independence was achieved in August 1960, after a four-year military struggle between the UK and the guerrillas of EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) who sought 'enosis' (union with Greece), which was anathema to the Turkish community.

The political leader of the liberation movement, Archbishop Makarios - who was also head of the island's Greek Orthodox Church - returned from exile and was elected President in December 1959. The island's new constitution was an elaborate compromise between the British and the rival Greek and Turkish communities, between whom considerable distrust remained. As part of the deal, the British retained two large tracts of land for military purposes, known as 'Sovereign Base Areas' and accounting for 5 percent of the island's total area. It fell apart in July 1974, when Makarios was deposed by a military coup (allegedly backed by the military regime then in power in Greece). Within days, Turkish troops arrived on the northern coast of Cyprus, having been 'invited' by the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, to intervene in order to protect the Turkish community on the island. The Greeks failed to respond effectively, not least because of the simultaneous collapse of the military junta in Athens, besides which the Greek-Cypriot-controlled National Guard was insufficiently equipped to combat a fully mobilised army. After the Turkish army had taken control of the northern third of the island, a ceasefire was arranged under UN auspices. The island has remained partitioned ever since and UN peacekeeping forces maintain a truce between the two sides.

In November 1983, the Turkish part of the island proclaimed itself the Kuzey Kibris Turk Cumhuriyeti ('Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus', TRNC). However, formal recognition of the self-styled country only has been granted by Turkey and various other statelets (for example, the Azeri enclave of Nakhichevan). For the vast majority of the international community, the legitimate government of Republic of Cyprus (Kiprikai Demokratika) is the Greek-Cypriot administration in Nicosia. Until February 2003, this had been led for a decade by President Glafkos Clerides. That month, he was deposed at the most recent presidential election by Tassos Papadopoulos, the candidate of the centre-right Komma Dimokratika (Democratic Party). The present government is a coalition of DIKO, AKEL - the Communist Party which has long been the single largest force in Greek-Cypriot politics - and the smaller KISOS party.

The principal issue for the Greek-Cypriot government remains the same; how to normalise relations with the 'TRNC' and reunify the island. Numerous diplomatic initiatives have ended in failure. The main sticking points are: the balance and concentration of power within any unified government; Turkish troop concentrations in the north; and the return of property relinquished by Greek refugees and since occupied by Turkish settlers. The 'TRNC' was run by Rauf Denktash, who had been the dominant political figure in the enclave for almost thirty years. At the last presidential elections, in April 1995, Mehmet Ali Talat was appointed as the new head of government.

President Papadopoulos oversaw the Republic of Cyprus' entry, along with nine others, into the European Union in May 2004 despite the absence of a political settlement between the two parts of the island. (This had previously been a precondition of Cypriot entry). The most recent plan, proposed by the UN, has been rejected by both sides as well as the Turkish government. But more limited measures, notably relaxation of travel and trade restrictions, have recently brought about something of a thaw between the two governments on the island. EU membership, along with the growing economic disparity between the two parts of the island and, on the Turkish side, the impending end of Denktash era should improve prospects for a final resolution of the partition of Cyprus.


The 1960 constitution, which allowed for a population-determined sharing of power between the Turkish and Greek communities, officially remains in force. However, in practice, the state organs that it established are duplicated in the two zones. Thus executive power in the Republic of Cyprus is vested in a President, elected every five years. He is assisted by a Council of Ministers. A 56-seat parliament (Vouli Antiprosopon) is also elected by universal adult suffrage every five years. A similar system also operates in the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus'. The legislative assembly (Temsilciler Mecsili) has 50 members elected by proportional representation to serve a five-year term. The executive President is also elected for a five-year term.