The Turkish Occupation

LEARN Monday, 21 September, 2015

The Turkish Occupation

The Turkish occupation, apart from adding one more possession to the Ottoman Empire, detached Cyprus from the direct influence, cultural and economic, of the West and brought it directly under the influence of Ottoman despotism.

The heavy taxes and the abuses against the population on the part of the Turkish conquerors in the early years after the Turkish occupation gave rise to opposition, following which the Sultan, by order addressed to the Governor, the 'Kadi' and the Treasurer, prohibited the oppression of his subjects and commanded the officers to govern with justice. While the Sultan's orders indicated his goodwill towards the local population, the Turkish local administration proved indifferent, arbitrary and often corrupt, taking no measures whatsoever for the benefit of the people and the situation was aggravated by the heavy of taxes. Those collecting the taxes were trying by all means to extract as much money as they could by exploiting the local population.

Following the Turkish conquest, many Greek Cypriots and Latins converted to Islam, in order to escape heavy taxation and compulsory recruiting of their children for the army.

Many Greek Cypriots who had been converted to Islam remained actually Christians in secret. They were normally called 'linobambaki'. According to a view expressed for the first time in 1863 AD, and then adopted in the following years, this word was taken metaphorically from a cloth woven with linen and cotton and which had two different sides corresponding thus to the two aspects of their faith! The 'linobambaki' turned up during daytime as Moslems, and in the evenings they appeared as Christians, keeping to the Christian religion, its customs and its habits.

The inhabitants of Cyprus, disappointed at the mismanagement of the home affairs by the Ottoman governors, soon turned to Europe in search for help for liberation. Very characteristic is the appeal by Archbishop of Cyprus Timotheos to the King of Spain Philip II for liberation of the island, in which, among other things, the following is stated: "There have recently been repeated cases of abuse on the part of the organs of the conqueror; in a greedy manner they attempt to confiscate and seize the property of the inhabitants; Christian houses are broken into and domiciles violated, and all sorts of dishonest acts against wives and daughters are committed. Twice until now churches and monasteries have been plundered, multiple and heavy taxes have been imposed whose collection is pursued by systematic persecutions, threats and tortures, which lead many persons to the ranks of Islam, while at the same time the male children of Cypriot families are seized (in order to form the brigades of 'Jannissaries'). This most hard practice is the worst of the sufferings to which the people of Cyprus is subjected by the Turkish administration.

Between 1572 and 1668 AD about 28 bloody uprisings took place on the island and in many of these both Greeks and Turks (poor Turks were also exploited by the ruling class) took part. But all of them ended in failure.

About 1660 AD, in order to eliminate the greed of the Ottoman administration and stop the oppression and injustice against the 'rayahs' (sheep for milking), the Sultan recognised the Archbishop and the Bishops as "the protectors of people" and the representatives of the Sultan. In 1670 AD, Cyprus ceased to be a 'pasaliki' for the Ottoman Empire and came under the jurisdiction of the Admiral of the Ottoman fleet. In his turn, the Admiral used to send an officer to govern in his place.

In 1703 AD Cyprus comes under the jurisdiction of the Grand Vizier (something of a Prime Minister) who sent to the island a military and civil administrator. The title and function of this officer were awarded to the person who paid the highest amount of money in exchange. As a result, heavier taxation was imposed and the Cypriots became the subject of harder exploitation. About 1760 AD the situation in Cyprus was intolerable. A terrible epidemic of plague, bad crops and earthquakes, drove many Cypriots to emigrate. In addition, something worse befell on the Greeks and Turks of the Island: The newly appointed Pasha, doubled the taxes in 1764 AD. In the end, Chil Osman and 18 of his friends were killed by Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike but the two ethnic elements had to pay a huge sum of money to the Sultan and the families of the victims. It was assessed that each Christian had to pay 14 piastres and each Turk 7. The latter did not accept this judgement and broke into an open rebellion having Khalil Agha, the commander of the guard of the castle of Kyrenia as their leader. Finally, the uprising was crashed and Khalil Agha was beheaded.

The Greek War of Liberation of 1821 had its repercussions on the situation in Cyprus. With the Sultan's consent, the Turkish administration in the island with the governor Kuchuk Mehmed at the head executed 486 Christians accusing them of a conspiracy with the rebelled Greeks. On 9 July 1821, at the central square of Nicosia the four Bishops and many other clergymen and prominent citizens were beheaded and Archbishop Kyprianos was hanged. The property of the Church was plundered and the Christians were forced to pull down the upper storeys of their houses, an order that remained in force until the British put the island under their control almost sixty years later.

Between the years 1849 and 1878 Cyprus witnessed some slow change for the better in the administration section. District councils were set up and consisted of Greek and many Turkish members. Many reforms, however, which were supposed to have been introduced were frustrated by chauvinistic and unwilling administrators.

The Turkish occupation came to an end in 1878. In all, it lasted for 307 years. Despite their long presence in the island, the Turks left very few architectural remains. The small fort of Paphos although built by the Turks in the late 16th century is largely based on a Lusignan plan. Of late 18th century is the tomb that was built where Umm Haram, aunt of the Prophet, killed herself in the mid-7th century. In 1816 a tekke' and a mosque were built over it adding Oriental charm to the place. The aqueduct constructed by Pasha Abu Bekr in 1747 in order to take fresh water to Larnaca is another good example, but the best pieces are in Nicosia which was the capital. There is a 16th century Khan, a 17th-century Tekke' of the Mevlevi or 'Dancing' Dervishes and the Arab Ahmet Pasha mosque of the 18th century.

When the Turks were defeated by the Russians in 1877 and the Berlin Congress took place the next year in order to revise the treaty of St Stefano which was signed by Russia and the Ottoman Empire according to terms dictated by the former, it was officially announced on 9 July 1878 that on the 4th of preceding June, the British and the Sultan had secretly countersigned the Convention of Istanbul by virtue of which the possession and administration of Cyprus was vested in Great Britain. The reasons for the detachment of Cyprus from the hands of Turkey can be found in the words of the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lord Salisbury, who stressed the following: "The Government has already proceeded to preparations for the construction of a new dam behind the ruined Turkish "water dam".

So after considering many other places (such as Crete, Lesbos, Lemnos, Alexadretta, Accra, Haifa and Alexandria), Great Britain decided to obtain possession of Cyprus, which Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) described to Queen Victoria in 1878 as "the Key to West Asia".