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History of Cyprus
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This article covers the modern history of Cyprus, from 1878 to the present.


Cyprus as a Protectorate

In 1878 as the result of the Cyprus Convention, the United Kingdom took over the government of Cyprus as a protectorate from the Ottoman Empire. The first British High Commissioner was Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913).

While the Cypriots at first welcomed British rule hoping that they would gradually achieve prosperity, democracy and national liberation, they became disillusioned. The British imposed heavy taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan for having conceded Cyprus to them. Moreover, the people were not given the right to participate in the administration of the island, since all powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London. A few years later the system was reformed and some members of the legislative Council were elected by the Cypriots, but in reality their participation was very marginal.

In 1931, the Government of Lord Liverpool created the 'Six Acts' which established press censorship, the banning of political parties (mainly the communist party), the dissolution of municipal elections, as well as the out-ruling of trade unions, meetings of more than five individuals, and the tolling of church bells outside services.[1]

The British faced two major political problems on the island. The Greek Cypriots who constituted 62% of the population began to aspire to union with Greece (enosis), while the Turkish Cypriots responded by calling for partition (taksim) as a defence against their being Hellenised. In the meanwhile was the consequential problem of keeping the two communities in harmony, especially when Greek communities were forcibly expelled from Asia Minor.

Interwar Period

However, Cyprus' status as a protectorate of the British Empire ended in 1914 when the Ottoman Empire declared war against the Entente powers, which included Britain. Cyprus was then annexed by the British Empire on November the 2nd. During the course of the First World War Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfill treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined. As a result of this, Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown Colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.

In the years that followed Greek Cypriots demands for enosis (union with Greece), which Turkish Cypriots and the British opposed, developed rapidly from the 1930s, Government House in Nicosia was burnt down in Greek Cypriot riots of 1931

The period between October 1931 and October 1940 proved to be a very difficult one for the Cypriots. The Governor at the time, Sir Richmond Palmer, took a number of suppressive measures including limitations on the administration and functioning of Greek schools, and prohibition of trade unions and associations of any kind and form. This regime became known as "Palmerokratia", named after the Governor. Its aim was to prevent local public interest in politics. There were strong protests against the regime but the suppressive measures were not lifted until the beginning of the Second World War, during which more than thirty thousand Cypriots joined the British armed forces.

Endeavours by the British to introduce constitutional government designed to develop some participation without leading to enosis failed, despite determined efforts to achieve some semblance of liberal and democratic government, notably by the post-war Labour Government in Britain.

Proposed union with Greece

In 1948, King Paul of Greece declared that Cyprus desired union with Greece. In 1951 the Orthodox Church of Cyprus presented a referendum according to which around 97% of the Greek Cypriot population wanted the union. The United Nations accepted the Greek petition and enosis became an international issue. In 1952 both Greece and Turkey became members of NATO. After the war, a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand for enosis to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a more liberal constitution and a 10-year programme of social and economic development.

Led by Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot demand for enosis emerged with new force in the 1950s, when Greece began to accord it support on the international scene. This attempt to win world support alerted Turkey and alarmed the Turkish Cypriots.

The British withdrawal from Egypt led to Cyprus becoming the new location for their Middle East Headquarters.

When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond as required, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas, created and directed an effective campaign beginning. The first bombs were set off on April 1 1955 followed by leaflets. Attacks on police stations started on the June 19. The Governor proclaimed a State of Emergency on 26 November.

For the next four years EOKA attacked primarily British or British-connected targets. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile in Seychelles. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen.[2]

Easily infiltrated by Greek Cypriot sympathisers working for them in various ancillary tasks, the British security forces had to exert great efforts under Field Marshal Sir John Harding to suppress the fight for freedom and independence. They were much more successful than is often recognised, though the attacks on British personnel never quite ceased. Makarios was exiled, suspected of involvement in the EOKA campaign, but was released when EOKA, exhausted but still determined to fight, agreed to cease hostilities on the Archbishop's release free to return.

From mid-1956 onwards there were constant discussions in NATO but all efforts to create an independent Cyprus which would be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations proved to be futile.

In April 1957, in the new conditions made obvious by the Suez debacle, the British government accepted that bases in Cyprus were an acceptable alternative to Cyprus as a base. This produced a much more relaxed British attitude to the problem. It was now to be solved in conjunction with Greece and Turkey, the latter thoroughly alerted to the dangers of enosis to the Turkish community. Violence was renewed in Cyprus by EOKA, but it increasingly drew in the Turkish community when the new Governor Sir Hugh Foot's plan (for unitary self-government) incited Turkish-Cypriot riots and produced a hostile response from the Turkish government. Violence between the two communities developed into a new and deadly feature of the situation.

In 1957 the UN decided that the issue should be resolved according to its Statutory Map. The exiles returned, and both sides began a series of violent acts against each other.

In the few years that existed before the Zürich and London agreements (1959 /1960) Greece tried again to win international recognition and support for the cause of enosis at the UN against a background of renewed and continuing EOKA violence directed against the British. It was to no avail. Eventually Greece had to recognise that Turkey was now a vitally interested party in the dispute.

Grivas and EOKA also had to accept the changed situation. Makarios could see no way of excluding Turkey from participating in any solution. It was widely believed by the Greek-Cypriots that Britain had promoted the Turkish-Cypriot case, thus preventing the achievement of enosis.

In 1958 the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan prepared new proposals for Cyprus but his plan, which was a form of partition, was rejected by Archbishop Makarios. The Archbishop declared that he would only accept a proposal which guaranteed independence excluding both Enosis and partition. On February 19, 1959 the Zürich agreement attempted to end the conflict. Without the presence of either the Greek or the Turkish sides, the UK outlined a Cypriot constitution, which was eventually accepted by both sides. Both Greece and Turkey along with Britain were appointed as guarantors of the island's integrity. Some of the major points of the Zurich agreement are:

  • Cyprus is to become an independent state.
  • Both taksim and enosis are to be prohibited.
  • Greek and Turkish military forces, at a ratio of approximately 3:2, are to be present at all time in Cyprus. Both forces are to answer to all three Foreign Ministers: of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
  • The President is to be a Greek Cypriot, elected by the Greek Cypriot population, and the Vice President a Turkish Cypriot, elected by the Turkish Cypriot population.
  • The Cabinet is to include seven Greek Cypriots, chosen by the President, and three Turkish Cypriots, chosen by the Vice President.
  • Decisions will need an absolute majority but both the President and the Vice President have the right of veto.
  • Britain is to remain a guarantor and keep both of its military bases.


On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group which desired political union with Greece, or enosis. Archbishop Makarios III, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected the first president of independent Cyprus. In 1961 it became the 99th member of the United Nations.

The Zurich agreement, however, did not succeed in establishing cooperation between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot populations. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government and as such developed the Akritas Plan aimed at forcing all Turkish Cypriot parliamentarians from government so as not to disrupt Greek Cypriot plans of enosis. Both sides continued the violence. Turkey threatened to intervene on the island.

In November 1963, President Makarios advanced a series of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate some of these special provisions. The Turkish Cypriots opposed such changes. The confrontation prompted widespread intercommunal fighting in December 1963, after which the Akritas Plan was put into motion and Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased. On December 23 1963, when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers, including the Turkish Vice-President Dr Fazıl Küçük were out of the government.

Makarios ordered a cease-fire and again addressed the issue to the United Nations. Although the government was no longer functional or legal, with the forced withdrawal of Turkish Cypriot politicians, UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964, effectively recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. [3] The force, UNFICYP, included Canadian, Irish and Finnish troops. Its mandate was to prevent fighting, maintain law and order. In 1964 the UK Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, met with the American Attorney General, Robert Kennedy to explain why international intervention is required stating that "If they had not done so, there would probably have been a massacre of Turkish Cypriots" which were confined in enclaves totalling little more than 3% of the island. [4]. The same year the Turkish parliament voted in favour of the intervention of Cyprus but the lack of support that Turkey faced from both the UN and NATO prevented it. In answer Grivas was recalled to Athens and the Greek military force left the island.

Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.

Greek coup and Turkish invasion

In July 1974, the legitimate president was overthrown by an Athens orchestrated coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard. Turkey then, after failed UN meetings, intervened in Cyprus on July 20.

In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island. 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the Turkish forces while up to 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to the northern areas by the United Nations and British SBA authorities after an agreed swap by Turkish and Greek leaders. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part under a Turkish Cypriot administration protected by the presence of Turkish troops.

In 1983, the 1974 Turkish area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey despite United Nations Security Council Resolutions that have called the declaration "legally invalid" and as such it faces an international embargo. The United Nations have urged all states to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic Of Cyprus.

United Nations Peacekeeping Forces maintain a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, there had been no violent conflict since 1974 until August 1996, when violent clashes led to the death of two demonstrators and escalated tension.

UN-led talks on the status of Cyprus resumed in December 1999 to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. A referendum on the Annan Plan for Cyprus, a United Nations proposal for reunification was placed before both communities in April, 2004. The plan was rejected by the Greek Cypriots while approved by the Turkish Cypriots but required the approval of both sides to succeed. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue, however, under the auspices of the United Nations, but due to Greek Cypriot politics, this seems unlikely.

As Cyprus planned to join the European Community in May 2004, there were renewed negotiations about the status of the Island. In December 2003, the buffer zone between the two parts of Cyprus was partly opened. Since then, members of both communities (and citizens of EU) have been able to cross the buffer zone at the opened check points.

Further reading




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