Cyprus has been constantly a significant trading post between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and throughout history someone has always wanted to take it from someone else. First the Mycenaeans grabbed it, then the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Persians. Alexander the Greattook it off them, then Ptolemy snatched it from him.
Rome took over in 58 BC and kept the place in relative peace and security until the 7th century, when the Byzantine and Islamic empires started three centuries of bickering over it. In 1191, Richard the Lionheart, on his way to the Crusades, dropped into Cyprus for a spot of conquering, but the Cypriots caused him too much trouble (one of them killed his hawk and he was forced to massacre a few villages in retaliation),so he sold them to the Knights Templar. The Templars sold the island to Guy de Lusignan, whose heirs hung in for three centuries, repressing the culture and orthodox religion but doing wonders for the economy.
The Venetians took over in 1489, but were booted out by the expanding Ottoman Empire in 1571, which kept Cyprus for 300 years before handing it over to Britain.
In 1925 Cyprus became a Crown colony of the UK, but by then the Cypriots had had just about enough of being a pawn for empire-builders, and agitation for self-determination began. This laid the foundations for today's Greek/Turkish conflict: while many Greek Cypriots wanted to form a union with Greece (a movement known as enosis), the Turkish population was not so keen. By 1950, the Cypriot Orthodox Church and 96% of Greek Cypriots wanted enosis. In response, the British drafted a new constitution, which was accepted by the Turkish population but opposed by the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, who wanted enosis or nothing. They began a guerrilla war against the British.
In August 1960, Britain granted Cyprus its independence. A Greek, Archbishop Makarios, became president, while a Turk, Kükük, was made vice-president. By 1964 Makarios was moving towards stronger links with Greece, and intercommunal violence was on the rise. The United Nations sent in a peace-keeping force. In 1967 a military junta took over the Greek government and enosis went out the window - even the most fervent Greece-lovers didn't want union with such a repressive regime. Greece didn't give up, though: on 15 July 1974 a CIA-sponsored, Greek-organised coup overthrew Makarios and replaced him with a puppet leader. Turkey responded by invading and Greece quickly pulled out, but the Turks weren't placated and took the northern third of the island, forcing 180,000 Greek Cypriots to flee their homes. In 1983 Turkish Cypriots proclaimed a separate state, naming it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). No country except for Turkey has recognised this 'state'.
Peace talks have been held sporadically, but Cyprus remains divided. The United Nations has been scaling down its presence in Cyprus, and small-scale border scuffles are on the increase. The Republic's purchase of missiles capable of reaching the Turkish coast has further soured relations between the two sides. However, both Turkey and the Republic are making moves towards full membership of the European Union, and this may force both sides to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
In March 2003, the deadline for agreement from both sides on a UN-sponsored reunification passed. When the plan was put to referendum on both sides of the Green Line in April, Turkish Cypriots supported and Greek Cypriots did not. The island joined the EU in May 2004, but EU laws will apply only to Greek Cyprus.
The cultural heritage of Cyprus goes back more than 9000 years. Of course, today the situation in Cyprus brings with it that most of everybody's attention go to the events of the last 20 years rather than to those of several millennia ago. The north of the island is the Turkish part. Names of cities and villages are being changed Turkish and there is a lot of effort to make the inhabitants embrace the life and culture of its northern neighbor. The Republic is also trying to create an independent identity, and many places in the Republic have recently been renamed as well.
However, there are numerous relics from the rich past of this island. Relics from every era - Greek temples, Roman mosaics and 15th-century wall-paintings. Most of these remainders of the past still influence the artists of today. Many villages specialize in a particular art form. During a trip around Cyprus the visitor can see pottery, silver and copperware, basket weaving, tapestry and Lefkara's famous lacework, all being manufactured on the spot..
The division is also clearly visible in the religious field : the northerners are mostly Sunni Muslim, whereas the southerners are Greek Orthodox. Food, too, reflects the divide: in the North you'll find mostly Turkish cuisine; in the Republic, Greek. But wherever you are in Cyprus, you'll come across kleftiko (oven-baked lamb) and mezedes (dips, salads and other appetizers). Cyprus is also famous for its fruit, which the government protects with a ban on imported products. You'll find strawberries, stone fruit, melons, prickly pear, citrus and grapes.
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