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Cyprus History

Cypriot culture is among the oldest in the Mediterranean. By 3700 BC, the island was well inhabited, a crossroads between East and West. The island fell successively under Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman domination. For 800 years, beginning in 364 AD, Cyprus was ruled by Byzantium. After brief possession by King Richard I (the Lion-Hearted) of England during the Crusades, the island came under Frankish control in the late 12th century. It was ceded to the Venetian Republic in 1489 and conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571. The Ottomans applied the millet system to Cyprus, which allowed religious authorities to govern their own non-Muslim minorities. This system reinforced the position of the Orthodox Church and the cohesion of the ethnic Greek population. Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the 3 centuries of Ottoman rule remained when control of Cyprus--although not sovereignty--was ceded to Great Britain in 1878. Many left for Turkey during the 1920s, however. The island was annexed formally by the United Kingdom in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I and became a crown colony in 1925.

Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom and established a constitutional republic in 1960, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group that desired political union, or enosis, with Greece. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president.

Shortly after the founding of the republic, serious differences arose between the two communities about the implementation and interpretation of the constitution. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government. 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 Turkish Cypriots ceased to participate in the government. Following the outbreak of intercommunal violence, many Turkish Cypriots (and some Greek Cypriots) living in mixed villages began to move into enclaved villages or elsewhere. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964. Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.

In July 1974, the military junta in Athens sponsored a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots against the government of President Makarios, citing his alleged pro-communist leanings and his perceived abandonment of enosis. Turkey, citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, intervened militarily to protect Turkish Cypriots.

In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island. Almost all Greek Cypriots fled south while almost all Turkish Cypriots fled north. Since the events of 1974, UN peacekeeping forces have maintained a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, the island was free of violent conflict from 1974 until August 1996, when violent clashes led to the death of two demonstrators and escalated tension. The situation has been quiet since 1996.

Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided de facto into the government-controlled two-thirds of the island and the Turkish Cypriot one-third. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus has continued as the internationally recognized authority; in practice, its authority extends only to the government-controlled areas.

The 1960 Cypriot Constitution provided for a presidential system of government with independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a complex system of checks and balances, including a weighted power-sharing ratio designed to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. The executive, for example, was headed by a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president, elected by their respective communities for 5-year terms, and each possessing a right of veto over certain types of legislation and executive decisions.

Following the 1974 hostilities, the Turkish Cypriots set up their own institutions with an elected president and a prime minister responsible to the National Assembly exercising joint executive powers. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots declared an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus ("TRNC"). Only Turkey recognizes the “TRNC”.

In February 2003, Greek Cypriots elected Tassos Papadopoulos, leader of the center right Democratic Party, as president of the Republic of Cyprus. President Papadopoulos was supported by a broad coalition of parties ranging from his own Democratic Party to communist AKEL. None of the Greek Cypriot parties has been able to elect a president by itself or dominate the 56-seat House of Representatives. The 165,000 Greek Cypriot refugees also are a potent political force, along with the independent Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which has some influence in temporal as well as ecclesiastical matters.

"TRNC" "President" Rauf Denktash won re-election in 2000 to a 5-year term of office. Turkish Cypriot "parliamentary" elections were held on December 14, 2003. Because the question of whether Turkish Cypriots desired a settlement on the basis of UN Secretary-General Annan’s peace plan in time to join the EU on May 1, 2004 alongside Greek Cypriots was central to the elections, the elections received considerable international attention. Two pro-solution parties -- Mehmet Ali Talat's Republican Turkish Party (CTP), and Mustafa Akinci's Peace and Democracy Movement (BDH), captured over 48% of the popular vote. They evenly split the 50 seats in the "TRNC" "assembly", 25-25, with two conservative status quo parties -- "Prime Minister" Eroglu's National Unity Party (UBP), and the Democrat Party (DP), led by "DPM" Serdar Denktash-- which together captured over 45% of the vote.

After several weeks of negotiations, CTP leader Talat formed a coalition “government” with Serdar Denktash’s DP. Talat was named “Prime Minister” while Serdar Denktash is both “Deputy Prime Minister” and “Foreign Minister.”

The first UN-sponsored negotiations to develop institutional arrangements acceptable to both communities began in 1968; several sets of negotiations and other initiatives followed. Turkish Cypriots focus on bizonality, security guarantees, and political equality between the two communities. Greek Cypriots emphasize the rights of movement, property, settlement, and the return of territory. Turkish Cypriots favor a loose grouping of two nearly autonomous societies living side by side with limited contact. Greek Cypriots envision a more integrated structure.

Direct talks began in January 2002 between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan.

In November 2002, Secretary General Annan released a comprehensive plan for the resolution of the Cyprus issue. It was revised in early December. In the lead up to the December 2002 EU Copenhagen Summit, intensive efforts were made to gain both sides' signatures to the document prior to a decision on the island's EU membership. Neither side agreed to sign. The EU invited the Republic of Cyprus to join on December 16.

Following the Copenhagen Summit, the UN continued dialogue with the two sides with the goal of reaching a settlement prior to Cyprus's signature of the EU accession treaty on April 16, 2003. A third version of the Annan plan was put to the parties in February 2003. That same month the Secretary General again visited the island and asked that both leaders agree to put the plan to referendum in their respective communities. Also in February 2003, Tassos Papadopoulos was elected as the fifth president of the Republic of Cyprus. On March 10, 2003, this most recent phase of talks collapsed in The Hague when Mr. Denktash told the Secretary General he would not put the Annan plan to referendum.

On April 23, 2003, Mr. Denktash relaxed many restrictions on individuals crossing between the two communities, including abolishing all crossing fees. Since then, the relaxed crossing procedures have led to relatively unimpeded bicommunal contact for the first time since 1974. Between April 2003 and April 2004, there were over 3,000,000 crossings of the buffer zone in both directions. Greek Cypriots are currently required to present their passports at the checkpoints along the buffer zone, something many are reluctant to do. Greek Cypriots are permitted to drive their personal vehicles in the Turkish Cypriot community, provided they first obtain a policy from an insurance provider in the north. Turkish Cypriots are permitted to cross into the government-controlled area upon presentation of a Turkish Cypriot ID card. Turkish Cypriots must obtain car insurance from an insurer in the south to drive their personal vehicles in the government-controlled area. Individuals with Turkish citizenship and all third country nationals are not permitted to enter the government-controlled area from the “TRNC”. Third country nationals in the Republic of Cyprus are permitted to cross into the “TRNC” upon presentation of their passports at the checkpoints along the buffer zone.

In February 2004, President Papadopoulos and Mr. Denktash accepted the Secretary General's invitation to resume negotiations on a settlement on the basis of the Annan plan. After a meeting with the Secretary General in New York, talks began on-island on February 19. The two community leaders met nearly every day for negotiations facilitated by the Secretary General's Special Representative for Cyprus, Mr. Alvaro De Soto. In addition, numerous technical committees and subcommittees met in parallel in an effort to resolve outstanding issues and complete the legislative framework. Beginning on March 24, the talks moved to Burgenstock, Switzerland with the participation of the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of Greece and Turkey. Negotiations concluded on March 31, and the Secretary General presented the two sides with a final settlement package.

Most Turkish Cypriot and Turkish leaders supported the agreement, but most Greek Cypriot leaders, including in particular President Papadopoulos, urged the Greek Cypriot public to reject the settlement. On April 24, after a three-week campaign marked by accusations that the government of Cyprus was unfairly manipulating public opinion, Cypriots on both sides of the Green Line went to the polls in parallel and simultaneous referenda. Turkish Cypriots voted by a large majority (65% “yes” to 35% “no”) to accept the solution. Greek Cypriots, however, voted by an even larger margin (76% “no” to 24% “yes”) to reject it.

Cyprus entered the European Union on May 1, 2004 as a divided island. The Secretary General’s Good Offices Mission is suspended. © 2008