CONTENTS

Historical Background

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with an area of 9.251 square kilometers. It lies in the north-eastern corner of the East Mediterranean basin, at the meeting point of three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - a fact which has added considerably to the island's importance and development. Cyprus' population at the end of 1992 was 718.000. Population distribution by ethnic group is 81,7% Greek Cypriots including Maronites, Armenians, Latins and others and 18,3% Turkish Cypriots.
Since early times Cyprus has had an eventful history, mostly the result of its geographical position. It appeared for the first time in the history of civilisation in the 7th millennium B.C. during the Neolithic period. This period, which lasted three millennia, was followed by the Chalcolithic period. The Bronze Age followed which lasted until 1100 B.C. During the last phase of this period, in the 13th century B.C., the Mycenean Greeks came for this first time to Cyprus as merchants and immigrants. They settled and they introduced the Greek language and culture both of which have been preserved to this day. At the end of the 4th century B.C. Cyprus became part of the Kingdom of Alexander the Great. During the first century B.C. it became a province of the Great Roman Empire and remained as such until the 4th century A.D. when it was included in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. This marks the beginning of the Byzantine period, which lasted until the 12th century A.D. when, during the Crusades, King Richard Coeur de Lion, conquered the island. Very soon, however, Cyprus came under the rule of the Lusignan family, which remained and ruled Cyprus until the 15th century. In 1489 Cyprus became part of the Republic of Venice and in 1571 it was conquered by the Ottomans. Cyprus remained under Ottoman rule together with the Greek mainland and the other Greek islands for centuries. However, after the 1821 Greek uprising and the liberation struggle, the various parts of Greece gradually attained independence. Cyprus also participated in the Greek War of Independence and a large number of Cypriots fought and fell during this war, particularly in the battle of Athens in 1828. (At the beginning of Greece's War of Independence a number of Bishops in Cyprus were hanged by the Turkish occupation authorities, having been accused of supporting the revolution). The question of the incorporation of Cyprus in the Greek state was raised soon after 1830, but it did not become possible and Cyprus remained under Ottoman rule until 1878. In that year the expansionist policy of Tsarist Russia caused the Turks to cede Cyprus to Britain which promised to help Turkey in the event of an attack by Russia on certain bordering provinces. The Turco-British agreement was concluded in complete disregard of the wishes and interests of the Cypriot people, who demanded incorporation of their island as part of Greece.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Cyprus was annexed to the British Empire, and in 1925 it was formally declared a British Crown Colony. By that time Turkey had, under the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, Article 16, renounced all claim to Cyprus and by Article 27 of the same Treaty divested itself of the exercise of any power or jurisdiction in political, legislative, or administrative matters over the nationals of Cyprus. When Cyprus was declared a British Crown Colony, the Turkish population of the island - descendants of members of the Turkish occupation force and expatriates from Turkey - were invited to choose between repatriation to Turkey or permanent settlement in Cyprus, and a number of them chose to remain in Cyprus. At that time it had never been intended or expected, that the Turkish minority would become the arbiters of the country's destiny. From 1878 when Cyprus was handed over to Britain, until April 1955, when the struggle for liberation from British rule was started by the Greek Cypriots, the Turks in Cyprus intermingled with the Greek people and lived in peace and harmony with them.

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Giorgos Zacharia (lysi@mit.edu) 1995-1999.