Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, located some 60 km south of Turkey and 90 km west of Lebanon, with a population of about 700,000. The island's geographical location has rendered the country prey to numerous conquerors throughout its turbulent 9,000 year-old history. Assyrians, Eyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans, Venetians, Ottomans and British, among others, ruled Cyprus over the centuries until it became an independent state in 1960 following a four-year struggle against British colonial rule.
Peace and stability in the newly-established Republic of Cyprus, comprising the Greek Cypriot community (about 80% of the population) and the Turkish Cypriot community (about 18%), was unfortunately short-lived.
With the Greek Cypriot community's aspirations for `Enosis' (union with Greece) quashed, the Turkish Cypriot community's objective for self-determination restrained, and a complex constitution that entrenched the rights of the Turkish Cypriot minority, problems soon emerged that were to lead to a failed attempt by the Republic's first President Archbishop Makarios III to introduce certain amendments in the constitution to make it more workable.
The Turkish Cypriots obstinately clung to every detail in the provisions of the constitution, imposed on the island's leadership, while the government was confronted with practical problems (such as tax collection and apportionment of civil service posts, which required a 70% to 30% ratio). In November 1963 fighting broke out in Nicosia between the two communities and spread to other places before an agreement for a ceasefire was observed. UN peace-keepers moved in the following year and have remained on the island ever since.
Movement of the population resulted in Turkish Cypriot enclaves and the situation, though calm, remained tense on the island. After the 1967 military coup in Greece, however, relations between the governments of Greece and Cyprus became very strained.
In July 1974, Turkish troops invaded the island following a short-lived coup organised by the Greek junta, which toppled Archbishop Makarios. The UN estimates that 35,000 Turkish occupation troops are now in the northern part of Cyprus, effectively controlling the Turkish Cypriot authorities there. Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were displaced from their homes by the advancing Turkish troops in 1974 and now live as refugees in their own country.
The Turkish Cypriot administration proclaimed itself a republic in 1983, but is recognised only by Turkey. A steady influx of illegal immigrants from Turkey into the occupied areas of Cyprus has complicated the political problem of the island even further, and caused indigenous Turkish Cypriots to emigrate, reducing their numbers in Cyprus significantly. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal roof have failed so far, but the prospect of possible membership of Cyprus in the European Union may push these efforts to a conclusion, ahead of accession negotiations, due to start six months after the Intergovernmental Conference.
The island of Aphrodite, as Cyprus is known, offers much for the visitor to see and enjoy - beautiful scenery, archaeological sites, a pleasant climate, old churches and centuries-old monasteries, traditional arts and crafts and of course a wealth of appetising local dishes and desserts.
Tourism is the main industry in Cyprus, and some of the most beautiful areas on the island lie in the occupied northern part. Tourists are able to take a one-day trip to see Kyrenia or the castle of Kantara in the north, but locals are prevented from doing so by the illegal Turkish Cypriot administration.
Despite the upheaval that followed the Turkish invasion, Cyprus has managed to pull itself together and now enjoys a thriving economy based on free market principles, with over 11,000 US dollars per capita income in the southern government-controlled areas, inflation less than five per cent, and unemployment under three per cent.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the occupied areas of the Republic, which have adopted the Turkish lira and depend heavily on Turkey for economic and political support.
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