Modern History of Cyprus

British rule lasted until August 1960 when, after a four-year liberation struggle, the island became independent and was proclaimed a Republic. The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable in many of its provisions and this made impossible its smooth implementation.

When in 1963 the President of the Republic proposed some amendments to facilitate the functioning of the state, the Turkish Cypriot community responded with rebellion (December 1964), the Turkish Cypriot Ministers withdrew from the Cabinet and the Turkish Cypriot public servants ceased attending their offices. Ever since then the aim of the Turkish Cypriot leadership, acting on instructions from the Turkish Government, has been the partition of Cyprus and its annexation to Turkey.

On July 15, 1974 a coup was staged in Cyprus by the military junta, then in power in Greece, for the overthrow of the then President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios. Turkey used this pretext to launch an invasion, with a full-fledged army against defenseless Cyprus on July 20, 1974. The invasion was carried out in two stages (July 20-22 and August 14-16), in which the Turkish troops eventually occupied 37% of the island's territory.

Nearly two hundred thousand Greek Cypriots, 40% of the total Greek Cypriot population, were forced to leave their homes in the occupied area and became refugees in their own country. The few thousand of Greek Cypriots who remained in their homes after the invasion were gradually forced, through harassment and intimidation, to leave their homes and move to the south. Now, only about six hundred have remained in their homes in the north, mainly in the Karpass area. Hundreds of people were reported missing and their fate has still not been ascertained. The island's rich cultural and religious heritage in the occupied areas has been looted and/or destroyed.

International bodies, such as the UN Security Council, the European Parliament, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, have condemned these ongoing violations of the fundamental human rights of the people of Cyprus. Despite this international condemnation, repeated UN Security Council Resolutions, calling for the respect of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus, as well as the withdrawal of all foreign troops from its territory, remain unimplemented.

Several rounds of intercommunal talks between the island?s two main communities (Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots) have not led to any positive development. This is due to the Turkish side's intransigence and continuing effort to partition the island by means of maintaining an occupation army of 40.000 soldiers and by the colonization of the occupied part of Cyprus with over 80,000 settlers from Anatolia.

Background for Historical Reference

Cyprus has played an important role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean on account of its privileged geographical position on the crossroads between the Orient and the Occident. The island's prehistory runs as far back as the 8th millennium B.C. Subsequent cultural phases developed during the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods until end of the 2nd millennium B.C. However the most important event in the history of Cyprus is the arrival of the Achaean settlers at the end of the 12th and during the 11th century B.C.

The new Greek settlers brought a new vigour to the already flourishing culture of the island by establishing new towns and by introducing the Greek language, new techniques in metallurgy, new artistic styles and even religious elements from the Greek world.

In the subsequent Geometric period the hellenization of Cyprus was completed and this is, most probably, the period of the establishment city kingdoms, which are well attested in written sources in the following Archaic and Classical periods.

Cyprus was well-known to the ancients for its copper mines and forests. No wonder its wealth made it the object of contest among the great powers of the Eastern Mediterranean in antiquity: the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians, who in turn became its masters.

During the 5th century B.C. Athens played an important role in Cyprus, cooperating with the main cities of the island against the Persians. It was during this time that Evagoras of Salamis rose to power, a figure of worldwide radiance at the time. On the partition of the empire of Alexander the Great, who finally liberated the island from the Persians, Cyprus became one of the most significant parts of the empire of the Ptolemies of Egypt; later it came under the dominion of the Romans in 58 B.C. Both during the Ptolemies and later under the Romans, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Paphos was the centre of the national, religious and cultural life of the island. In 330 A.D. it became a province of the Byzantine Empire.

During the Crusades period, Richard the Lionheart of England, on his way to the Holy Land, conquered the island. Richard passed the island onto the Knights Templar and they, in their turn, to the Lusignans from France, who established a Kingdom on the western feudal model (1192-1489).

The last Lusignan Queen, Caterina Cornaro, was forced to pass her rights onto the Republic of Venice, which ruled the island until 1571, when it was conquered by the Ottomans. The Ottoman period lasted until 1878 when the expansionist policy of Tsarist Russia led the Turks to cede Cyprus to Britain, which promised to help Turkey in the event of an attack by Russia on certain bordering provinces.

Cultural Heritage of Cyprus

The History and Culture of Cyprus is among the oldest in the world. The first signs of civilization traced in archaeological excavations and research date back 9,000 years to the 7th millennium BC. This rich cultural landscape involves hundreds of archaeological sites scattered throughout the island, representing various historical periods in the island's evolution.

The discovery of copper in Cyprus in the 3rd millennium BC brought wealth to the island and attracted trade from its trading neighbors. Yet, although geographically placed at the crossroads of three continents Europe, Asia and Africa and a meeting point of great world civilizations, Cyprus has developed and for centuries maintained, its own civilization. It remained a center of Greek culture with Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, French, Venetian, Ottoman and British influences.

The Cyprus Department of Antiquities is tasked with the operation, maintenance, protection and preservation of the rich archaeological heritage of the island. Its activities comprise such areas as excavation and conservation of artifacts, the preservation of ancient monuments, the protection of ethnological and ecclesiastical art, the restoration of buildings of traditional architecture etc. The final goal of all these activities is the presentation of the island's unique cultural property to its people and visitors for the benefit of pleasure, knowledge and artistic inspiration.

Relevant to the excavations and complementary to them is the task of maintenance and protection of ancient monuments and antiquities in general. This includes reconstruction and/or maintenance of ancient theatres, sanctuaries, castles, churches and other monuments of every nature as well as movable antiquities, metallurgy, handicraft, icons, items of religious and popular art dating back to Neolithic Times and up to 1940 A.D. Maintenance of Mosaics and frescoes is also included.

The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia houses the richest and most representative collection of Cypriote antiquities in Cyprus. In its exhibition rooms one may see some of the most important pieces of Cypriote art and get a comprehensive picture of the Cypriote culture from the Neolithic period to the Roman times.

There are also district archaeological museums in all towns, two site museums, in Episkopi (Limassol) for the antiquities of Kourion and at Kouklia (Paphos) for the antiquities of Paleapaphos, Folk Art Museums at Yeroskipou, Lefkara and Phikardhou and an Ethnological Museum in the Nicosia House of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios.

Most of the ancient monuments and archaeological sites on the island are open to the public and visitors may, with the aid of inexpensive guide books, tour the sites.

On the other hand ancient theatres have been fully reconstructed and host several theatrical, dance, musical and other performances. At the same time mobile Cyprus antiquities in the form of representative collections are sent abroad for exhibition. Such touring exhibitions are organized in many parts of the world.

Cypriote antiquities are also objects of scientific study during international congresses and seminars on archaeology.

An achievement of the Department of Antiquities is the inclusion in 1980, of both Paleapaphos (Kouklia) and Nea Paphos (Kato Paphos) in the World Cultural Heritage List of Unesco.

In 1986 nine Byzantine Churches situated in the Troodos range, those of Agios Nicolaos tis Stegis in Kakopetria village, Agios Ioannis Lambadistis in Kalopanayiotis village, Panayia tou Moutoulla in Moutoullas village, Archangelos in Pedoulas village, Panayia tis Poditou in Galata village, Stavros tou Agiasmati in Platanistasa village and Asinou near Nikitari village were also included in the World Cultural Heritage List of Unesco.

Cultural Life of Cyprus

There is an intense and active interest amongst all the people in Cyprus in fostering the creative drive in the field of Letters and the Arts and to strengthen cultural awareness.

Both the Government as well as non-governmental organizations and individuals have given high priority in making culture available to all, so that there is a greater participation and receptiveness on behalf of the public in the island's cultural life and in disseminating and projecting cultural achievements abroad in order to highlight Cyprus' links with international culture.

Particular emphasis is placed on promoting literature, music, dance (modern and classical), the visual arts and the cinema. In addition a special arts festival (The "Kypria") is organized annually with a view to upgrading the art movement on the island and highlighting its links with international culture. Since its inception, in 1993, this has become an institution making high quality cultural entertainment accessible to a wide range of people. The various performances include: theatre, ballet, opera, music. Alongside well-known international artists or ensembles, Cypriot artists who have distinguished themselves abroad and acquired international reputation are also invited to participate.

The Damage Done by Turkey

The Government of Turkey has been found by the European Court of Human Rights as being responsible for violations of human rights and other illegal activities in the occupied part of Cyprus.

The systematic nature of the looting and stealing that has taken place and much of the vandalism, suggests that Turkish official policy has directly or indirectly encouraged much of the destruction, damage and looting that has occurred. Further damage has been caused by erosion and neglect.

Recovery of Stolen Items

The Cyprus Police Force in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities, the Church of Cyprus and collectors of art treasures, have since 1974 constantly endeavored to inform INTERPOL, police forces of other countries, and the international art market about items stolen or looted from the northern part of Cyprus.

There have been notable successes which resulted in the recovery of icons and ancient earthenware from the UK in 1974, ancient figurines (3000 BC) from auctioneers in London in 1976, icons in the Netherlands in 1981, and a large number of icons, mosaics and frescoes from Germany in 1997 and in the Netherlands in 1998.

One of the most notable cases has been the recovery of mosaics taken from the Church of Kanakaria in 1989, when an Indianapolis Court reaffirmed their ownership by the Church of Cyprus and ordered a US art dealer to return them to Cyprus.

The authorities of Cyprus are constantly trying to obtain possession of art works stolen from the occupied area and are currently in Europe, North America and Japan.

Devastation in Occupied Cyprus

One of the most tragic consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion and continued occupation of the northern part of Cyprus has been the deliberate destruction, looting, pillage and desecration of Cyprus? unique cultural and religious heritage.

Geography & Climate

Cyprus has an intense Mediterranean climate with the typical seasonal rhythm strongly marked in respect of temperature, rainfall and weather generally. Hot, dry summers from mid-May to mid-September and rainy, rather changeable winters from November to mid-March are separated by short autumn and spring seasons.

In summer the island is mainly under the influence of a shallow trough of low pressure extending from the great continental depression centered over southwest Asia. It is a season of high temperatures with almost cloudless skies. In winter Cyprus is near the track of fairly frequent small depressions which cross the Mediterranean Sea from west to east between the continental anticyclone of Eurasia and the generally low pressure belt of North Africa.

These depressions give periods of disturbed weather usually lasting for a day or so and produce most of the annual precipitation, the average rainfall from December to February being about 60% of the average annual total precipitation for the island as a whole, which is 500 mm. Precipitation increases from 450 millimetres up the south-western windward slopes to nearly 1.100 millimetres at the top of the Troodos massif. On the leeward slopes amounts decrease steadily northwards and eastwards to between 300 and 400 millimetres in the central plain and the flat south-eastern parts of the island.

The narrow ridge of the Kyrenia range, stretching 160 kms from west to east along the extreme north of the island produces a relatively small increase in rainfall of around 550 millimetres along its ridge at an elevation of 1.000 metres. Statistical analysis of rainfall in Cyprus reveals a decreasing trend of rainfall amounts in the last 30 years. Rainfall in the warmer months contributes little or nothing to water resources and agriculture. Autumn and winter rainfall, on which agriculture and water supply generally depend, is somewhat variable from year to year. Snow occurs rarely in the lowland and on the Northern Range but falls every winter on ground about 1.000 metres usually occurring by the first week in December and ending by the middle of April. Although snow cover is not continuous, during the coldest months it may lie to considerable depths for several weeks especially on the northern slopes of Troodos.

Temperatures are high in summer and the mean daily temperature in July and August ranges between 29 degrees Celsius on the central plain to 22 degrees Celsius on the Troodos mountains, while the average maximum temperature for these months ranges between 36 degrees Celsius and 27 degrees Celsius respectively. Winters are mild with a mean January temperature of 10 degrees Celsius on the central plain and 3 degrees Celsius on the higher parts of the Troodos mountains and with an average minimum temperature of 5 degrees Celsius and 0 degrees Celsius respectively.

Relative humidity of the air is on average between 60% and 80% in winter and between 40% and 60% in summer with even lower values over inland areas around midday. Fog is infrequent and visibility is generally very good. Sunshine is abundant during the whole year and particularly from April to September when the average duration of bright sunshine exceeds 11 hours per day.

Winds are generally light to moderate and variable in direction. Strong winds may occur sometimes, but gales are infrequent over Cyprus and are mainly confined to exposed coastal areas as well as areas at high elevation.

Land & Crops

The coastline is indented and rocky in the north with long, sandy beaches in numerous coves in the south. The northern coastal plain, covered with olive and carob trees, is backed by a steep, narrow mountain range of limestone, the Northern or Pentadactylos Range, rising to a height of 1.024 meters.

In the south-west the extensive mountain massif of Troodos, covered with pine, dwarf oak, cypress and cedar, culminates in the peak of Mount Olympus, 1.952 metres above sea level. Between the two ranges lies the fertile plain of Messaoria to the east and the still more fertile irrigated basin of Morphou to the west. The total area of arable land is about 430.000 hectares or 46,8% of the whole island. The total forest land is 1.735 square kms. i.e. 18,74% of the total area of the island. Cyprus has two salt lakes.

The principal crops in the lowlands are cereals (wheat and barley), vegetables, potatoes and citrus. The olive tree grows everywhere, but flourishes particularly on the sea-facing slopes. Vineyards occupy a large area on the southern and western slopes of the Troodos mountains. Deciduous fruit trees are grown in the fertile mountain valleys. The most valuable export crops are potatoes, citrus, fruits, vegetables and table grapes. Sheep and goats are mainly reared in sheds or tethered, but the semi-nomadic traditional system of grazing is still exercised.

Area and Population

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with an area of 9.251 sq. kilometers. It has a maximum length of 240 kms from east to west and a maximum width of 100 kms from north to south. It is situated 380 kms north of Egypt, 105 kms west of Syria and 75 kms south of Turkey.

The Greek mainland is some 800 kms to the west. The nearest Greek islands are Rhodes and Carpathos, 380 kms to the west.

Cyprus' population in July 2004 was 775,927. Population distribution by ethnic group is 85% Greek Cypriots including Maronites, Armenians and Latins and 12% Turkish Cypriots. Foreigners residing in Cyprus account for 3% of the population.

Prior to the Turkish invasion in 1974 the two communities lived together in roughly the same proportions (4 Greeks: 1 Turk) in all the six administrative districts. The capital of the island is Nicosia with a population of 195.300 in the sector controlled by the Cyprus government. It is the only divided capital in Europe.

It is situated roughly in the center of the island and is the seat of government as well as the main business center.

The second largest town is Limassol on the south coast, with a population of around 155.500. After 1974 it has become the island?s chief port, an industrial center and an important tourist resort.

Larnaca, in the south-coast of the island, has a population of 68.800 and is the country's second commercial port and an important tourist resort. To the north of the town one can find the country's oil refinery while to the south, the Larnaca International Airport.

Finally, Paphos, on the south-west coast, with a population of around 39.500, is a fast-developing tourist resort, home to the island?s second international airport and an attractive fishing harbor.

The towns of Famagusta, Kyrenia and Morphou have been under Turkish occupation since the Turkish invasion of 1974. The original Greek Cypriot inhabitants have been forced to flee to the government-controlled area. In their place the Turkish authorities have imported thousands of settlers from Anatolia.