CYPRUS : HISTORY

The present Cyprus (the Greek-Cypriote republic) is a rather young state. The island became an independent republic in 1960. Its situation close to Europe, Asia Minor and Africa makes it easy to understand that things have not always been quiet in Cyprus. Indeed, during the course of time the island has been occupied and ruled by almost everyone who had some kind of political or economic interest in the Mediterranean basin.

Already around 5.800 BC people were living in Cyprus. Because of the presence of cupper the island very quickly became an important trade center. Egyptians, Mycenaean's, Phoenicians, Persians, Macedonians and Romans : all have used it either for political or for economic purposes (and sometimes in a rather oppressive way). The Greek influence, however, has always been the most dominant.

In 45 AD Saint Paul and Saint Barnaby brought Christianity to Cyprus, which resulted during the Roman Empire in the construction of numerous churches and monasteries. Salamis became the new capital. When in 488 AD the tomb of Saint Barnaby was discovered, Anthemios the then archbishop of Cyprus, managed to have the Cypriote church declared as "autokephalos" (or : equal to the church of Constantinople).
From 647 until 965 Cyprus was regularly invaded by Arabs. The Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II succeeded in chasing the Arabs again from the island. This event was the start of the golden Byzantine era for Cyprus. By this time Nicosia, which had been founded at the end of the 7th century, became the most important city of the island.

After 1191 Cyprus was conquered by Richard Lion heart, who gave it to the Knights of the Temple. Later, rule over the island was given to Guy de Lusignan, de deposed king of Jerusalem. The Lusignans brought the feudal system to Cyprus and enslaved the inhabitants. After the crusades, the island was flooded by Christian refugees. The economy continued to flourish which caused more rivalry with Genoa and Venice. The last king of the Lusignans, James II, made a pact with Venice and married the Venetian Catharina Cornaro. Shortly after his marriage James (as well as his son) died in mysterious circumstances. In order to withstand the attacks of the Osmans, Catharina then ceded her throne to Venice.

In the meantime Venice had lost its dominant trade position because of the discovery of new trade routes in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1570 the Ottomans took advantage of the weakened position of Venice and captured Cyprus. The Ottoman Turk abolished the feudal system, recognized the Greek-Orthodox religion en changed the catholic churches in mosques. However, local Turkish civil servants milked the population and the economic outlook of the island weakened. In 1641 the population had gone down to 25.000. In 1754 the Sultan recognized the orthodox archbishop as leader of the Cypriote church, thereby making him the leader of the Greek-Cypriote people. During the Turkish rule a lot of uprisings took place  to make the island independent.

In the war between Russia and Turkey in 1828-1829 the British choose the side of Turkey. As a result Great-Britain received the rule over Cyprus as reward. The taxes, however, continued to go to the Sultan. The socio-economic situation improved considerably, but discontent among the inhabitants against the British grew because self-rule failed to come. When Turkey choose the side of Germany in 1914, the British annexed Cyprus. Two years later the island became a Crown colony. After the second World War the cry for "Enosis" (= union with mainland Greece) became louder and louder. There was an increase of armed rebellion against British rule. The Turkish Cypriots became more an more afraid that Cyprus would be dominated by Greece, thereby making them a minority. On the 16th of August negotiations in the UN resulted in Cyprus becoming independent. Archbishop Makarios became president and Fazil Küçük vice-president. In the following period mistrust between the two populations continued to grow.

In July 1974 the Greek colonels staged a coup d'état to remove Makarios. Turkish troops invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish Cypriots. Very quickly the Turkish held 37% of the island. About 200.000 Greek-Cypriots had to leave their villages and houses in the north and move south. A demarcation line (passing through Nicosia) split the island in two parts. In 1987 the Turkish Cypriots declared themselves independent.

 


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