Modern history of Cyprus

From 1570 to 1878 Cyprus was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1878 the United Kingdom took over the government of Cyprus as a protectorate as the result of the Cyprus Convention, in which the Ottoman Empire granted control of the island to the British in return for their support in the Russian-Turkish War. Although not mentioned in the agreement, UK control of Cyprus also aided British interests in the Suez Canal. The first British High Commissioner was Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913).

The British faced two major political problems on the island. The first was to contain the desire for union with Greece (enosis), after it became clear to the Greek-Cypriots that it was not going to be granted. The second was the consequential problem of keeping the two communities in harmony once the Turkish-Cypriots began to respond to enosis by calling for partition (taksim) as a defence against their being Hellenised, as they saw it. The Greek-Cypriots could easily claim that they had a strong case in history and they constituted between three quarters and three fifths of the population.

However, Cyprus' status as a protectorate of the British Empire ended in 1914 when the Ottoman Empire declared war against the Entente powers, which included Britain. Cyprus was then annexed by the British Empire on November the 2nd. During the course of the First World War Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfill treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined.

In the Greek-Cypriot community the demand for enosis developed rapidly from the 1930s, a turning point being the Greek-Cypriot riots of 1931 and the burning down of Government House in Nicosia.

Endeavours by the British to introduce constitutional government designed to develop some participation without leading to enosis failed, despite determined efforts to achieve some semblance of liberal and democratic government, notably by the post-war Labour Government in Britain.

On the Greek side the British were helped to a degree in their desire to head off enosis by the international socialism of AKEL (The Reform Party of the Working People) which was influential in the large labour unions. For once communism was defeated in Greece, enosis became unattractive to the extreme left which now favoured Cypriot self-government. However, AKEL's advanced leftism was manna neither for colonial rulers, nor for the United States, whose interest in the region increased markedly after the Second World War. Led by Archbishop Makarios, the Greek-Cypriot demand for enosis emerged with new force in the 1950s, when Greece began to accord it support on the international scene. This attempt to win world support alerted Turkey and alarmed the Turkish-Cypriots.

When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond as required, violence escalated with a terrorist campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas, created and directed an effective campaign. Easily infiltrated by Greek-Cypriot sympathisers working for them in various ancillary tasks, the British security forces had to exert great efforts under Field Marshall Sir John Harding to bring terrorism under control. They were much more successful then is often recognised, though terrorism was not quite vanquished. Makarios was exiled, suspected of involvement in the EOKA campaign, but was released when EOKA, exhausted but still determined to fight, agreed to cease hostilities on the Archbishop's release free to return.

In April 1957, in the new conditions made obvious by the Suez debacle, the British government accepted that bases in Cyprus were an acceptable alternative to Cyprus as a base. This produced a much more relaxed British attitude to the problem. It was now to be solved in conjunction with Greece and Turkey, the latter thoroughly alerted to the dangers of enosis to the Turkish community. Violence was renewed in Cyprus by EOKA, but it increasingly drew in the Turkish community when the new Governor Sir Hugh Foot's plan (for unitary self-government) incited Turkish-Cypriot riots and produced a hostile response from the Turkish government. Violence between the two communities developed into a new and deadly feature of the situation.

In the few years that existed before the Z├╝rich and London Agreements (1959 /1960) Greece tried again to win international recognition and support for the cause of enosis at the UN against a background of renewed and continuing EOKA violence directed against the British. It was to no avail. Eventually Greece had to recognise that Turkey was now a vitally interestedparty in the dispute.

Grivas and EOKA also had to accept the changed situation. Makarios could see no way of excluding Turkey from participating in any solution. It was widely believed by the Greek-Cypriots that Britain had promoted the Turkish-Cypriot case, thus preventing the achievement of enosis.

Proposed union with Greece

Children of Cyprus demonstrating against British colonial rule ( Source : Aspect of Cyprus)

In 1948, King Paul of Greece declared that Cyprus desired union with Greece. In 1951 the Orthodox Church of Cyprus presented a referendum according to which around 97% of the Greek Cypriot population (and also many Turkish Cypriots!) wanted the union. The United Nations accepted the Greek petition and enosis became an international issue. In 1952 both Greece and Turkey became members of NATO.

In 1955 EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group, was formed under the leadership of George Grivas, a Greek Cypriot army officer. For the next four years EOKA attacked primarily British or British-connected targets. The UK reacted, often with equal brutality and threats of satisfying the Turkish interests. Britain tried and to some degree succeeded in reproducing what it had done in India and other colonies: to divide people by their religious beliefs in order to make the colonies easier to rule. Some writers have asserted that this commonly practiced British colonial policy resulted in the exaggeration of ethnic differences while reducing the sense of national identity. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile in Seychelles. In 1957 the UN decided that the issue should be resolved according to its Statutory Map. The exiles returned, and both sides began a series of violent acts against each other.

On February 19, 1959 the Zürich agreement attempted to end the conflict. Without the presence of either the Greek or the Turkish sides, the UK outlined a Cypriot constitution, which was eventually accepted by both sides. Both Greece and Turkey along with Britain were appointed as guarantors of the island's integrity. Some of the major points of the Zurich agreement are:

Cyprus is to become an independent state.

Both taksim and enosis are to be prohibited.

Greek and Turkish military forces, at a ratio of approximately 3:2, are to be present at all time in Cyprus. Both forces are to answer to all three Foreign Ministers: of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.

The President is to be a Greek Cypriot, elected by the Greek Cypriot population, and the Vice President a Turkish Cypriot, elected by the Turkish Cypriot population.

The Cabinet is to include seven Greek Cypriots, chosen by the President, and three Turkish Cypriots, chosen by the Vice President.

Decisions will need an absolute majority but both the President and the Vice President have the right of veto.

Britain is to remain a guarantor and keep both of its military bases.


On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group which desired political union with Greece, or enosis. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected the first president of independent Cyprus. In 1961 it became the 99th member of the UN.

The Zurich agreement, however, did not succeed in establishing cooperation between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot populations. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government. Both sides continued the violence. Turkey threatened to invade the island.

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 Cypriot participation in the central government ceased. Makarios ordered a cease-fire and again addressed the issue to the United Nations. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964. In 1964 the Turkish parliament voted in favour of the invasion of Cyprus but the lack of support that Turkey faced from both the UN and NATO prevented it. In answer Grivas was recalled to Athens and the Greek military force left the island.

Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.

Greek coup and Turkish invasion

In July 1974, an attempt by agents of the dictatorship then ruling Greece to seize power and unite the island with Greece was met by military intervention from Turkey, which exercised its powers under the treaty of guarantee it held. Turkey then invaded Cyprus on July 20. The military junta in Athens was sponsoring a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots hostile to Makarios for his alleged pro-communist leanings and for his perceived abandonment of enosis.

In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island. 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the Turkish forces while up to 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to the occupied areas by the United Nations and British SBA authorities after threats from Turkey. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part under a Turkish-Cypriot subordinate local administration supported by the presence of Turkish troops.

Relatives of missing persons ( Source : Aspect of Cyprus)

In 1983, the Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but that entity is recognised only by Turkey. It faces an international embargo.

UN peacekeeping forces maintain a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, there had been no violent conflict since 1974 until August 1996, when violent clashes led to the death of two demonstrators and escalated tension. There is little movement of people and essentially no movement of goods or services between the two parts of the island.

UN-led talks on the status of Cyprus resumed in December 1999 to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue, however, under the auspices of the United Nations. As Cyprus planned to join the European Community in May 2004, there were renewed negotiations about the status of the Island. In December 2003, the borders between the two parts of Cyprus were partly opened, numerous Greek Cypriots visited the north, and labour migration of Turkish Cypriots to the south (especially in Levkosa/Lefkosia/Nikosia) began. A referendum on reunification was refused by the majority in the Greek part of the Island.

Turkish invasion of Cyprus

Further reading

History, general

  • C. D. Cobham, Excerpta Cypria: materials for a history of Cyprus (Cambridge 1908). Nice Collection of written sources.
  • D. Hunt, Footprints in Cyprus (London, Trigraph 1990).


  • Vassos Karageorghis, Cyprus (1969). Includes bibliography.
  • Veronica Tatton-Brown, Cyprus BC: 7000 years of history (London, British Museum 1979).
  • Stuart Swiny, Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus (American School of Oriental Research 2001) ISBN 0-89757-051-0
  • J. M. Webb/D. Frankel, "Characterising the Philia facies. Material culture, chronology and the origins of the Bronze age in Cyprus" in American Journal of archaeology 103, 1999, 3-43.
  • S. Gitin/A. Mazar/E. Stern (eds.), Mediterranean peoples in transition, thirteenth to early 10th century BC (Jerusalem, Israel exploration Society 1998). Late Bronze Age and transition to the Iron Age.
  • J. D. Muhly, "The role of the Sea People in Cyprus during the LCIII period. In: Vassos Karageorghis and J. D. Muhly (eds), Cyprus at the close of the Bronze Age (Nicosia 1984), 39-55. End of Bronze Age

Classical Period, Sources

  • Herodotus, "The Histories"
  • Isocrates, "Nicocles"
  • Diodorus Siculus, "Bibliothiki" (Library)
  • Arrian, "The Campaigns of Alexander the Great"

Medieval Age

  • Angel Nicolaou-Konnari (Ed): Cyprus. Society and culture (1191 - 1374); Leiden : Brill, 2005. - XVI, 403 S., ISBN 90-04-14767-5

History, 20th century

  • C. Spyridiakis, The education policy of the English government in Cyprus (1878-1954).
  • C. Spyridiakis, A brief history of Cyprus.


  • Apollodorus, "Bibliothiki" (Library)
  • Pausanias, "Description of Greece"
  • Ovid, "Metamorphosis"

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