Greek Cypriots

Greek Cypriot refers to the ethnic Greek population of Cyprus. They form the island's largest ethnic community, nearly 80 percent of the population, with the second largest ethnic community being the Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriots are mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians, members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, an autocephalous church headed by an Archbishop. The 2001 Republic of Cyprus Census showed that 689,565 people inhabit the Republic.


The Greek Cypriots trace their origins to the descendants of the Achaean Greeks and later the Mycenaean Greeks, who settled on the island during the second half of the second millennium B.C. The island gradually became part of the Hellenic world as the settlers prospered over the next centuries. Alexander the Great liberated the island from the Persians in 333 B.C. After the division of the Roman Empire in A.D. 285 Cypriots enjoyed home rule almost nine centuries under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium, something not seen again until 1960. Perhaps the most important event of the early Byzantine period was that the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus became an independent autocephalous church in 431.

The Byzantine era profoundly molded Greek Cypriot culture. The Greek Orthodox Christian legacy bestowed on Greek Cypriots in this period would live on during the succeeding centuries of foreign domination. Because Cyprus was never the final goal of any external ambition, but simply fell under the domination of whichever power was dominant in the eastern Mediterranean, destroying its civilization was never a military objective or necessity.

Despite the heavy oppression the period of Ottoman rule (1570-1878) did little to change Greek Cypriot culture outright. The Ottomans tended to administer their multicultural empire with the help of their subject millets, or religious communities. The tolerance of the millet system permitted the Greek Cypriot community to survive, administered for Istanbul by the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, who became the community's head, or ethnarch. Although tolerant, Ottoman rule was generally harsh and inefficient. Turkish settlers suffered alongside their Greek Cypriot neighbors, and the two groups endured together centuries of oppressive governance from Istanbul.

The concept of enosis -- unification with the Greek "motherland" -- became important to literate Greek Cypriots after Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. A movement for the realization of enosis gradually formed, in which the Orthodox Church of Cyprus had a dominant role (see "Cyprus dispute").

During British rule (1878-1960), the British brought an efficient colonial administration, but government and education were administered along ethnic lines, accentuating differences. For example, the education system was organized with two Boards of Education, one Greek and one Turkish, controlled by Athens and Istanbul, respectively. The resulting education emphasized linguistic, religious, cultural, and ethnic differences and ignored traditional ties between the two Cypriot communities. The two groups were encouraged to view themselves as extensions of their respective motherlands, and the development of two distinct nationalities with antagonistic loyalties was ensured.

The importance of religion within the Greek Cypriot community was reinforced when the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, Makarios III, was elected the first president of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. For the next decade and a half, enosis was a key issue for Greek Cypriots, and a key cause of events leading up to 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern part of the island. The island remains divided today, with the two communities almost completely separated. Many Greek Cypriots, most of which lost their homes, lands and possecions during the Turkish invasion emigrated mainly to the U.K., Australia and Europe. There are today over 200,000 Greek Cypriots emigrants living in Great Britain.

By the early 1990s, Greek Cypriot society enjoyed a high standard of living. Economic modernization created a more flexible and open society and caused Greek Cypriots to share the concerns and hopes of other secularized West European societies. The Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, officially representing the entire island, but suspended for the time being in the Turkish occupied north.

Greek Cypriot Language

The Greek Cypriot language is an idiom (sometimes falsily labeled as 'dialect') distinct from the formal Greek language (note that different dialects exist on many of the Greek islands) as it is spoken in mainland Greece. It is considered by linguists to be the second most important non-standard variety of modern Greek, after the Pontic Greek dialect spoken by Greek populations on the Black Sea Coast of Anatolia. Although all Cypriots understand mainland Greeks (as the vast majority of Greek language media is produced in mainland Greek), and all Cypriots are taught standard Greek in the Cypriot educational system, the Cypriot variety is not always mutually intelligible with the standard variant (mainly because of local pronunciation and idiomatic structures). This is particularly true of many of the localized cypriot idioms spoken in western Cyprus, around Pafos and in the Troodos mountains.

The Greek Cypriot language is a source of pride for the Greek Cypriot population - many Greek Cypriots consider the dialect to be closer to the Classical Greek language than standard Greek, thus providing a direct linkage between Greek Cypriots and noted ancient Greeks such as Homer and Plato. There are few scholarly works in English that explore the Cypriot dialect, probably because it is spoken by a limited number of people.

In many ways, the Greek Cypriot pride and interest in perpetuating their unique dialect and distinct identity from the mainland Greeks is similar to that of the Turkish Cypriots' interest in doing so with respect to the mainland Turkish dialect and population.

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