Latest update: 08/06/2009 18:17 +0300

History of Cyprus:

Neolithic settlement of Khirokitia

Cyprus' civilisation, according to archaeological evidence, goes back 11.000 years to the 9th millennium BC (early Neolithic Period or Stone Age). The island acquired its Greek character after it was colonised by the Mycenaean-Achaean Greeks between the 13th and 11th century BC. In the mid- 9th century BC Phoenician settlers began to arrive, concentrating mainly in the coastal city of Kition. Subsequently Cyprus came, in turn, under Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian domination (8th – 4th century BC). It became part of the Roman Empire between 30 BC and 330 AD.

However, it retained its Greek identity and, as part of the Hellenistic state of the Ptolemies (310-30 BC) and of the Greek-speaking world of Byzantium (330 AD-1191), its ethnic heritage was kept alive. The Greek language and culture also prevailed throughout the centuries that followed even though Cyprus came under the rule of successive foreign powers – King Richard I (the Lionheart) of England and the Knights Templar (1191-1192), the Franks (Lusignans) (1192-1489), Venetians (1489-1571), Ottoman Turks (1571-1878) and British (1878-1960).

Terracota figurine of horse and rider (7th c. BC) Marble statue of Aphrodite (1st c. BC)

The Greek Cypriots mounted an anti-colonial liberation struggle against British rule from 1955 to 1959. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence and became a constitutional Republic. Greece, Turkey and Britain were to stand as guarantors of the country’s independence under the Zurich-London agreements and Britain would retain two sovereign base areas. Political power was to be shared between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a 7:3 ratio. This gave the Turkish Cypriot community (a numerical minority of 18% of the population) 30% representation in the Government and state institutions. In addition, the Turkish Cypriot community had veto rights on major issues.

Relations between the two communities had for centuries been peaceful and amicable. However, certain provisions of the Zurich-London agreements and the 1960 Constitution were to prove conducive to domestic conflict and foreign interference. The Constitution itself emphasised differences between Greek and Turkish Cypriots thereby encouraging divisive rather than integrative tendencies between the two communities. Greek Cypriots were determined to strengthen the unity of the state but the Turkish Cypriot leadership, at the strong urging of Turkey, sought ethnic segregation and geographic separation. This led to brief intercommunal clashes during 1963 to1967, air attacks and threats to invade by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots ceased to participate in the government, the legislature and civil service.
UN sponsored intercommunal talks to reach a settlement were held during 1968-1974. Intercommunal tensions subsided and violence virtually disappeared during this period.

Byzantine church of Panayia Phorriotissa of Asinou (11th-12th c. AD)

On 15 July 1974 the military junta then ruling Greece sponsored a coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Cyprus. On 20 July Turkey, using the coup as a pretext, and in violation of international codes of conduct established under treaties to which it is a signatory, invaded Cyprus purportedly to restore constitutional order. Instead, it seized 36,2% of the territory of the Republic in the north – an act universally condemned as a gross violation of international law and the UN Charter. Turkey, only 74 kms (45 miles) away has since defied many UN resolutions demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops from the island.

The invasion and occupation had disastrous consequences. Thousands were killed and more than 162.000 Greek Cypriots living in the north – over a quarter of the population – were driven from their homes and became refugees. This number includes 20.000 Greek Cypriots enclaved in the occupied area who were gradually forced through intimidation and denial of their fundamental human rights to abandon their homes and find refuge in the government–controlled area. Today there are only about 500 enclaved people. Seventy per cent of the productive potential of the island was lost and 30% of population became unemployed. Turkish Cypriots were forced to move to the occupied area in line with Turkey’s policy of ethnic segregation.

Famagusta Gate in Nicosia

Some 1.474 Greek Cypriot civilians and soldiers disappeared during and after the invasion. Many were in Turkish custody and some were seen in prisons in Turkey and the occupied area before their disappearance. The fate of all but a handful is still not known as Turkey is unwilling to investigate their whereabouts. Furthermore, the policy of bringing settlers from Turkey to the occupied areas has changed demographics to such an extent that these illegal settlers (more than 160.000) outnumber the Turkish Cypriots (about 88.000) by almost two to one.

Much of the rich cultural heritage in the occupied areas has been destroyed and vandalised and places of worship have been desecrated.

A series of UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, as well as resolutions adopted by numerous other international organisations, reflect the universal condemnation of Turkey’s invasion and all subsequent acts of aggression against Cyprus; demand the return of the refugees to their homes in safety and the tracing of the missing persons; and call for respect for the human rights of all Cypriots as well as for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cyprus. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights has found the government of Turkey responsible for gross and systematic violations of human rights in Cyprus.

The signing of the Treaty for the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, 15/16 August 1960.

Successive rounds of UN-sponsored talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities since 1974 to resolve the Cyprus problem and reunite the country have been undermined by the Turkish side which has sought a settlement that in effect would leave Cyprus permanently divided and hostage to foreign interests. The Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, have been insisting on the genuine reunification of the island and its people.

The latest UN effort resulted in the presentation of a plan by the Secretary-General for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. On 24 April 2004 the people of Cyprus were asked to approve or reject, through separate, simultaneous referenda by the two communities, the UN Secretary-General’s proposal (Annan Plan V). A clear majority of 75,8% Greek Cypriots rejected the proposed Annan Plan because they felt that the finalised text, which incorporated arbitrarily many last minute demands by Turkey, was not balanced and did not meet their main concerns regarding security, functionality and viability of the solution. By their vote the Greek Cypriots obviously did not reject the solution to the Cyprus problem which remains their primary goal. They only rejected the particular plan which was put before them. Moreover, they have not turned their backs on their Turkish Cypriot compatriots who approved the plan by 64,9%. On the contrary, they have been working towards a solution that will meet the expectations of both communities.

The "no" vote in the referendum should be interpreted as a legitimate expression of the real concerns that led to the rejection of a seriously flawed plan which, among other weaknesses, did not provide for:

  • The removal of the foreign troops and settlers from Cyprus and the elimination of the right of foreign powers to unilaterally intervene in Cyprus;
  • Adequate guarantees to ensure that the commitments undertaken by the parties involved would be carried out;
  • A property recovery system that appropriately recognised the rights and interests of displaced Greek Cypriots who were forced from their homes in 1974, and a property compensation arrangement that did not require Greek Cypriots to fund their own restitution;
  • The right of all Cypriots to acquire property and to live wherever they chose without restrictive quotas; and
  • A functional government without deadlocks or voting restrictions based on ethnicity.

The Government of Cyprus continues to work for the genuine reunification of Cyprus and integration of its people and economy in the context of a functional and viable settlement – a solution which will bring peace, prosperity and a better future for all the citizens of a united Cyprus within the EU.

Source: Press and Information Office of the Ministry of the Interior

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