Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean, which geographically
belongs to Asia, but is usually considered part of Europe from a political and cultural perspective. It is about 68 km from the south coast of Turkey, 95 km from the west coast of Syria, 394 km from the east coast of Rhodes, and about 830 km from the Greek mainland. The island’s geopolitical position has had a massive influence on its history.
Today, Greek Cypriots living on the island constitute about 72% of the population, and Turkish Cypriots about 28%. This includes the approximately 80,000 Turks who were settled there following the occupation of the North by Turkey in 1974, as well as the circa 35,000 Turkish soldiers stationed in northern Cyprus. The number of Turkish Cypriots before 1925 was at times substantially larger.
Cyprus was for many centuries the plaything of larger external powers. The Romans were early occupiers of the island (until 1184). The crusaders and the Counts of Lusignan ruled the island until 1489; until 1571 it belonged to the Republic of Venice, and after that to the Ottoman Empire. In 1878, Cyprus was leased by the Ottomans to Great Britain in exchange for British protection against Russian aggression. Britain annexed the island in 1914 after the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War. In 1923, Turkey relinquished all claims to Cyprus and recognised the annexation of the island by Britain. In 1925 Cyprus finally became a British crown colony.
Over the course of about 400 years, alongside the mostly ethnically homogeneous towns, which had both purely Turkish and purely Greek quarters, ethnically mixed villages formed in the countryside in addition to purely Turkish and purely Greek ones. In the long history of common life in the ethnically mixed villages, the few sources relate no ethnic conflicts in the sense of bloody clashes; at times the rural Greek and Turkish population rose up together against the authorities. There was as yet no distinctive nationalist consciousness.
A rebellion against British colonial rule by Greek Cypriots took place in 1931. The demand for ENOSIS, i.e. the union of Cyprus with Greece, was addressed to the British. From the numerically much smaller population of Turkish Cypriots no resistance to this demand was expected.
A Turkish Cypriot national consciousness developed definitively in the 1940s, especially in rural areas. This eventually resulted in demonstrations by Turkish Cypriots demanding that Cyprus either continue under British rule or be “returned” to Turkey. Later these demands changed to a call for TAKSIM, i.e. the division of the island.
From 1950 onwards, Makarios III took on a leading role in the political struggle of the Greek Cypriots, in his double role as Archbishop of Cyprus and Ethnarch (“prince of the people”). In 1955 the EOKA A, a Greek Cypriot underground army, began the battle against British colonial power and for ENOSIS, using acts of terror and assaults. From that point on violent conflicts began to occur more often between the ethnic groups. The Turkish Cypriots founded a competing organisation (TMT) to fight the Greek Cypriot movement EOKA A. The years 1955-57, 1963/64, and 1967 saw civil-war style conflicts. In 1958 the armed conflict between EOKA A and TMT spread even into the villages. The first expulsions took place, with the victims overwhelmingly Turkish Cypriots.
In 1960 Cyprus became an independent republic based on the “Zurich Agreement” between Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey, with a government made up of representatives from both ethnic groups. The violent conflicts between Greek and Turkish Cypriots resulting from diverging ideas about the island’s political future worsened in the 1950s due to the partisanship of the “mother countries” Greece and Turkey and the emergence of a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot national consciousness.
In 1963, Cyprus’ President Makarios tried to limit the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the constitution. Riots and massacres resulted, with casualties on the Turkish Cypriot side double those on the Greek Cypriot side.
In the wake of the civil-war type conflicts between the two groups, most Turkish Cypriots left the mixed villages in 1963/64 to find safety in newly formed enclaves. As a result of the unrest, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was stationed in the country. For the first time a ceasefire zone was established (“Green Line”). There was a first wave of population exchange between the two groups.
In July 1974, the right-wing Greek Cypriot extremist group EOKA B overthrew the Cypriot President Makarios with support from the Greek military junta. The goal of the coup was to annex Cyprus to Greece. Because of pogroms and ethnic cleansing, Turkey invoked its role as a protector of the Turkish Cypriots and occupied the north side of the island in two phases between July and August 1974. Almost all the Greek Cypriots from the north fled southwards away from the Turkish troops. The United Nations Security Council reinforced the territorial integrity and indivisibility of the Republic of Cyprus in its Resolution 353 and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops. The UN buffer zone was expanded to its current size (ca. 4% of the island's surface area) and has been controlled since then by the United Nations' peace troops (UNFICYP).
Today Cyprus is divided between the almost purely Greek South and the equally homogeneous Turkish North. Turkish Cypriots who had been living in the South and Greek Cypriots who had been living in the North were forced by the war of 1974 to leave their homes. Accordingly, their sacred buildings in both regions lay disused, became derelict, or were profaned. In the North, churches were also turned into mosques.
In 1983, the “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” (TRNC) was proclaimed unilaterally by Turkish Cypriots. The UN Security Council declared this proclamation contrary to international law in its Resolution 541. Turkey is the only country that recognises the TRNC. This has a serious effect on all areas of life. The economic dependency on Turkey and numerous restrictions contribute, among other factors, to a great economic disparity between North and South.
The New York negotiations in 1984 were supposed to create an independent, non-aligned, federal bi-zonal republic. Shortly before the treaty was signed, the Greek Cypriot side demanded a renegotiation.
In 2003, the first checkpoint in the buffer zone was opened in order to allow both ethnic groups to make visits to the other side.
The Kofi Annan Plan for reunification of the island was rejected in 2004 in a referendum. 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against it, while 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour. Cyprus became a member of the European Union as a whole island but a divided country. The Acquis Communautaire (i.e. all laws and ordinances of the EU) is suspended in the North until the Republic of Cyprus is able to exercise national sovereignty. The end result of the current negotiations for reunification of the island – allegedly the most promising thus far – is uncertain.
Of the 2001 officially recognised “missing” persons due to the conflict (1508 “missing” Greek Cypriots and 493 “missing” Turkish Cypriots) 499 Greek Cypriots and
181 Turkish Cypriots have been identified by the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), with some entire villages regarded as “missing”. In Cyprus “missing” is generally understood to mean that a
person was certainly or almost certainly murdered, but their remains have not yet been found and identified. (Status:
Cf.: Jan Asmussen, Wir waren wie Brüder, Zusammenleben und Konfliktentstehung in ethnisch gemischten Dörfern auf Zypern, Studien zur Zeitgeschichte des Nahen Ostens und Nordafrikas, Band 7, Hamburg, LIT, 2001; Yiannis Papadakis, Locating the Cyprus Problem: Ethnic Conflict and the Politics of Space, in: Macalester International, vol. 15 (2005), pp. 81-98; Heinz A. Richter, Geschichte der Insel Zypern, Bibliopolis Verlag Möhnsee-Wamel 2004 ff. 4 Bd.; https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyprus (last visit to the website: 2/8/2016); http://www.fescyprus.org/pages/english/home.php (last visit to the website: 2/8/2016); www.cmp-cyprus.org (last visit to the website: 2/8/2016).