The island of Cyprus stands at a cross-road in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Europe, Africa and Asia meet. For this reason, it has been sought after and invaded over the centuries by all kinds of peoples seeking to make their own this fertile, sun-kissed and bountiful island. Who can blame them? Where in the world can such a calm, clear and transparent sea be found? Where else can you find such sunny beaches and hidden coves, resin-scented forests of dazzling green, impenetrable wild mountain ranges, picturesque villages off the beaten track – all brought together in such a limited space of 9251 km² ? Yet, at the same time, when the island is seen in its regional context, the possibilities are boundless and space anything but limited since the island's position makes it perfect for exploring the whole Mediterranean.
The known history of Cyprus stretches back more than 9000 years. Many excavations have provided ample testimony to the existence of human settlements from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age periods. Around 1300 BC, the Mycenaeans settled in commercial centres along the coast, and Cyprus enjoyed a period of great prosperity. In about 1000 BC, Achaen and Phoenician colonies were established on the island. They were later followed by a whole series of invaders and conquerors: the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Persians and Egyptians until Cyprus finally became a Roman colony in 58 BC.
Back in 330 AD, the seat of the Roman Empire was transferred to Constantinople and Cyprus became part of the eastern Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire grew as the Roman Empire declined. Between 649 and 965, however, Cyprus was plagued by Arab raiders. After the decline of the Byzantine Empire in 1191, Cyprus fell into the hands of the Crusaders and Richard the Lionheart of England. A year later, he offered Cyprus as a gift to the French Guy de Lusignan to compensate him for the loss of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to Muslim hands.
Thus began the period of Frankish rule which lasted until 1489. In the meantime, the Genoese had already occupied some towns of the island, and they were followed by the Venetians who secured dominion over the whole island until 1571. In 1571, Cyprus was annexed to the Ottoman Empire, and, as a result, Turks came to settle on the island.
The Ottoman Empire was in steep decline when in 1878, the Sultan of Constantinople and the British Government of Disraeli agreed that in exchange for British support against the threat from Russia, the Sultan would hand over control and administration of Cyprus to Britain. This gave Britain a military base close to the Suez Canal, which had been opened in 1869. From 1878 to 1959, Cyprus remained a British colony despite constant calls for union with Greece from large sections of the population and local politicians from 1931 onward.
In 1950, the newly elected Archbishop Makarios III became a political spokesman for these aspirations, which were backed by an armed struggle on the part of Greek Cypriots belonging to EOKA (The National Organisation for the Struggle in Cyprus) resistance movement. EOKA began a guerrilla war against British rule in 1955. After three years of armed struggle, it became clear that all hope of annexation to Greece was in vain, so Makarios agreed to the independence of the country and became the first President of the Republic of Cyprus. On 16th August 1960, Cyprus was proclaimed an independent state, and in 1961 it was accepted into the British Commonwealth.
Almost immediately, divisions and conflicts began to appear between the two ethnic groups – the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots. In 1963, these disputes broke out into open civil war, and in 1964 the first UN peace-keeping troops arrived to restore order.
In 1967, a right-wing dictatorship headed by Colonel Papadopoulos seized power in Greece. The Greek junta sought to unify the whole Hellenic world (including Cyprus) under its rule, but Archbishop Makarios was seen as an obstacle to these aspirations. On July 15, 1974, Makarios was forced to leave the island after a coup d'état carried out by the Greek junta. On July 20, 1974, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus – claiming to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority from Greek Cypriot extremists. Eventually, Turkey occupied almost 40% of the island.
The Greek junta collapsed and Makarios returned. In 1983, the occupied part of the island declared itself "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" though to this day it has only been recognised as a sovereign state by Turkey itself. Unfortunately, all negotiations and UN efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem have so far proved unsuccessful.
SOURCE: The Island that Everyone Wanted by Marina Christofides