Cyprus – History
1. Prehistoric Cyprus
The island of Cyprus emerged from the sea some 1,85 million years ago after the African tectonic plate moved under the Eurasian. The first settlers inhabited the island around the 9th or 10th millennium BC from the Levant region (Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia). The is evidence that during the paleolithic period humans coexisted with dwarf elephants and pygmy hippos. The Neolithic settlement of Choirokitia (7th millennium BC) is one of the best examples of organized functional society and is one of the most important and best-preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean. The discovery of the remains of an 8-month-old cat carefully buried next to their human owner suggests the earliest known feline-human association which precedes the Egyptian civilization.
2. Bronze Age (appx. 2600 – 1100 BC)
During the Bronze Age, there is a development of the first cities. At that time, there was extensive mining of copper which was abundant on the island and which most likely gave Cyprus its name. Towards its latter stage of the Bronze Age, the island was inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks and the Cypriot syllabic script was used.
3. Early Iron Age (appx. 1050 – 750 BC)
During that time in Cyprus, there used to be 10 Greek city-kingdoms whose foundation, according to the classic authors of the era, is associated with heroes of the Trojan war. At the same time, there is also evidence of the use of the Greek language on the island. Moreover, Phoenicians also built important colonies on the island, including ancient Kition and they brought their alphabet on which the Greek alphabet was based (beginning of the 9th century BC).
4. Ancient Cyprus
At the beginning of the Archaic period, Cyprus falls under the Assyrian rule (7th century – 570 BC), then was briefly conquered by Egyptians (570-525 BC) and later became part of the Persian empire (525 – 332 BC). During the Persian rule, the Cypriot kingdoms kept their independence but had to pay taxes to the Persian king. All efforts of the Cypriots to get rid of the Persian rule failed until the Hellenistic period (332 BC – 58 BC) when Alexander the Great came to power. The Cypriot kingdoms made an alliance and helped him in his campaign against the Persians, however, the island didn’t become completely independent as Alexander the Great while he gave some autonomy to the kingdoms he took control of the mines and the currency had his stamp. Following his death, the island dell under Ptolemaic rule until 58 BC when it became part of the Roman empire. During Roman times, there was a growth of the arts with many theatres and impressive mosaics surviving up to this day, as well as economic prosperity. Christianity was introduced on the island and by the 4th century AD became the prominent religion.
5. Byzantine Period (325 – 1192 AD)
After the division of the Roman empire in the east and west, Cyprus fell under the rule of the Byzantine. In the middle of the 7th century AD, the Arabs raided the island and conquered the capital and after an agreement with the Byzantine emperor, they shared dominance on the island.
6. French and Venetian rule
During the 3rd crusade (12 century AD), Richard Lionheart conquered Cyprus but soon after he sold it to the Knights Templar later to the French (Lusignans). During the French rule, the local population suffered poverty, and many were treated as slaves working for the royalty. In 1489 AD the island passed on to Venetian rule. Seeing the threat of the Ottomans, the Venetians fortified the island which was finally conquered in 1571 AD.
7. Ottoman Period (1571 – 1878 AD)
During the Ottoman times, a lot of mosques, baths, libraries, and public buildings were built following the ottoman architecture as well as irrigation systems and bridges. Despite the island being under the control of the Ottomans, the Cypriot orthodox church, which was responsible for tax collection, flourished and acted as an intermediary between Cypriots and the authorities. Many Greek Cypriots supported the Greek revolution against the Ottomans (1821) and there were also some unsuccessful attempts for revolution. The Ottoman rule ended after the Russo-Turkish war and Cyprus became part of the British Empire.
8. British rule (1878 – 1960 AD)
In 1878 the island came under the control of the British Empire and in 1914 it was officially annexed. During this period, Greek Cypriots wanted to achieve “Enosis” (Unification) with Greece claiming that historically the island was Greek. This alarmed the Turkish Cypriots who were afraid of having to flee like the Turkish community on the island of Creta in a similar situation. As the propaganda of unification with Greece was getting stronger, so did the tensions between the two communities. Nationalist paramilitary organizations were founded in both communities. EOKA the Greek Cypriot group aimed at getting independence and freedom from the British and unification with Greece and TMT the Turkish Cypriot one aimed to stop “enosis”. The independence revolution (1955-1959) ended with the agreement for the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 and by which the Turkish Cypriot community was recognized by the constitution and Britain retained two military bases on the island.
9. The Republic of Cyprus (1960-)
After the establishment of the Republic, many Greek Cypriots were still fixated with the unification with Greece and were very disappointed that it was not achieved. The Greek Cypriot nationalistic organization EOKA-B was created aiming to fight for unification and the Turkish Cypriot TMT continued their action. The clashes between the two communities escalated and a lot of killings took place in 1963-1964 and the UN sent a peacekeeping force. As a way to stop the conflict in 1963, a green line was drawn on the map of Nicosia dividing it into the northern region for the Turkish Cypriots and the southern for the Greek Cypriots, a division that still holds to this day. In July 1974, EOKA-B in cooperation with the Military Junta in Greece did a coup to overthrow the Cypriot government. A few days later, Turkey invaded the island claiming the protection of Turkish Cypriots, and took control of 1/3 of the country. As a result of the war, many Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots had to leave their villages and flee to the south and north of the country, respectively. In 1983 the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was self-proclaimed in the north. Ever since there have been efforts and UN-backed negotiations to resolve the frozen conflict with the most important in 2004 when a proposed solution was rejected. Despite the difficult political situation and the consecutive failed negotiations and the nationalistic propaganda on both sides, there are also many initiatives that try to bring the two communities together promoting the common heritage and advocating for peace and reconciliation.
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