North Cyprus – a brief history of the island

The island of Cyprus is one of the earliest to be settled by humankind, with evidence of its first settlement dating back to the stone age. The tiny island of Petra Tou Limnidi, which can been seen from the remains of Vouni Palace, has produced artefacts from the period, suggesting this was one of the first sites of human habitation. The position of Cyprus on many major maritime trade routes, has secured its strategic importance, and since those early beginnings the island has been occupied by many races and peoples, all of whom have left their traces.


The earliest settlements were relatively small and centred on farming, but the bronze age saw the first major cities become established. The name ‘Cyprus’ is widely believed to derive from copper, as the island is rich in copper ores and copper mining and processing were a source of significant wealth in this period. Mostly ruled by Hittites, there is some evidence of other races living here at the time, although Greeks settlers arrived in significant numbers after the Trojan war, with city kingdoms being formed sometime around the tenth century BC. In the following centuries, the island, or at least parts of it, came under Phoenician and Assyrian rule.


Cyprus fell to Roman rule, becoming a full Roman province around 50BC. The island was then gifted to Cleopatra by Marc Anthony, but returned to Roman government within a few years. The apostle Paul is believed to have visited the island, and St Andrew is claimed to have landed at the north east point of the Karpaz Peninsula, where the Apostolos Andreas Monastery stands and was named after him. The island was converted to Christianity, becoming in the process the first Roman state to encompass the religion. Around this period, the island was struck by a number of major earthquakes and drouts, causing much damage to major cities, including the Roman Capital of Salamis, which was consequently abandoned.


In the following period of the middle ages, the Roman Empire was split in two and Cyprus came under Byzantine rule. There were a number of subsequent Arab invasions in the first millenium AD, but for some three centuries the island held the unique position of being jointly rules by the Arabs and Byzantians. This lasted until the twelfth century AD, when the island fell to the crusaders, under the rule of Richard the Lionheart. Although many changes occurred during this time, the rule was short-lived and within less than ten years, the Lusignans had occupied Cyprus, establishing the Latin Church. Although Lusignan rule lasted a significant time, the island established itself as a highly important centre for trade between Europe, Asia and Africa. Genoese merchants became increasingly powerful and in 1489, Queen Cornaro was forced to sell the island to Venice.


Many major building works date to Venetian rule, with substantial additions and fortifications to towns, of particular note are the Famagusta city walls and Kyrenia Castle. However, the period was marked by ever-increasing raids from the Ottoman Empire and the Ottomans eventually captured Cyprus in 1570. Ottoman rule was long lasting, and although the status of the island changed many times, it was not until the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war that rule changed in 1878. At this time, under the Cyprus Convention, the island became a British Protectorate and following the First World War and the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus was formally annexed by the UK, becoming a Crown Colony, which lasted until the late 1950s. At this time, the island was occupied by a majority population of Greek Cypriots and a minority of Turkish Cypriots. A political movement started, aiming for enosis (full integration with mainland Greece), however the result was actually independence, with the country becoming the Republic of Cyprus.


During the 1960s, the island had a power-sharing government, with a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president. In addition, the representation in terms of members of the parliament was approximately pro rata with the population, and separate municipalities were established, with either Greek or Turkish leadership. The enosis movement, however, remained active and there was significant civil unrest, eventually leading to the United Nations sending peacekeeping forces to the island. In 1974, elements of the Greek Cypriots carried out a military coup, taking over the entire government. In response, troops from mainland Turkey invaded. After the subsequent ceasefire, the island was partitioned. Although a few small communities remained, in general Turkish Cypriots moved to the north of the island and Greek Cypriots to the south. The north was recognised by Turkey as the Turkish Federated State of Northern Cyprus, later changed to simply the TRNC, or Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The border was maintained largely by UN personnel and was extremely difficult to cross, and almost impossible for Cypriot nationals.


The situation remained that way for decades, with the north all but isolated. Although many attempts have been made at resolving the situation, the most widely acknowledged was the extremely detailed plan proposed by Kofi Anan during his time as head of the United Nations. The ‘Anan Plan’ plan was supported by the US and the EU and was put to the peoples of both sides of the island in a referendum. To the surprise of many, the Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the plan, but the Greek Cypriots rejected it. However, there has been progress. Following the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU, various changes have followed. There are now a number of border crossing points and Cypriot citizens on both sides are free to cross, which many do on a daily basis not only for tourism, but also for shopping and for work as well. Any EU passport holder can cross the border with ease, meaning that travel to North Cyprus is now possible from almost anywhere. Although the two ‘sides’ remain divided, the first part of the 21st century have seen the breaking down of barriers and it is increasingly possible that commerce and trade will succeed where politics has failed.