It is one of only three
Commonwealth member countries located in Europe, all of which are island
states and members of the European Union.
Cyprus has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the Commonwealth:
997 infants survive every 1,000 births.
Joined Commonwealth: 1961
Population: 1,141,000 (2013)
GDP: 0.9% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 32
Official language: Greek, Turkish
Timezone: GMT plus 2–3hr
Currency: euro (€)
Area: 9,251 sq km
Capital city: Nicosia
Population density (per sq. km): 123
Cyprus is an oval-shaped island with ‘pan-handle’ north-east peninsula
in the eastern Mediterranean. Its closest mainland neighbours are Turkey
(to the north) and Syria and Lebanon (to the east).
Nicosia (Lefkosia, capital, pop. 334,120 in 2011, with a further 61,378
in the occupied north), Limassol (239,739), Paphos (91,200), Larnaca
(53,500). In the occupied north, other main towns are Famagusta
(40,920), Kyrenia (33,207), Morphou and Lefka.
There is a good road network in the Republic, extending to 12,480 km (65
per cent paved), with motorways between Nicosia, Limassol, Paphos and
the Famagusta area; comprising 2.2 per cent of the total network. Cyprus
has no railway.
Major ports are at Larnaca and Limassol.
Nicosia airport was closed in 1974. There are international airports 5
km south of Larnaca, and 15 km east of Paphos.
Cyprus is a member of the Council of Europe, European Union,
Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe, United Nations and World Trade
The Troodos Mountains, in the central and western part of the island,
rise to 1,951 metres at Mt Olympus. The Troodos, of infertile igneous
rock, are characterised by steep slopes, narrow valleys and precipices.
The Kyrenia Mountains (also known as the Pentadaktylos range), along the
north coast, rise to 1,024 metres and are mainly limestone. Passes and
valleys allow access to the north coast. The fertile Messaoria Plain
lies between them. About half of its 186,000 hectares is irrigated. Most
water sources are in the south – all major rivers originate in the
Troodos and flow east, south or west. Many rivers dry up in the summer.
There are sandy beaches on the south of the island and some rugged rocky
coastline in the north.
Mediterranean type. Hot dry summers (June to September) and mild wet
winters (November to March).
The most significant environmental issues are limited water resources –
due to lack of rain in the summer and pollution of the island’s largest
aquifer by sea water; water pollution by sewage and industrial wastes;
coastal degradation; and loss of wildlife habitats due to urbanisation.
Mediterranean scrub, succulents and pine woods, adapted to the dry
summers, with 1,800 species and subspecies of flowering plants. Forest
covers 19 per cent of the land area. The mountains are forested and less
than 15 per cent of the land is arable and permanently cropped, about 20
per cent of which is irrigated. The occupied north is generally more
thickly vegetated and fertile.
The only large wild animal is the agrino, a species of wild sheep, which
is now protected. Snakes, once so abundant as to give the island its old
name Ophiussa (‘abode of snakes’), are now comparatively rare.
The civilisation of Cyprus, recorded through archaeological finds, myths
and later written history, can be traced through 9,000 years. The
island, perfectly placed as a strategic base for the great civilisations
of the Near-Eastern ancient world, has been much fought over. It was
subject to the empires of Assyria, Egypt, Persia, Macedonia and Rome in
the BCE period. Its population has been predominantly ethnically Greek
since then. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fourth
century, it was ruled by Byzantium, the Franks, the Venetians and the
Ottoman Turks. It was during the Ottoman period that the ancestors of
the Turkish Cypriots settled on the island. Through these rich and
varied influences, Cyprus acquired a great archaeological legacy.
In 1878, Britain concluded an alliance with the Sultan on Cyprus, and
gained effective control. When Turkey sided with Germany in World War I,
Britain annexed the island. In 1925, Cyprus became a Crown colony.
From the 1930s, Greek Cypriots campaigned for enosis (union with
Greece), a movement that came to be led in the 1950s by Archbishop
Makarios. The UK proposed instead (in 1948, 1954 and 1955) various forms
of internal self-government, all of which were deemed unacceptable by
the Greek Cypriot Ethnarchy Council. In 1955, the National Organisation
of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) began armed resistance against the UK. Turkey
helped the Turkish Cypriot leaders establish the Cyprus Is Turkish Party
and the Turkish Resistance Organisation, and the fighting became
In 1960, the UK negotiated an independence agreement with Greece and
Turkey, under which the three powers guaranteed to protect the integrity
of Cyprus, which was to be allowed neither to unite with any other
country nor to be partitioned. Cyprus, which had not taken part in these
negotiations, became independent as the Republic of Cyprus.
Intercommunal fighting broke out again a few years after independence,
leading to some 500 deaths and more than 1,000 casualties. British
troops imposed order and a plan centred on a ceasefire line known as the
Green Line. In 1964, the UN Peacekeeping Force (UNFICYP) succeeded the
British troops. A UN force remains in the same position today. However,
hostilities continued, with the Greek and Turkish military becoming
involved, and very nearly led to war between the two countries.
Archbishop Makarios began negotiations towards a settlement.
But in 1974, a military coup in Cyprus overthrew Makarios and installed
a fervently nationalist government, led by Nikos Sampson, favouring
enosis. Turkey invaded twice, taking control of the northern 36 per cent
of the country. Greece, in confusion after its own military coup against
President Makarios, was unable to intervene. About 180,000 Greek
Cypriots fled from their homes in the north, and came south as refugees;
45,000 Turkish Cypriots were similarly uprooted.
Intercommunal talks under UN auspices began in 1975. In November 1983,
the Turkish Cypriot assembly in the north, under the leadership of Rauf
Denktash, voted for independence and in 1985 approved a new
constitution. Independence has subsequently been recognised solely by
Turkey, but condemned by the UN Security Council and other international
The 1988 presidential election in the Republic brought to power George
Vassiliou, on a platform of conciliation. He was not the first leader
openly to seek compromise: Makarios had accepted the concept of
federation in 1977, and concluded the first high- level agreement with
Denktash; and President Spyros Kyprianou had signed the second
high-level agreement with Denktash in 1979 and accepted the notion of
bizonality proposing the demilitarisation of the island. But Vassiliou
was prepared to go further. In 1993, he went to the elections stating
his willingness to accept, as a basis for further negotiations, a UN
proposal for a federal republic. However, he lost the election by a
narrow margin to Glafkos Clerides, who took a more cautious view of the
Parliamentary elections in the Republic held in May 1996 – the first to
be held since the adoption of proportional representation – returned the
Democratic Rally–Liberal Party coalition (supporting President Glafkos
Clerides) with a majority of one seat.
There was optimism that real negotiations might be about to begin when
in July 1997, Clerides and Denktash met for the first time in three
years at a UN-sponsored meeting in New York. Subsequent meetings were
held in Nicosia and Glion (Switzerland) over the next six weeks.
However, tension was mounting with successive military exercises on the
island by Greece and Turkey, and when it became clear that the EU
negotiations would proceed without reference to the occupied north if a
settlement had not been reached in the meantime, and also that Turkey
was not at this period invited to join the EU, Denktash left the talks
and the process was stalled.
The first round of the presidential elections in February 1998 was
inconclusive. President Clerides narrowly won the second-round contest
with George Iacovou with 51 per cent of the votes. Clerides then formed
a broadly based coalition administration, to prepare for further
negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots and the accession talks with the
Talks with the Turkish Cypriots continued during 1999 and 2000, but
progress remained stalled because the parties were unable to agree on
future constitutional arrangements. While the Greek Cypriots, with the
support of the international community, were seeking a return to a
bi-communal independent federation with a central government, the
Turkish Cypriots were insisting on a confederation of two equal states.
Accession negotiations with the EU began in November 1998 and the
accession treaty on formal entry of Cyprus and nine other candidate
countries in May 2004 was signed in April 2003.
Talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots continued during 2001–02 and,
from January 2002, these were UN-mediated talks between Clerides and
Denktash, ending in March 2003 when the two leaders were unable to agree
on putting the UN’s settlement proposals to referendums in their
communities, though both sides agreed to continue negotiations.
Referendums on the UN reunification plan were held simultaneously in the
two communities in April 2004. Greek Cypriots were overwhelmingly
against the plan and Turkish Cypriots strongly for it. Among the reasons
for the plan’s rejection by Greek Cypriots were that it would give them
only limited rights to return to and recover their original homes, and
that it would allow tens of thousands of Turkish settlers to stay and
Turkey to maintain a garrison. Turkey would also maintain its status of
guarantor power, with the right of unilateral military intervention.
The Republic of Cyprus became a member of the European Union in May
2004. The application of the acquis is suspended in those areas of the
Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus
does not exercise effective control.
My experiences of Cyprus
Being an account of the people, mediæval cities and castles, antiquities
and history of the island of Cyprus: to which is added a chapter on the
present economic and political problems which affect the island as a
dependency of the British empire by Stewart, Basil, (1880) (pdf)
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