Numerous Stone Age settlements excavated in Cyprus indicate that as early as 4000 BC a distinctive civilization existed on the island. Living in circular huts, this Neolithic people produced decorated pottery of great individuality, and used vessels and tools ground from the close-grained rocks of the Troodos Mountains. Cyprus was famous in the ancient world for its copper, which, from about 2200 BC , was used throughout the Aegean in the making of bronze. The island is believed either to have derived its name from or to have given it to this mineral through the Greek word kypros —copper. Although celebrated also for its cult of Aphrodite, Cyprus was at first only a far outpost of the Hellenic world. Greek colonizers came there in sizable numbers in 1400 BC , and were followed soon afterward by Phoenician settlers. About 560 BC , Cyprus was conquered by Egypt. Coveted by each rising civilization, it was taken in turn by Persia, Alexander the Great, Egypt again, Rome, and the Byzantine Empire. Its Christian history began with the visits of Paul, accompanied first (as described in the Acts of the Apostles) by Barnabas, and later by the apostle Mark. For several centuries after AD 632, Cyprus underwent a series of Arab invasions. The island was wrested from its Byzantine ruler Isaac Comnenus in 1191 by Richard I (the Lion-Hearted) during the Third Crusade. Sold by the English king to the Knights Templar, it was transferred by that order to Guy de Lusignan, under whose dynasty the island experienced a brilliant period in its history, lasting some 300 years. Conquered in 1489 by Venice, Cyprus fell to the Turks in 1571.
The administration of Cyprus by the United Kingdom began in 1878 at a convention with Turkey initiated by the British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, at the Congress of Berlin. He sought to establish Cyprus as a defensive base against further Russian aggression in the Middle East. Upon the entry of Turkey into World War I, Cyprus was annexed to the British crown. It was declared a crown colony and placed under a governor in 1925.
For centuries, under Ottoman and British rule, Greek Cypriots had regarded Greece as their mother country and had sought union ( enosis ) with it as Greek nationals. In 1931, enosis agitation, long held in check, broke into violence. The Government House was burned amid widespread disturbances, and the British colonial administration applied severe repressive measures, including the deportation of clerical leaders. Agitation was dormant until the close of World War II, when it recommenced, and demands that the United Kingdom cede the island to Greece were renewed. The National Organization of Cypriot Fighters, led by Col. George Grivas, a retired Greek army officer, began a campaign of terrorism in 1955; upward of 2,000 casualties were recorded. The unity of NATO was endangered by the opposing positions taken on the Cyprus question by Greece and Turkey, but efforts by NATO members to mediate the dispute proved unsuccessful.
Against this background, the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey met in Zürich, Switzerland, early in 1959 in a further attempt to reach a settlement. Unexpectedly, the Greek Cypriots set aside their demands for enosis and accepted instead proposals for an independent republic, with representation of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities guaranteed. A formula for the island's future, approved by the governments of the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey, also received the blessing of the Cyprus ethnarch, Archbishop Makarios III, who returned in triumph to the island from which he had been deported by the British government on charges of complicity with terrorism.
Besides determining Cyprus' legislative institutions, the Zürich settlement provided for a number of instruments defining the island's future international status. Enclaves on Cyprus were set aside for the continuation of British military installations in an effort to restore constitutional order. The United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey, the guarantor powers, had the right to act together or singly to prevent either enosis or partition. In addition, provision was made for Greek, Turkish, and Cypriot forces to be stationed together at a tripartite headquarters. By 1 July 1960, agreement was reached on all outstanding differences, and independence was officially declared on 16 August.
From the outset, the two Cypriot communities differed on how the Zürich settlement would be implemented, and how much autonomy the Turkish minority would enjoy. In December 1963, Turkish Cypriots, protesting a proposed constitutional change that would have strengthened the political power of the Greek Cypriot majority, clashed with Greek Cypriots and police. When fighting continued, the Cyprus government appealed to the UN Security Council. On 4 March 1964, the Security Council voted to send in troops. Turkey and Cyprus agreed on 10 August to accept a UN Security Council call for a cease-fire, but on 22 December, fighting again erupted in Nicosia and spread to other parts of the island. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution in December 1965 calling on all states to "respect the sovereignty, unity, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus, and to refrain from any intervention directed against it." The General Assembly requested the Security Council to continue UN mediation.
Violent clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots nearly precipitated war between Greece and Turkey in 1967, but the situation was stabilized by mutual reduction of their armed contingents on Cyprus. By January 1970, the UN peacekeeping force numbered some 3,500 troops; both Greek Cypriot National Guard and Turkish Cypriot militia also maintained sizable national guards of their own. Although talks continued between the two communities, no agreement was reached on the two basic points of dispute. Politically, the Turks wanted full autonomy, while the Greeks demanded continued unitary majority rule. Territorially, the Turks wanted Cyprus divided into Greek and Turkish-controlled zones, a position that was likewise at odds with the Greek Cypriot concept of a unitary state.
Meanwhile, tensions had developed between Makarios, who continued to oppose enosis, and the remnants of the military junta that had ruled Greece since 1967. On 2 July 1974, Makarios accused the Greek government of seeking his overthrow and called for the immediate withdrawal of 650 Greek officers in the Cypriot National Guard. Less than two weeks later, the National Guard toppled the Makarios government, forcing the Archbishop into exile and installing Nikos Sampson as president. To counter the threat of Greek control over Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot leaders asked Turkey to intervene militarily. Turkish troops landed on 20 July, but within two days the UN force had been augmented and a UN Security Council cease-fire resolution had taken effect. The coup failed, Sampson resigned on 23 July, and Glafkos Clerides became acting president in accordance with the Cyprus constitution. However, Turkey did not withdraw its forces, and while peace talks were conducted in Geneva, the Turkish military buildup continued. When talks broke down, a full-scale Turkish offensive began, and by mid-August, when a second cease-fire was accepted, Turkish forces controlled about 38% of the island. Makarios returned to Cyprus and resumed the presidency in December. On 13 February 1975, in an action considered illegal by the Cyprus government, the Turkish-held area proclaimed itself the Turkish Cypriot Federated State; Rauf Denktash, a former vice president of Cyprus and the president of the interim Autonomous Turkish Cypriot Administration (formed after the 1967 crisis), became president. A Security Council resolution on 12 March regretted the proclamation of the new state and called for the resumption of intercommunal talks. The government of the Republic of Cyprus continued to be recognized as the legally constituted authority by the UN and by all countries except Turkey, although its effective power extended only to the area under Greek Cypriot control.
After the de facto partition, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders met several times under UN auspices to explore a possible solution to the Cyprus problem. President Makarios conferred with Denktash in Nicosia early in 1977. When Makarios died of a heart attack on 3 August, Spyros Kyprianou became president, and he also held talks with Denktash in May 1979. Further negotiations between leaders of the two communities were held in August 1980, but again no agreement was reached. In February 1982, Greek Premier Andreas Papandreou visited Nicosia, where he pledged to argue the Greek Cypriot cause before the UN, the EC, and the Council of Europe; three months later, in May, the Turkish prime minister paid an official visit to northern Cyprus, drawing protests from the governments of both Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. On 15 November 1983, the Turkish sector proclaimed itself an independent state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Denktash was named president, but only Turkey recognizes the TRNC. The UN, which condemned the TRNC's declaration of independence, tried repeatedly to end the partition between north and south, but all proposals were rejected by both parts. The major stumbling block was the south's demand that the estimated 25,000 Turkish troops in the north be withdrawn before negotiations began and the north's refusal to remove the troops before a final solution was reached. In February 1988, George Vassiliou was elected president of Cyprus, and he stated that he would call for reunification talks with the Turkish Cypriots.
Talks between him and Turkish Cypriot President Denktash, who was reelected in 1990, have taken place at intervals since 1988. In 1991, the UN Security Council called on both sides to complete an overall framework agreement. Despite speculation in 1994 that UN peacekeeping forces might be withdrawn if some progress was not registered, the mandate was renewed. In 1993 voting, Glafcos Clerides, a conservative, replaced right-wing George Vassiliou as president. Clerides won reelection to a second five-year term in 1998.
August of 1996 saw the most violent border clashes since the 1974 partition. In the space of one week, protestors broke through Greek-Cypriot security lines and clashed with Turkish-Cypriot and Turkish military forces in the buffer zone lying between the two divided parts of the island. Two Greek-Cypriots were killed and over 50 were injured by the Turkish military. The killing of the protestors, who were unarmed, brought general expressions of condemnation from the West but was supported by the Turkish government as acts of self-defense.
While they have not yet led to violence, there have been choleric clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders over Cyprus' proposed entrance into the EU. The EU invited Cyprus to be one of ten nations to join the EU in the next round of the Union's enlargement, to take place in May 2004. Having declared that it would prefer a united Cyprus to join, the EU stipulated that if a settlement to the issue of unification was not reached before entry negotiations were scheduled to begin, then the negotiations would be begun with the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. Both the government of Turkey and Turkish-Cypriot leaders vociferously denounced such a plan. In November 2001, Turkey threatened to annex the northern part of the island if the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus joined the EU before a settlement was reached. In December 2002, the EU's formal invitation to Cyprus to join the Union stipulated that by 28 February 2003, the two communities agree to a UN peace plan for reunification outlined by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in November 2002. Without reunification, only the Greek Cypriot part of the island would gain membership.
Further complicating the relationship between the Northern and Southern parts of the island was the proposed sale to the Republic of Cyprus by Russia of sophisticated antiaircraft missiles to be stationed at a newly constructed Greek air force base in Paphos. The proposed sale brought threats of invasion from the Turkish government. In January 1999, Greek Cypriots reversed their decision to install the missiles in Cyprus and agreed to station them on the Greek island of Crete instead. Tensions were eased further by the resumption of proximity talks on the reunification of the island. Under this format, Clerides and Denktash met separately with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York in December 1999 and in Geneva in January-February 2000. A chief stumbling block in the discussions was the Turkish Cypriot demand that a reunified Cyprus be a confederation, while the Greek Cypriots favor a federation. UN-sponsored negotiations between Clerides and Denktash took place again in January 2002. In November, Annan presented a comprehensive peace plan for Cyprus, envisaging a Swiss-style confederation of two equal component states, presided over by a rotating presidency. The plan would have required a referendum on both sides of the island to go into effect.
In late 2002 and early 2003, thousands of Turkish Cypriots held rallies to call for the island's reunification and Denktash's resignation. Denktash was accused of blocking progress on the November 2002 UN peace plan. In January 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the head of Turkey's governing party, the Justice and Development Party, criticized Denktash for the same reason. Denktash threatened to stand down as leader rather than sign the UN plan. Talks on Annan's reunification plan broke down on 11 March 2003, and Annan declared the island's two communities might not get a similar chance for peace for years. The Republic of Cyprus, remaining divided, signed the Accession Treaty for the EU on 16 April 2003, and is to join that body in May 2004.
Contributing to the failed peace negotiations was the election of hard-line nationalist Tassos Papadopoulos as president of Cyprus on 16 February 2003. In a surprise first-round win, Papadopoulos soundly defeated Clerides, with 51.5% of the vote to 38.8. Papadopoulos seeks the right of return of all Greek Cypriot refugees to the Turkish northern section of the island.