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Cyprus - Introduction

Cyprus, the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, is an island situated in the North-Eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea, at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia. The legend of the birth of Aphrodite, emerging through the foam of the sea waves, can be compared to the geological birth of Cyprus, in the sense that the island rose from the ocean. The nucleus of this phenomenon is the mountain range of Troodos, which is 92 million years old. The rocks of Troodos were created from the ancient oceanic bark, which started rising from the sea 10 million years ago. First emerged from the sea the Troodos massif on to which limestone sediment began to attach gradually leading to a drop in the depth of the seas. The last to become attached was the Pendadactylos range to the north of the Troodos massif. Cyprus emerged from the sea 1,85 million years ago.

Human settlement on Cyprus stretches back nearly eight millennia and by 3700 BC, the island was a crossroads between East and West. The island fell successively under Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman domination. For 800 years, beginning in 364 AD, Cyprus was ruled by Byzantium. After brief possession by King Richard I (the Lion-Hearted) of England during the Crusades, the island came under Frankish control in the late 12th century. It was ceded to the Venetian Republic in 1489 and conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571. The Ottomans applied the millet system to Cyprus, which allowed religious authorities to govern their own non-Muslim minorities. This system reinforced the position of the Orthodox Church and the cohesion of the ethnic Greek population. Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the three centuries of Ottoman rule remained when control of Cyprus--although not sovereignty--was ceded to Great Britain in 1878. Many, however, left for Turkey during the 1920s. The island was annexed formally by the United Kingdom in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I and became a crown colony in 1925.

Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom and established a constitutional republic in 1960, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group that desired political union, or enosis, with Greece. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president.

Shortly after the founding of the republic, serious differences arose between the two communities about the implementation and interpretation of the constitution. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government. In November 1963, President Makarios advanced a series of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate some of these special provisions. The Turkish Cypriots opposed such changes. The confrontation prompted widespread intercommunal fighting in December 1963, after which Turkish Cypriots ceased to participate in the government. Following the outbreak of intercommunal violence, many Turkish Cypriots (and some Greek Cypriots) living in mixed villages began to move into enclaved villages or elsewhere. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964. Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.

In July 1974, the military junta in Athens sponsored a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots against the government of President Makarios, citing his alleged pro-communist leanings and his perceived abandonment of enosis. Turkey, citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, intervened militarily to protect Turkish Cypriots.

The multitude of cultures and conquerors on Cyprus has left a distinct imprint on the island. English is widely spoken and a proper British tea can be had even in remote mountain villages. At the same time, the Hellenic tradition is evident in all walks of life, the Middle East can be savored in the restaurants of Nicosia, and the Muslim call to prayer of the muezzin can be heard along the buffer zone. Cyprus is endowed with fabulous treasures of the Byzantine period, the Bronze Age, and the era of Richard the Lionheart, who conquered Cyprus in 1191 - ushering in the era of the Crusaders. Cyprus is rich with stunning archeological sites and historic treasures, waiting to be explored by the intrepid traveler with a guidebook and a four-wheel drive vehicle. Its glorious beaches - with crystal clear waters for scuba diving, and its dramatic mountains - that allow skiing and hiking - attract visitors from around Europe and the world.

The Pontians, ethnically Greek and hailing originally from the Black Sea region, numbered around 15-20,000 by 2008 and are concentrated mainly in the Paphos region southwest of Nicosia. Pontians are Orthodox and many continue to speak a dialect incomprehensible to other Greeks in addition to their native Russian or Turkish. They began arriving on the island in 1993; most originally had emigrated to Greece, as GoG policy then (and now) was to offer citizenship to diaspora persons of "proven" Greek ethnicity. Many Pontians, especially those from the post-USSR breakup migrant wave, did not integrate smoothly into Greek society and a minority turned to criminality and other "anti-social behavior." Perhaps unfairly, Pontians here have a poor reputation, with many Cypriots blaming them for a recent increase in crime on the island. Unlike many other immigrants to Cyprus, the Pontians tended to arrive as whole families, and their communities are tightly-knit. Further, they feel the island is their home, not a temporary place of employment.

The tourism industry is generally regulated and rules with regard to best practices and safety inspections are regularly enforced. Hazardous areas/activities are identified with appropriate signage and professional staff is typically on hand in support of organized activities. In the event of an injury, appropriate medical treatment is widely available throughout the country. Outside of a major metropolitan center, it may take more time for first responders and medical professionals to stabilize a patient and provide life-saving assistance.

Driving is on the left and calls for extra vigilance, especially for pedestrians crossing the street. While the road infrastructure in Cyprus is modern and plentiful, some villages (especially in the mountains) or interesting sites can only be reached with 4x4 vehicles. Traffic violations are numerous (failure to respect priorities of all kinds and speed limits; hazardous overtaking; random parking; etc.). Secondary roads, especially in mountainous areas, tend to be narrow and winding, and not as well maintained as major highways. Speeding, tailgating, overtaking, and the running of caution lights, though illegal, are common and are major causes of accidents.

It is generally preferable to be cautious in any comments on partition, Turkey or the TRNC, given the sensitivity of the Cypriots about the events of the 1960s and 1970s (which made hundreds victims on both sides), Proper dress is required when visiting monasteries and places of worship, some of which are prohibited for women.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:35 ZULU