History of Cyprus

The illustrated history of Cyprus by Mariana Christofides, bears the title ‘The Island Everybody Wanted’ and describes the islands history from the first hut dwellers of Chirokitia, through Greek city wars, The Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Venetians, Ottomans and all the rest. The first written source known shows Cyprus under the rule of the Assyrian Empire a stela from Kition discovered in 1845 commemorates the victory in 709 B. C. E. of king Sargon II (721-705 BC) over the seven kings in the land of Ia’, in the district of Iadnana or Atnana.

The former name is believed to be the Assyrian name for the island, and Atnana may refer to Greece some authors take the latter to mean Greece. There are other inscriptions referring to Ia’ in Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad. The ten kingdoms of Cyprus are listed on an inscription of Esarhaddon from 673/2 BC. These consist of Soli, Salamis, Kition, Amathus, Kourion, Paphos in the coastal regions and Tamassos, Ledrai, Idalion and Chytroi further inland. Later inscriptions mention also Marion, Lapithos and Kerynia.

These city-kingdoms began to produce their own coinage around in about 500 BCE. using the weight system of the dominant Persian Empire. The island gained short lived independence in 660’s B. C. E. but according to the Ancient History of Cyprus web site was conquered by Egyptian forces in 570B. C. E. As regards religion the main goddess was the Phoenician Astarte, later adopted by the Greeks as Aphrodite although a number of other deities were revered from both the Phoenician and Egyptian pantheons. Statues from this period show mixed influences as one might expect from a trading nation in the mid Mediterranean. – Egyptian wigs, beards worn in the Assyrian style and clothing in western Asian style.

Most of the Cypriot city kingdoms took part in the Ionian uprising of 499 B. C. E. when the Persian besieged their towns. The copper mines of Tomassos were important at that period. There would be further uprisings and changes of control over many centuries. Even as early as the final centuries before Christianity the island had two alphabets – Phoenician and Greek. Gradually Greek names began to be used for all the gods worshipped by the islanders. Under the Ptolomies full Hellenization occurred and the old syllabic script disappears from the record.

Then in 58 B. C. E.. the island came under Roman rule and in the first century of the Common Era Christianity arrived, at first in the form of Paul and Barnabus By the time of the Sardican council in of 344 the island was represented by 12 bishops. With the eventual division of the failing Roman Empire it became a part of Byzantium. From 1192 to 1489 it was ruled under the feudal system with Catholicism as its religion then control passed first to the Venetians and then to the Ottoman Turks. At this point Catholicism was eradicated in favor of Islam and Orthodox Christianity.

In 1914 Cyprus was annexed by Britain after more than three centuries of Ottoman ( Turkish ) rule when Turkey sided with Germany in the First World War, a mov ewhich led to th dissolution and break up of the former OttomanEmpire. and in 1925 the island became a colony of the British crown. Despite the passage of many years and th esrong influnce of both Greece and Turkey the legal system continues to be based in the main upon the British system as it does in many other places where Britain once ruled..

Acording to Ata Atun the idea of Cyprus uniting with Greece had been around for hundreds of years despite its proximity to Turkey and the high percentage of ethnic Turkish inhabitnats. He quotes a survey of 1950 as saying that both the Greek Cypriot churhc and 96% of Greek Cypriots wanted Enosis i. e union with Greece. On th eother hand the Turkish part of the population at that time voted 100% for ‘taksim’ i. e. for partition. The British government, in response to the varied views expressed, putting forward a proposed new constitution.

This was found acceptable by the Turkish Cypriots but opposed by Greeks especially members of the notorious (EOKA) of the Greek Cypriots, for whom the only solution possible was enosis. What Mr. Atun describes as ‘The obsession of the Greek Cypriots’ was to lead to a series of disasters in the years that followed. Greek inhabitants began a guerilla war against the British in 1955 according to the BBC News, Timeline Cyprus web page. The guerilla force led by George Grivas, the National Organization of Cypriot Combatants or fighters (EOKA),were particularly adamant that they wanted ‘enosis’, that is unification with Greece.

The British authorities armed a paramilitary police force consisting of Turkish Cypriots. The leader of this campaign was Archbishop Makarios who was deported to the Seychelle islands in 1955. He returned to the island four years later and was elected as president. Soon after this the two sides were able to agree on a new constitution. There was a treaty of Guarantee which entitled all three nations, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the right to intervene if necessary. By nature of its position the island is important strategically and so the United Kingdom retains sovereignty over two military bases there. 

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