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 intercommunal.
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 organisations.
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 UN plan.
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 EU.
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.