Cyprus - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Cyprus, independent country and third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and Sardinia. Cyprus lies in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean, about 65 km (40 mi) south of Turkey and 110 km (65 mi) west of Syria. Nicosia is the capital and largest city.

Steep, narrow mountains line the island’s northern coast, and an extensive mountain system rises in the south. At the center of the island, between the mountains, lies the fertile Mesaoria plain, the site of Nicosia. Wide bays and small inlets indent the rocky coastline, which is broken in places by long, sandy beaches. Summers in Cyprus are hot and dry, and rain is scarce on the island, except during the winter months. Cyprus is vulnerable to drought, and most crops require irrigation.

Cyprus has a long, eventful history that reaches back more than 9,000 years. Rich deposits of copper have been mined on Cyprus since antiquity. The island’s name, Cyprus (Greek Kypros), means “copper.” Long an important trading post linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Cyprus became a key commercial and cultural center of ancient Greece. Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, arose from sea foam near the shores of Paphos. Cyprus was later ruled successively by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans, and then became a part of the Ottoman Empire. At the start of World War I, the United Kingdom annexed Cyprus and made it a British colony. Cyprus gained its independence on August 6, 1960.

Today, Cyprus is a divided country. More than four-fifths of the island’s inhabitants are of Greek descent and less than one-fifth make up the Turkish-speaking minority. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and its troops claimed the northern third of the island. A separate state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983, but only Turkey has recognized it. United Nations (UN) troops patrol the buffer zone, or “Green Line,” that divides the island.

UN-sponsored talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus repeatedly faltered in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the island’s desire to join the European Union (EU) focused renewed efforts to reach a settlement. In April 2003 Cypriot authorities eased travel restrictions over the buffer zone for the first time in nearly 30 years. As the EU’s entry deadline approached, UN negotiators were unable to find an agreement acceptable to both sides. As a consequence, in May 2004 Cyprus joined the EU as a divided country, with membership extended only to the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. UN-backed efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue.


The total area of Cyprus is 9,251 sq km (3,572 sq mi). At its greatest length, Cyprus measures about 220 km (about 140 mi) from Cape Andreas in the northeast to the far western edge of the island. Its maximum width, from Cape Gáta in the south to Cape Kormakiti in the north, is about 90 km (about 60 mi).

In the far northeast of Cyprus, the island narrows abruptly to form the long, slender Karpas Peninsula, which reaches east toward the coast of Syria. Much of central Cyprus is a flat, treeless plain called the Mesaoria, meaning “between the mountains” in Greek. The plain extends from the east to west coasts.

Mountain ranges line the plain on the north and south. The northern range, known as the Kyrenia Range, is notable for its rocky, unbroken character. The Kyrenia Range follows the coastline, extending into the Karpas Peninsula. Its highest point rises to 1,019 m (3,343 ft). The southern range, called the Troödos Mountains, covers most of the southwestern portion of the island. This range is broken by valleys and many abrupt cliffs. Mount Olympus (Ólimbos) (1,951 m/6,401 ft) the island’s highest peak, rises in this range.

Cyprus has no permanent rivers. A number of watercourses bring runoff from snow in the mountains down to the Mesaoria plain in spring, but they are generally dry for most of the year. The island has a few freshwater lakes and two large saltwater lakes.

Climate in Cyprus

Cyprus has a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and a cool, rainy season that extends from October to March. The mean annual temperature is 21°C (69°F). The annual rainfall is modest, averaging less than 50 cm (less than 20 in).

Natural Resources of Cyprus

The chief natural resource of Cyprus is its arable land. The mountain soils tend to be peaty on higher flatlands but are shallow and stony on the slopes. Farming provides income for much of the population in the Turkish Cypriot north, although it is far less important in the Greek Cypriot south. The chief mineral resource is copper. Other minerals of significance include asbestos, pyrite, gypsum, and chromite. Copper and other minerals were once a major source of export earnings, but mining has declined considerably in importance.

Plants and Animals in Cyprus

Forests of pine, cypress, and cedar cover about one-seventh of the total area of Cyprus, principally in the mountains. Other indigenous trees include juniper, plane, oak, olive, and carob. The eucalyptus, a tree that can thrive in warm, dry climates, has been planted extensively as a reforestation measure.

Cyprus has few large wild animals; the most notable of these, the mouflon, a wild sheep, is no longer common. Cyprus is home to foxes and fruit-eating bats. Birdlife is varied because the island is visited by migratory flocks. Among the prominent native birds are the griffon vulture and several varieties of partridge, especially francolin. Other game birds include snipe, quail, woodcock, and plover. Sea turtles live in coastal waters.

Environmental Issues in Cyprus

Cyprus was famed in antiquity for its extensive forests, but over the centuries the trees that once covered the island’s central plain were cut down for firewood, shipbuilding, and other construction. The United Kingdom undertook a major effort to replant and conserve forests in Cyprus during its occupation of the island in the 18th and 19th centuries. A number of the country’s remaining native forests were destroyed by fires that resulted from the armed conflict between Greek and Turkish partisans in 1974.

Freshwater resources are extremely limited on Cyprus, and water rationing is commonplace. The island’s few sources of fresh water have been contaminated by industrial wastes and raw sewage. Centuries of deforestation have damaged the island’s drainage system, and no permanent rivers remain. Major waterways are fed by rainfall during the winter months and dry up during the summer. A network of dams and reservoirs store runoff from the limited rainfall.

Cyprus has worked to reduce its reliance on rain-fed sources of water, which are severely taxed during periods of drought. A desalinization plant, capable of converting 40,000 cubic meters (1.4 million cubic feet) of salt water into fresh water per day, opened at Dhekelia in 1997, and a second larger plant opened at Larnaca in 2001.


The combined population of the Greek and Turkish sectors (2009 estimate) is 796,740. The overall population density is 86 persons per sq km (223 per sq mi). About 69 percent of the island’s inhabitants live in urban areas.

Greek-speaking Cypriots make up approximately 85 percent of the population. About 12 percent of the people are ethnic Turks. The remaining population includes Maronites (Christian Arabs), Armenians, and several other ethnic groups. Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, mass migrations of Greek and Turkish Cypriots have taken place, so that now the two groups are geographically separated. Greek Cypriots occupy the southern two-thirds of the island and the Turkish Cypriots occupy the northern third. Both the Greek and Turkish communities retain the customs, and to a great extent, the national identity of their counterparts on the mainland.

Principal Cities of Cyprus

The largest city of Cyprus is Nicosia, the capital, with a population of 205,000. The buffer zone separating the northern and southern sectors of the country cuts through Nicosia, dividing the city into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot areas. One of the world’s oldest cities, Nicosia today is a commercial, administrative, and cultural center, and home to the University of Cyprus. The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia contains a noted collection of Cypriot art dating from the Neolithic period (see Neolithic Art) through the Roman era (see Roman Empire).

Lemesós (Limassol), the island’s second largest city, with a population of 160,733, is a major seaport. Located on Akrotiri Bay in southern Cyprus, Lemesós stands between ancient colonies built by the people of Phoenicia and Mycenae. Impressive ruins of the colonies attract many visitors.

Paphos, an ancient capital of Cyprus, was largely rebuilt by Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, following an earthquake about 100 BC. The mythical birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, Pathos is home to a number of rich archaeological sites. Famagusta, in eastern Cyprus, is the chief seaport of the Turkish sector.

Religion in Cyprus

Most members of the Greek community adhere to the Church of Cyprus, an independent Eastern Orthodox Church. The archbishop primate, who is bishop of Nicosia, and the three other bishops of the Cypriot church are elected by the church membership.

The Turkish minority is mostly Sunni Muslim (See also Islam). Other small religious groups include Maronites (Christian Arabs), Roman Catholics, and Jews (see Judaism).

Languages spoken in Cyprus

Greek and Turkish are both official languages, though Greek is the primary language in the Greek Cypriot zone and Turkish is predominant in the Turkish sector. English is widely spoken in the main towns. Cypriot Greek, although related to the language of the Greek mainland, is a dialect believed by language scholars to resemble more closely the speech of ancient Greece than any modern Greek dialect.

Education in Cyprus

The Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities maintain separate educational systems. Greek Cypriot education in the Republic of Cyprus is administered by the ministry of education. Six years of elementary education and six years of secondary school are provided; attendance is required between the ages of 6 and 14. Turkish Cypriot education is administered by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The illiteracy rate for both communities is low.

Higher education is available at the University of Cyprus, inaugurated in Nicosia in 1992. There are a number of vocational schools, technical institutes, a Greek Orthodox seminary, and a teacher-training college for each community. Many Cypriots travel abroad for university studies, especially to Turkey, Greece, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Agriculture, once a mainstay of Cyprus’s economy, declined in importance during the last two decades of the 20th century. Today, light manufacturing and services such as tourism, finance, and government administration drive the island’s economy. The Greek Cypriot sector of the economy is significantly more prosperous than the Turkish Cypriot sector, and it contributes a far larger percentage of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP). The Turkish Cypriot sector, which has had difficulty attracting foreign investment and is subject to international trade sanctions, remains heavily dependent on farming as well as upon large financial subsidies provided by the government of Turkey. In 2007, the GDP of Cyprus was 21 billion U.S. dollars.

In May 2004 the Republic of Cyprus, the internationally recognized state located in the Greek sector, became a full member of the European Union (EU). Previously, the republic maintained an association agreement with the EU. Full EU membership benefits, including eligibility for development funds and unimpeded access to the EU’s internal market, were not extended to the Turkish sector pending a settlement of the island’s division.

The relaxation of border restrictions in April 2003 resulted in a large number of border crossings as members from both communities crossed the “Green Line.” Thousands of Greek Cypriot visitors initially provided an economic boost in the Turkish Cypriot north, but in the longer term the relaxed crossing rules have prompted many Turkish Cypriots to shop and seek work in the south. Overall, however, trade between the two communities remains quite limited, despite special EU rules that permit Turkish Cypriots to export certain goods to consumers in the south, as well as to other EU member countries from ports in the Republic of Cyprus.

Agriculture of Cyprus

Some 11 percent of the land area of Cyprus is under cultivation. Most of the holdings are small, and the vast majority of them are in the Turkish Cypriot sector.

The principal crops are potatoes, grapes, citrus fruits, cereals such as barley and wheat, carobs, and olives. The output of cereals and olives is insufficient to meet domestic demands, and Cyprus must import much of its food. Livestock breeding, mainly of sheep and goats, is important. Hogs, cattle (including draft oxen), donkeys (see ass), mules, and horses also are raised. Dairy products are mainly cheese and yogurt made from sheep and goat milk.

Manufacturing in Cyprus

Since the 1960s, light industries have become increasingly important to Cyprus, and today account for about one-quarter of the island’s GDP. Manufactured goods include clothing, processed foods, footwear, construction materials, furniture, wine, tobacco products, chemicals, and cooking oils.

Currency in Cyprus

Cyprus adopted the euro, the monetary unit of the EU, in January 2008. The euro replaced the Cyprus pound, which had been the currency of the Greek sector. The new Turkish lira (YTL) remained the currency of the Turkish sector.

Transportation and Communications in Cyprus

Cyprus has 12,060 km (7,494 mi) of roads, of which about half are paved. The country has no railroads. There are three international airports—at Larnaca and Paphos, in the Greek Cypriot zone, and at Tymbou, in Turkish Cypriot territory.

Media services in Cyprus reflect the island’s division. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot sectors operate their own television and radio services. In both sectors, state-run broadcasters compete with a large number of private broadcasters.


In theory the government of Cyprus is based on a 1960 constitution that apportioned power between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities according to their relative populations. In 1963 and 1964, however, Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the government. The institutions of the government continued to function with few changes, but their authority was limited in most respects to the Greek Cypriot community. In 1974, after Cypriot forces led by Greek officers overthrew Cyprus’s president, Turkey invaded Cyprus and seized control of the northern third of the country.

In 1975 the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus was established in northern Cyprus; its constitution (1975), as amended, provides for a popularly elected president, a 50-member unicameral legislative assembly, and a system of independent courts. The Turkish sector in November 1983 unilaterally declared itself to be the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, although the United Nations (UN) has refused to recognize the state.

Executive and Legislature of Cyprus

The chief executive under the 1960 constitution is a Greek Cypriot president, elected by the Greek Cypriot community for a five-year term; the constitution calls for the Turkish Cypriot community to elect the vice president. The constitution vests legislative power in a House of Representatives to be composed of 70 percent Greek Cypriots and 30 percent Turkish Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriot government continues to abide by the 1960 constitution when feasible, despite the lack of participation by the Turkish Cypriot community. Originally composed of 50 members (35 Greek Cypriots and 15 Turkish Cypriots), the legislature was officially increased to 80 representatives in 1985 (56 Greek Cypriots and 24 Turkish Cypriots). Due to the nonparticipation of the Turkish Cypriots, the legislative seats and the vice presidency allocated to them remain vacant.

Since 1975 Turkish Cypriots have had a separate constitution providing for their own elected president and a 50-member parliament whose members are elected to five-year terms.

Local Government of Cyprus

The chief towns are administered by municipal corporations. Smaller towns are governed by commissions made up of a headman (mukhtar) and a body of elders (azas).

Judiciary in Cyprus

Under reforms instituted in 1964, the legal system in the Greek Cypriot community is headed by a supreme court. Lesser tribunals include assize courts and district courts. A supreme court and subordinate courts have also been established in the Turkish sector.

Defense of Cyprus

The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities have separate military organizations, the former aided by Greece, the latter by Turkey. in 2006, the Greek Cypriots maintained an army of about 10,000 members and a paramilitary police force numbering about 750. Turkey maintains about 36,000 troops on the island, and Turkish Cypriot forces total about 5,000. The United Nations (UN) stationed a peacekeeping force on Cyprus in 1963 with headquarters in Nicosia; in 2002 this force totaled about 1,200 members.

International Organizations in Cyprus

The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the UN, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Council of Europe, and the European Union (EU). The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not an officially recognized state.


Archeological excavations indicate that people have lived on Cyprus since before 6000 BC. Bronze Age development was extensive, based on Cyprus’s mineral wealth and its favorable geographic position in the eastern Mediterranean.

Early History

In subsequent centuries seafaring and trading peoples of the Mediterranean set up scattered settlements along the coasts of Cyprus. As early as the 14th century BC, Cyprus was colonized by the Mycenaeans, a civilization from the Greek Pelopónnesos (the southern peninsula of Greece). Later in the same century, a great influx of Achaean Greeks arrived in Cyprus (see Achaean League). The first Greek colony is believed to have been founded by traders from Arcadia about 1400 BC (see Ancient Greece). The people of Phoenicia began to colonize the island about 800 BC.

Beginning with the rise of Assyria during the 8th century BC, Cyprus was controlled by each of the empires that successively dominated the eastern Mediterranean. Assyrian occupation was followed by the rule of ancient Egypt (550 BC), then Persia (525 BC). During the Persian occupation King Evagoras I, ruler of the Cypriot city of Salamis, made the first recorded attempt to unify the city-states of Cyprus. In 391 BC Evagoras, with the aid of Athens, led a successful revolt against Persia and temporarily made himself master of the island. Shortly after his death, however, Cyprus again became a Persian possession.

For almost 1,000 years thereafter control of the island passed from empire to empire. Alexander the Great took Cyprus from Persia in 333 BC, and after his death in 323 BC the island again became an Egyptian possession, under the Ptolemies. Rome gained control in 58 BC (see Roman Empire). In AD 1191 Cyprus was seized by Richard I of England, who gave it to Guy of Lusignan, titular king of Jerusalem. The Lusignan dynasty built several large forts and castles, some of which are still standing. In 1489, Venice took control of Cyprus. The Ottoman Empire captured the island in 1571 and held it until 1878, when it was defeated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and 1878 (see Russo-Turkish Wars). Fearing greater expansion by Russia, the Ottoman government agreed to give the United Kingdom control of Cyprus.

British Administration

The move served as a warning to Russia that any attempt to expand toward the Dardanelles would conflict directly with British interests. Under an agreement signed by the Ottoman Empire and Britain on June 4, 1878, the British received complete control of Cyprus for an annual fee of about $500,000, and the Ottoman Empire retained nominal title. When the British administrators assumed office in 1879, they were presented with a petition from the archbishop and the Greek Cypriot community calling for enosis (Greek for “union”), a term referring to the political union of Cyprus and the kingdom of Greece. The petition was denied.

Because the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in World War I (1914-1918), Britain nullified the 1878 treaty in November 1914 and annexed Cyprus. The British government then offered Cyprus to Greece if Greece would agree to enter the war on the Allied side. Greece was given one week to decide. When the decision was delayed, the British withdrew the offer.

By the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), a peace arrangement negotiated by the Turkish nationalist government that had effectively succeeded the Ottoman regime in what is now Turkey, the Turks formally recognized British possession of Cyprus. Two years later the island was made a British colony.

In 1931 riots broke out in Cyprus due to resentment against the British administration. The British suppressed the riots, abolished the legislative council in Cyprus, and banned all political parties. Shortly after World War II ended in 1945, Greek Cypriot demands for enosis again stirred tensions in Cyprus. Britain rejected the demands, offering concessions on home rule, or self-government, instead.

Meanwhile a Communist-controlled Cypriot organization, the Progressive Party of Working People (Anorthotikon Komma Ergazomenou Laou, or AKEL), proclaimed full support of the enosis movement. The AKEL attracted a considerable following.

Growth of the Enosis Movement

In 1948 the bishop of Citium of Cyprus, Mihail Mouskos, began to organize support for enosis through the Church of Cyprus to exclude Communist influence and to restore the temporal power of the church. In January 1950 the British authorities refused his request for a referendum on enosis. Yet when the church hierarchy polled the Greek community, 95.7 percent favored union with Greece. In October, Bishop Mouskos was elected archbishop primate of Cyprus, with the title Makarios III, and he emerged as the recognized leader of the enosis movement.

The British, however, insisted that it was impossible to discuss any change in the political status of the island due to its strategic location. The British response prompted an armed underground campaign against the government by a movement of Greek Cypriots known as the National Organization of Cypriot Struggle (Ethniki Organosis Kypriakou Agonos, or EOKA). In August 1954 Greece, which had previously avoided involvement in Cyprus because of its alliance with Britain, unsuccessfully sought to have the question of Cyprus’s status brought before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. In the subsequent UN discussions, Turkey announced that it opposed a union of Cyprus with Greece and declared that if Britain withdrew from the island, Cyprus should revert to Turkey.

Early in 1955 Greek Cypriots intensified their terrorist campaign against the British. The British attempted to settle the dispute by a tripartite conference with the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey. The conference failed, and relations deteriorated. Early in 1956 the British government exiled Archbishop Makarios and the bishop of Kyrenia to the Seychelles Islands on the ground that the church leaders were responsible for the enosis demonstrations. The reaction in Cyprus to this move was so fierce that the government declared a state of emergency. Strikes, armed clashes, and widespread fear overtook Cyprus. Hundreds of people died in the violence.

In early 1957 the UN General Assembly asked that negotiations over the status of Cyprus be resumed. The leaders of EOKA proposed a truce conditional on the release of Archbishop Makarios and the resumption of negotiations with him. The archbishop was released, but he was not permitted to return to Cyprus.

Independence from Britain

In June 1958 the British announced a plan to maintain the international status quo of Cyprus for seven years but to establish representative self-government. Archbishop Makarios and the Greek and Turkish governments rejected the British plan, but in October the British put a modified version of it into effect.

Talks held in 1959 among the various parties led to an agreement on the general features of a constitution for an independent republic of Cyprus. The status of the republic was guaranteed by Britain, Turkey, and Greece. Britain retained sovereignty over two military bases. Archbishop Makarios, who returned to Cyprus on March 1, 1959, was elected president on December 13. Fazıl Küchük, a Turkish Cypriot, became vice president. Independence was proclaimed on August 16, 1960. Cyprus was admitted to the United Nations (UN) and the Commonwealth of Nations.

In December 1963 Greek and Turkish Cypriots clashed after Makarios proposed constitutional changes, including abolition of the Turkish minority’s power to veto laws in the legislature. A violent armed conflict broke out over the island. Turkish Cypriots demanded partition while the Greek Cypriots insisted on a unitary state with minority rights safeguarded. After both Greece and Turkey threatened to intervene, full-scale civil war was forestalled by British troops. The UN appointed a mediator and organized a peacekeeping force to patrol the island.

After December 1963 Cyprus functioned under a crisis government. Immediately after the fighting erupted, vice president Küchük and the Turkish Cypriot ministers, members of the legislature, and civil servants remained in the Turkish quarter in Nicosia, refusing to participate in the national government. They established their own areas of control in Cyprus, referred to as enclaves, which covered less than half the Turkish Cypriot population.

Acceptance of a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire on August 10, 1964, ended sharp fighting between the factions. However, subsequent UN efforts to bring about a settlement failed. Bitterness between Greece and Turkey intensified, with the official government of Cyprus remaining in Greek Cypriot hands. Makarios was reelected president in 1968. Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriots enacted their own laws.

Settlement negotiations resumed in 1968. Greek Cypriots insisted on a unitary state, while Turkish Cypriots called for a federal system. Greek Cypriots regarded the Turkish community as a minority with certain guaranteed rights. Turkish Cypriots demanded a status equal to that of Greek Cypriots. A small minority of Greek Cypriots demanded immediate enosis. Amid these deep divisions, Makarios won reelection in 1973.

Invasion and Partition

Tensions in Cyprus culminated on July 15, 1974, when a military coup ousted Makarios from office and forced him into exile over his reluctance to unite the island with Greece. Members of the Cypriot national guard, supported by the junta (military government) of Greece, carried out the coup against Makarios, who had made no secret of his dislike for the junta. The national guard installed Nikos Sampson, a newspaper publisher, as president.

Turkey, fearing the revolt was a step toward enosis, invaded Cyprus with several thousand troops. After Turkish forces landed on the island, Sampson’s government collapsed. Sampson resigned on July 23, 1974, and Glafkos Clerides, president of the Cyprus House of Representatives, became acting head of state. On the same day, the military government in Greece collapsed. A ceasefire with Turkey was quickly arranged.

During settlement negotiations in Geneva, Turkey demanded autonomy for Turkish Cypriots within a federated Cyprus composed of two separate zones, but the talks collapsed. Turkey resumed military operations in August 1974, finally occupying the northern part of the island. About 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the southern zone, while about 40,000 Turkish Cypriots fled north, amid massacres on both sides. Since then, Cyprus has been divided into the Turkish Cypriot controlled north and Greek Cypriot controlled administration in the south, with United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces patrolling the buffer zone, or “Green Line.” In December 1974 Makarios returned from exile and assumed the presidency.

On February 13, 1975, a semi-independent Turkish Cypriot state was proclaimed in the Turkish-held sector. In April 1975 intermittent talks began under UN auspices to create a federal system with Greek and Turkish zones. The talks continued after Makarios died in 1977. He was succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou, the speaker of the House of Representatives. Kyprianou, who was reelected in February 1983, took a hard line for a unified Cyprus. During his tenure, Greek Cypriots led sometimes violent marches demanding to return to their homes in the north.

In November 1983 Rauf R. Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot president, proclaimed his community an independent republic called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), suspending all talks. Only Turkey has officially recognized this republic.

Continuing Tension

George Vassiliou, a businessman with no party affiliation, defeated Clerides and Kyprianou in the 1988 presidential election. UN-sponsored talks resumed on an intermittent basis in 1988. In 1991 the UN passed a resolution urging the creation of a federal state made up of two politically equal communities. In the 1993 election Vassiliou lost his presidential seat to Clerides, the candidate of the right-wing party Democratic Rally. In 1994 the European Union (EU), dedicated to a unified Cyprus, ruled that all exports from Cyprus must have authorization from the official government, in effect banning direct trade with the TRNC. Later that year, the Turkish Cypriots passed two resolutions calling for the TRNC to coordinate its defense and foreign policy with Turkey and to demand political equality and additional autonomy from Greek Cyprus.

By 1995 negotiations regarding Cyprus’s bid to join the EU were well underway. The TRNC opposed this process, claiming the Greek Cypriot government had pursued EU membership unilaterally. In February 1998 Glafkos Clerides was reelected to a second term as president by a narrow margin. In April the Greek Cypriot government entered accession negotiations with the EU. Meanwhile, UN talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus stalled as the TRNC demanded the suspension of Cyprus’s application for EU membership. Denktash, who won a fourth term as president of the TRNC in April 2000, repeatedly vowed to keep his government outside the talks until the TRNC was accorded international recognition.

Nevertheless, UN-backed negotiations on the future of Cyprus resumed in January 2002. In November the UN unveiled a new peace plan for Cyprus that would reunite the island under a federal system with a weak central government. The following month, the EU announced that Cyprus would be admitted as a member during the EU’s next round of expansion in 2004. In a move intended to encourage the resolution of peace talks in Cyprus, the EU also announced that only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot sector of the island would be allowed to join the organization if a peace settlement could not be reached.

In the presidential election in February 2003, Clerides—who was seeking a third term of just 16 months in order to oversee Cyprus’s EU accession—was defeated by challenger Tassos Papadopolous, leader of the centrist Democratic Party. One month later, in March 2003, the UN-brokered peace talks collapsed. Both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots had expressed reservations about aspects of the proposed peace plan, including provisions that required territorial exchanges and population movements.

Recent Events in Cyprus

In April 2003 Cypriot authorities eased restrictions along the buffer zone dividing the island since its partition in 1974. Thousands of Cypriots from both communities immediately crossed the line. Since then, many Turkish Cypriots have sought work in the more prosperous south, raising concerns about a potential drain of skilled labor from the north.

In February 2004 Greek and Cypriot leaders, under heavy international pressure, agreed to resume UN-brokered peace negotiations so Cyprus could enter the EU as a united state. However, in referendums on both parts of the island in April, more than 75 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected the UN reunification plan, while about 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots approved it. Cypriot leaders on both sides had campaigned against the plan. Greek Cypriot opposition stemmed mainly from a measure limiting the number of Greeks who could reclaim properties in northern Cyprus that were seized by Turkish Cypriots following Turkey’s 1974 invasion.

Rejection of the plan meant that only the Greek Cypriot-controlled administration was permitted to enter the EU on May 1, 2004. However, Turkish Cypriot endorsement of reunification was widely greeted as a constructive step toward peace. The endorsement yielded some benefits for Turkish Cypriots, including an agreement to permit tariff-free entry of fruits and vegetables produced in the north into southern Cyprus and the EU’s common market as well (provided the goods were shipped from ports in the south). The government of Turkey, in advance of its own scheduled EU membership negotiations, agreed to recognize the Republic of Cyprus as an EU member, although Turkey did not extend full diplomatic recognition to the republic.

In February 2008 the candidate of the Greek Cypriot Communist AKEL party, Demetris Christofias, won the presidential election. The following month Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed to resume talks on reunifying the island. As a symbolic gesture, they also agreed to reopen Ledra Street, once the main commercial thoroughfare in the capital of Nicosia. Barriers marking the Green Line were removed on the street, which reopened in April for the first time since the division of Cyprus in 1974.

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