What Should I Know About Akrotiri and Dhekelia?

Brendan McGuigan

Akrotiri and Dhekelia are two tiny administered areas on Cyprus, in the Mediterranean. They cover 98 square miles (254 sq. km). The island of Cyprus was first visited by humans some 12,000 years ago, and the first settlements appeared around 10,000 years ago. In the 2nd millennium BCE the Phoenicians and the Greeks arrived on the island, and the island became an important Mediterranean trading hub.

Akrotiri and Dhekelia are two tiny administered areas on Cyprus, in the Mediterranean.
Akrotiri and Dhekelia are two tiny administered areas on Cyprus, in the Mediterranean.

Control of the island passed from one group to the other, and eventually was controlled by the Ottoman Turks. During this period the Turkish population of the island increased dramatically. In the late-19th century control of the island passed to Britain, although it remained under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. The British used the island as an important waypoint for their trading Empire, and to solidify their control over the Suez Canal.

When Turkey joined the Central Powers in World War I, Britain took full control of the island. Cypriots joined with Britain in return for a promise that following the war they would be allowed to unify with Greece. Britain failed to deliver on this promise, however, and anti-British sentiment grew.

Eventually the Cypriots achieved independence over their island, with the compromise that Britain would be allowed to keep military bases on their own sovereign land on the island. This allowed Britain to retain their control over the Suez Canal and a military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, while defusing the struggle with separatists. The two regions were therefore partitioned off and remained under British control after Cyprus became independent.

In 1974, Turkey invaded the north of the island, and Greeks fled before the invasion, taking refuge in Dhekelia. The Turkish army took care in their invasion not to enter the British controlled territory, as they were trying to keep Britain neutral in the dispute.

Since 1960, Cyprus has on multiple occasions requested or demanded the return of Akrotiri and Dhekelia from Britain. The government of Cyprus holds that the land rightfully belongs to the nation, and that British control of the areas impedes further Cypriot development. The British consider Akrotiri and Dhekelia important strategic bases, and although some offers of compromise have been made, as yet no settlement has been reached.

Akrotiri and Dhekelia are entirely military bases, with no real civil governments. They are administered by the British as military bases, and the tenets which outline their development reflect this. No commercial or civilian developments are allowed in Akrotiri and Dhekelia, and no permanent settlement of people is allowed. As a result, there is obviously no tourist industry in Akrotiri and Dhekelia, although nearby Cyprus offers many travel opportunities.

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