What Should I Know About Northern Cyprus?

Brendan McGuigan

Northern Cyprus is a small de facto republic on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The island covers 1300 square miles (3360 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. Northern Cyprus shares the island with the Republic of Cyprus, and the British controlled military regions of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.

Great Britain held control of Cyprus from 1878 to 1960.
Great Britain held control of Cyprus from 1878 to 1960.

Cyprus was first settled in the 8th millennium BCE, and by the time of the Phoenicians and the Greeks in the 2nd millennium BCE it had become an important port island. The island was fought over by various Mediterranean civilizations for the next few thousand years. It was an important trading post in the Roman Empire, and later passed to the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century.

Northern Cyprus is a small de facto republic on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
Northern Cyprus is a small de facto republic on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the 12th century the island was seized by Richard the Lionheart, to be used as an important base for the Crusades. The island was administered by the Templars, until it was sold to Guy of Lusignan after he lost his kingdom in Jerusalem. His line held control of Cyprus until the late-15th century, when the island came under the control of Venice.

The Ottoman Turks began raiding Cyprus almost immediately after Venice took control. Their first few large-scale attacks were unsuccessful, and the Venetians increased the fortifications immensely, but by the end of the 16th century the Ottomans had seized control of Cyprus completely. The Ottomans immediately began offering land to Turks who promised to stay on the island, and quickly injected the population with a large Turkish component.

The population of the island became fairly split between Christians and Muslims over the next two hundred years, and a number of small uprisings occurred. In the late 19th century, in return for their support of the Ottomans against the Russians, Cyprus was given to the British to control, although it still technically remained under Ottoman sovereignty. In the aftermath of World War I, Cyprus fully passed to Britain.

A strong Greek nationalist movement on the island led to a push for unification with Greece, but Britain resisted through both the first and second World Wars. Unification never was achieved, but in 1960 Britain agreed to grant Cyprus independence, save for two small regions set aside for British military use. Following independence, large groups of the population continued to push for unification with Greece. The Turkish portion of the population, much of them in Northern Cyprus, saw this as an intolerable situation, and instead proposed that the country be split between a Greek controlled region, and a Turkish controlled region in Northern Cyprus.

Only a few years after independence had been declared, the situation had devolved drastically. Violence had taken the lives of hundreds on both sides, and the Turkish members of the government had stepped down, leaving Greek Cypriots in charge of the government. Violence targeted towards Turkish Cypriot communities in Northern Cyprus led to large numbers of ethnic-Turks to protect themselves in heavily-armed communities.

Following the Greek-backed coup in Cyprus in 1974, which Turkey held violated the treaty that had established independence, Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus. The military forces of Turkey seized nearly 40% of Northern Cyprus, provoking a large population of Greek Cypriots to flee to the south, and a large population of Turkish Cypriots to flee to the north.

In 1983 Northern Cyprus declared itself independent, in spite of a lack of international recognition from any nation save Turkey. The country has remained divided since, in spite of a strong push towards unification prior to the country’s entrance into the European Union.

The island of Cyprus is beautiful and offers many fascinating historical sites of interest. The threat of imminent violence has been reduced greatly in the past few years, and the UN mediated Green Line is now open for free passage, making the entire island accessible.

The majority of Turkish Cypriots are Muslims.
The majority of Turkish Cypriots are Muslims.

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