Cyprus: The ancient island of Aphrodite that has seen many modern struggles

The capital city Nicosia, the largest on the island and divided by the Green Line.

Story highlights

  • Island on the eastern edges of the Mediterranean Sea has had a long history of conquest
  • It has been conquered by Arab armies, the Venetians and the Ottomans and was a British colony
  • In 1974, Turkish forces invaded Cyprus partitioning the north into a zone for Turkish Cypriots
  • Until recent the recent banking crisis the Republic of Cyprus has grown to have one of the most successful economies in the region
Strategically located in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has stood at one of the geographical, cultural and economic fault-lines between East and West since ancient times.
In mythology, it was the birthplace of the Ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, however the island has seen plenty of conflict throughout its history.
When the Roman Empire divided in the 4th century, Cyprus came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, developing the Hellenistic-Christian culture that remains the hallmark of Greek Cypriots today.
But for the next 1,500 years, Cyprus remained at the mercy of successive waves of foreign invaders.
During the Arab-Byzantine wars between the 7th and 11th century, Cyprus was subject to everything from small piratical raids to full-scale assaults in which thousands were slaughtered.
Cypriot legend claims the Greek goddess of love, rose out of the foam near a rock off Aphrodite's Beach. Many claim the waves breaking over the rock create pillars of foam that looks just like her.
The cycle of invasion and foreign rule continued to the mid-20th century as Cyprus fell variously to Richard I of England during the Third Crusade, the French under the Lusignans and the Venetians in the 15th century.
When the Ottoman Empire launched a successful full-scale attack in 1570, the scene was set for the divisions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots that exist on the Mediterranean island until today.
Cyprus in the 20th century
By the time Cyprus came under British administration in 1878, Greek Cypriots were already agitating for union with Greece. A referendum in 1950 that was boycotted by Turkish Cypriots came out heavily in favor of union with Greece.
Inter-communal violence fractured the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities after the country gained independence in 1960 and Turkey threatened to invade in a series of events that became a Cold War flashpoint in 1963 and 1964.
Only the involvement of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson halted a Turkish invasion when he stated that the U.S. would not stand beside the NATO member in the event of a Soviet invasion of Turkish territory.
In July 1974, the Greek military junta backed a coup d'etat in Cyprus. In response Turkey launched military intervention and by August it had landed thousands of troops and successfully partitioned the island along what is known as the "Green Line."
Around 180,000 Greek Cypriots were forced south and some 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moved into vacant properties in the northern Turkish occupied zone.
Cyprus has existed as a de-facto divided country ever since and the events of the bloody summer of 1974 still dominate, not just the politics of the island, but Greco-Turkish relations in general.