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Formal Name
Republic of Cyprus

Local Name

Local Formal Name
Kypriaki Dimokratia / Kibris Cumhuriyeti

Location: Europe

Status: UN Country

Capital City: Nicosia (Levkòsia)

Main Cities: Limassol, Famagusta

Population: 729,000    Area []: 9,250

Currency: 1 Cyprus pound = 100 cents

Languages: Greek, Turkish

Religions: Greek Orthodox

Cyprus, republic, and third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located west of Syria and south of Turkey. The island has a maximum length of about 225 km (about 140 mi) from Cape Andreas in the northeast to the western extremity of the island. Its maximum width, from Cape Gata in the south to Cape Kormakiti in the north, is about 97 km (about 60 mi). The total area of the country is 9251 sq km (3572 sq mi). Nicosia is the capital and largest city. Since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been occupied by Turkish troops and has formed a separate—though officially unrecognized—state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Land and Resources

In the extreme northeast of Cyprus, the island narrows abruptly to form the Karpas Peninsula, which extends east toward the Syrian coast. Much of the land is a flat, treeless plain located in the interior and called the Mesaoria, meaning "between the mountains" in Greek; it extends from the western to the eastern coasts and is bordered on the north and south by mountain ranges. The northern range, known as the Kyrenia Mountains, is notable for its rocky, unbroken character. The Kyrenia range parallels the coastline, extending into the Karpas Peninsula; its highest point is 1019 m (3343 ft). The southern range, called the Troödos Mountains, covers most of the southwestern portion of the island. This range is broken and has many abrupt cliffs. Mount Olympus (1953 m/6406 ft) is its highest peak.

Cyprus has no permanent rivers. A number of watercourses bring the overflow from the winter rains down to the Mesaoria plain in spring but are dry for most of the year. The island has a few freshwater lakes and two large saltwater lakes.


Cyprus has a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot and dry summers and a cool, rainy season that extends from October to March. The mean annual temperature is 20.6° C (69° F). The annual rainfall averages less than 500 mm (less than 20 in).

Natural Resources

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. Copper and other minerals were formerly a major source of export earnings, but mining has declined considerably in importance.

Plants and Animals

Forest growths of pine, cypress, and cedar cover about one-seventh of the total area of Cyprus, principally in the mountainous areas. Other indigenous trees include juniper, plane, oak, olive, and carob; the eucalyptus has been planted extensively as an afforestation measure.

Cyprus has few wild animals; the most notable of these, the mouflon, a wild sheep, is no longer common. Birdlife is varied because the island is visited by migratory flocks. Among the prominent native birds are several varieties of partridge, especially francolin, and other game birds, including snipe, quail, woodcock, and plover.


Greek-speaking Cypriots make up about 80 percent of the population. About 18 percent of the population is of Turkish extraction, and the remainder is made up of Armenians and other ethnic groups. Both the Greek and Turkish communities retain the customs, and, to a great extent, the national identity of their coreligionists on the mainland. Since the Turkish invasion in 1974 mass migrations of Greeks and Turks have taken place, so that now the two groups are geographically separated. The Greek Cypriots occupy the southern two-thirds of the island and the Turkish Cypriots occupy the northern third. The people are predominantly farmers who work the land surrounding their villages.

Population Characteristics and Principal Cities

 The combined population of the Greek and Turkish sectors (1991 estimate) is about 708,000. The overall population density is about 77 persons per sq km (about 198 per sq mi). The principal city is Nicosia, the capital, with an estimated 1991 population of 166,500 for the Greek Cypriot zone and an estimated 1989 population of 39,496 in the Turkish zone. Limassol (population, 1991 estimate, 129,700), Larnaca (59,600), and Famagusta (20,516) are the chief ports.


Members of the Greek community adhere to the Church of Cyprus, which is in doctrinal agreement with the Eastern Orthodox church, but is independent and has no allegiance to any patriarch. 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 Muslim. Other small religious groups include Maronites (Christian Arabs), Roman Catholics, and Jews.


Greek and Turkish are the official languages and are taught in schools and used in broadcasting. 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.


Separate educational systems are maintained by the Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities. Greek Cypriot education is administered by the Ministry of Education. Six years of elementary education are free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 11, and six years of secondary school are provided. In the late 1980s Greek Cypriot elementary schools each year had about 56,500 pupils enrolled, and Greek Cypriot secondary schools had about 38,800. Higher education is provided by the University of Cyprus (1988) and by teacher-training, technical, and vocational schools. Turkish Cypriot education is administered by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The illiteracy rate for both communities is low.

Cultural Institutions

Examples of Cypriot folk art, which is an outgrowth of traditional Greek art, are in the Folk Art Museum (1950) in Nicosia. The Cyprus Museum (1883) at Nicosia houses many archaeological artifacts found on the island. Museums in Paphos, Larnaca, and Limassol display other important collections.


The economy of Cyprus is predominantly agricultural. Manufacturing and services are also important. After the fighting of 1974 divided the island, the economy suffered, but the Greek sector showed a rapid recovery. In the late 1980s, annual budget figures showed about $782 million in revenue and $901 million in expenditure in the Greek sector and $120 million in revenue and expenditure in the Turkish sector.


About 17 percent of the land area is under cultivation. Most of the holdings are small and are worked using unsophisticated methods.

The principal crops are potatoes, grapes, citrus fruit, barley, wheat, carobs, and olives. The output of cereals and olives is insufficient to meet domestic demands. Livestock breeding, mainly of sheep and goats, is important. Pigs, cattle (including draft oxen), donkeys, mules, and horses also are raised. Dairy products are mainly cheese and yogurt made from sheep and goat milk.

Forestry and Fishing

The chief forest products are lumber and firewood. Sponge fisheries in the coastal waters are valuable; other fishing activities are not a significant source of wealth.


The chief mineral is copper, which was named for Cyprus (Greek Kypros) because it was the main source of copper for the ancient world. Other minerals include asbestos, iron pyrites, gypsum, and chromite.


Light industries are becoming increasingly important on Cyprus. Manufactures include clothing and accessories, processed foods, footwear, construction materials, wine, cigarettes, chemicals, and cooking oils.

Currency and Foreign Trade

The basic unit of currency is the Cyprus pound, which is composed of 100 cents (0.52 pounds equal U.S.$1; 1994). Currency is issued by the Central Bank of Cyprus, which also regulates the money supply and acts as banker for the Greek and British commercial banks on the island. The Turkish lira is the currency of the island's Turkish sector (21.219 lira equal U.S.$1; 1994).

The annual export trade in the Greek sector during the late 1980s totaled about $645 million. The chief exports included agricultural products, principally potatoes, citrus fruit, and wines; and manufactured goods, including clothing. Imports, primarily petroleum, textiles, cereals, and manufactured goods, amounted to about $1.7 billion yearly. Great Britain is the major trade partner. In the Turkish sector, annual exports in the late 1980s were about $55 million and imports were $221 million. Turkey is the Turkish sector's major trade partner and financial benefactor; nevertheless Great Britain is the leading purchaser of Turkish Cypriot exports.

Transportation and Communications

Cyprus has about 10,780 km (about 6700 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 (Ercan), in Turkish Cypriot territory. In the Greek Cypriot sector, two government-controlled radio transmitters are operated by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation; television was inaugurated in 1957. Broadcasts by the Bayrak Radio and TV Corporation serve the Turkish Cypriot sector. More than 160,000 television sets and 210,000 radios are in use, receiving both Greek- and Turkish-language programs.


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, the 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 won 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

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 35 Greek Cypriots and 15 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. In 1985 the number of Greeks in the legislature increased from 35 to 56. Since the mid-1970s, the Turkish Cypriots have had their own president and legislative institutions.

Local Government

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).


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.


The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities have separate military organizations, the former aided by Greece, the latter by Turkey, which maintains 27,000 troops on the island. The UN stationed a peacekeeping force on Cyprus in 1963; in the mid-1980s this force totaled some 2000 members.


According to archaeological investigation and conjecture, the aboriginal inhabitants of Cyprus were Indo-European people who had a written language. Extensive excavation has shown that during the Neolithic and Bronze ages the Cypriots had an advanced civilization.

Early History

The recorded history of Cyprus begins with the occupation of part of the island by Egypt about or just before 1450 BC, during the reign of Thutmose III. In subsequent centuries seafaring and trading peoples from the Mediterranean countries set up scattered settlements along the coasts. The first Greek colony is believed to have been founded by traders from Arcadia about 1400 BC. The Phoenicians began to colonize the island about 800 BC.

Beginning with the rise of Assyria during the 8th century BC, Cyprus was under the control of each of the empires that successively dominated the eastern Mediterranean. Assyrian authority was followed by Egyptian occupation (550 BC), then Persian (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 a thousand 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. In 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. Turkey 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, Turkey induced the British to administer Cyprus.

British Administration

The move served as a warning to Russia that any attempt to expand toward the Dardanelles would conflict directly with British interest. Under the enabling convention, signed by Turkey and Great Britain on June 4, 1878, the British received complete control of Cyprus for a rental of about $500,000 yearly, and Turkey retained nominal title. When the British administrators assumed office in 1879, they were presented with a petition from the archbishop and the Greek community calling for enosis (Greek, "union"), that is, the political amalgamation of Cyprus and the kingdom of Greece. The petition was denied.

Because Turkey joined the Central Powers in World War I (1914-1918), Great 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, and when the decision was delayed, the British withdrew the offer.

By the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the peace arrangement imposed on the Turks after the war, Turkey formally recognized British possession of Cyprus. Two years later the island was made a crown colony.

In 1931 resentment over government measures resulted in serious riots. The British suppressed the riots, abolished the legislative council, and banned all political parties. Shortly after World War II ended in 1945, the enosis issue again began to create tension in Cyprus, and in 1946 the British proposed constitutional reforms leading to self-government on Cyprus.

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, later Makarios III, 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 refused his request for a plebiscite on enosis. When the church hierarchy polled the Greek community, however, 95.7 percent favored union with Greece. In October, Bishop Mouskos was elected archbishop primate of Cyprus, with the title Makarios III, and he soon became the recognized leader of the enosis movement. A British announcement that the strategic position of Cyprus made it impossible to discuss any change in the political status of the island was followed by a terrorist campaign against the British that was instituted by an underground 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 the situation because of its alliance with Great Britain, unsuccessfully sought to have the question of Cyprus brought before the United Nations General Assembly. In the subsequent UN discussion, Turkey announced that it opposed the union of Cyprus with Greece and declared that if Great Britain withdrew from Cyprus, the island should revert to Turkey.

Early in 1955 the Cypriots intensified their terrorist campaign against the British. A British attempt to settle the dispute by conference with the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey was unsuccessful. 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 violent that the government declared a state of emergency. In early 1957 the UN General Assembly asked that negotiations be resumed. The EOKA leaders proposed a truce conditional on the release of Archbishop Makarios and the resumption of negotiations with him. The archbishop was released but was not permitted to return to Cyprus.

Independence from Great Britain

In June 1958 the British announced a plan to maintain the international status quo of Cyprus for seven years but to establish representative government and communal autonomy. Archbishop Makarios and the Greek and Turkish governments rejected the British plan, but on October 1 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 Great Britain, Turkey, and Greece. Great Britain retained sovereignty over two military bases. Archbishop Makarios, who returned to Cyprus on March 1, was elected president on December 13; Fazil Küchük, a Turkish Cypriot, became vice president. Independence was proclaimed on August 16, 1960. Cyprus was admitted to the United Nations 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. Fighting spread over the island, with the Turkish Cypriots demanding 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 peace force to patrol the island.

Acceptance of a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire on August 10, 1964, ended sharp fighting between the factions. Subsequent UN efforts to bring about a settlement failed, and bitterness between Greece and Turkey continued to increase. Makarios was reelected president in 1968 and 1973. Renewed tension in the early 1970s culminated on July 15, 1974, when Makarios was ousted from office and forced into exile by members of the Cypriot national guard who opposed his reluctance to unite the island with Greece. The national guard, which had close ties with the Greek government, installed Nikos Sampson, a newspaper publisher, as president, but he was replaced on July 23 by Glafkos Clerides, president of the Cyprus House of Representatives, after Turkish forces landed on the island. By late August, following fighting that left many people homeless, the Turks controlled the northern third of the island. In December Makarios returned to Cyprus 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 and was succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou, who was reelected in February 1983. 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. George Vassiliou defeated Clerides and Kyprianou in the 1988 presidential elections. 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. Cyprus hosted the Nonaligned Movement Conference in February 1992 and urged closer ties with Western countries. In the 1993 elections Vassilion lost his presidential seat to Clerides, the candidate of the right-wing Democrat Rally party. In 1994 the European Union, 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 that of Turkey and to demand political equality and additional autonomy from Greek Cyprus. In 1995 negotiations regarding Cyprus's entrance into the European Union were under way.