Languid Times in Larnaca

Cyprus first came to my attention when I was in London in 1997 and went to a photography exhibition by the photojournalist Don McCullin. As part of his exhibition, he had a number of harrowing photos showing the after effects of violence between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that he reported on back in 1964. These photos earned him a World Press Photo Award, some of which can be viewed here:

My apologies for those not in the slightest bit interested, but what follows is a bit of a potted history of the country’s troubles, before I launch into my more usual blog post. You can skip straight to the normal blogpost by clicking here: TLDR.

Cyprus Recent History

Like most things there’s no simple answer to the conflict that occurred. However, in an effort to try and understand why it occurred, we need to go back to 1571 when the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Fast forward 300 or so years and the island and its population was then leased to Britain before formally being annexed in 1914 due to the Ottoman Empire's decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers. By this point the population of Cyprus consisted of both Greeks and Turks, who identified themselves with their respective "mother" countries.

When British rule ended in the early 1960’s and the island was declared an independent state, it became apparent that both communities had conflicting views on how the island should operate. Greek Cypriots wanted integration with Greece, whilst the Turkish Cypriots, as you could imagine, did not. The scene was set for conflict, which duly arrived when the Greek majority government proposed a range of constitutional amendments that were vetoed by the Turkish Cypriot legislators before they unilaterally decided to remove many of the Turkish communities’ protections as a minority, including their legislative power to veto. It had taken less than four years for the country to fall apart as communal violence began.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus occurred ten years later in 1974, during which 6,000 to 10,000 civilians and military personnel lost their lives. With 60,000 Turkish troops against 14,000 on the “Greek” side, the Turks emerged victorious and ended up occupying 36% of the island, despite only having about roughly 18% of the total population. As a result, somewhere up to 200,000 Greek Cypriots ended up leaving the north, whilst nearly 65,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced from the south.

Today, Northern Cyprus remains a de facto state that is only recognised by Turkey. A buffer zone exists between Northern and “regular” Cyprus, which also divides the capital city of Nicosia and attempts to reach a solution continue to be unsuccessful. It trades on the Turkish Lira, the majority of people speak Turkish and has a population of 326,000 compared to about 864,000 in Cyprus.