In 1878 as a result of the Cyprus Convention, the United Kingdom received as a protectorate, the island of Cyprus from the Ottoman Empire in exchange for United Kingdoms military support to the Ottoman Empire if Russia would attempt to take possession of territories of the Ottomans in Asia. The first British official who was placed in charge of the administration was given the title of “High Commissioner” and was Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913). The British faced a major political problem on the island.
The indigenous Cypriots believed it their natural right to unite the island with Greece following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The British authorities carried out the first census in 1881, the total population of Cyprus was 186,173, of which 137,631 (73,9%) were Greeks, 45,438 (24,4%) were Turks and 3,084 (1,7%) were minorities of Maronites, Latins and Armenians. Bishop of Kitium Kyprianos addressed Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley upon his arrival in Larnaca in a speech on the 22nd of July 1878 saying
“We (Greeks) accept the change of the government, because we believe that Great Britain will eventually help Cyprus, just like with the Ionian islands, unite Cyprus with mother Greece”.
While the Cypriots at first welcomed British rule hoping that they would gradually achieve prosperity, democracy and national liberation, they became disillusioned. The British imposed heavy taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan for having conceded Cyprus to them. Moreover, the people were not given the right to participate in the administration of the island, since all powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London. A few years later the system was reformed and some members of the legislative Council were elected by the Cypriots, though in reality their participation was very marginal.
However, Cyprus’ status as a protectorate of the British Empire ended in 1914 when the Ottoman Empire declared war against the Entente powers, which included Britain. Cyprus was then annexed by the British Empire on November the 2nd. During the course of the First World War Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfill treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined. As a result of this, Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown Colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.
After the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the new Turkish government formally recognized Britain’s sovereignty over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots believed the circumstances were right to demand their natural and historic right to unite the island with Greece (enosis), as many of the Aegean and Ionian islands had done following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the years that followed, Greek Cypriots’ demands for enosis (union with Greece), which the British opposed, developed rapidly during the 1930s, leading to the destruction of the Government House in Nicosia which was burnt down in Greek Cypriot riots of 1931.
The period between October 1931 and October 1940 proved to be a very difficult one for the Cypriots. The Governor at the time, Sir Richmond Palmer, took a number of suppressive measures including limitations on the administration and functioning of Greek schools, and prohibition of trade unions and associations of any kind and form. This regime became known as “Palmerokratia”, named after the Governor. Its aim was to prevent local public interest in politics.
There were strong protests against the regime but the suppressive measures were not lifted until the beginning of the Second World War, during which more than thirty thousand Cypriots joined the British armed forces.
Endeavours by the British to introduce constitutional government designed to develop some participation without leading to enosis failed, despite determined efforts to achieve some semblance of liberal and democratic government, notably by the post-war Labour Government in Britain.
Proposed union with Greece
In 1948, King Paul of Greece declared that Cyprus desired union with Greece. In 1951 the Orthodox Church of Cyprus presented a referendum according to which around 97% of the Greek Cypriot population wanted the union. The United Nations accepted the Greek petition and enosis became an international issue.
In 1952 both Greece and Turkey became members of NATO. After the war, a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand for enosis to London.
The demand was rejected but the British proposed a more liberal constitution and a 10-year programme of social and economic development.
Led by Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot demand for enosis emerged with new force in the 1950s, when Greece began to accord it support on the international scene. This attempt to win world support alerted Turkey and alarmed the Turkish Cypriots.
The British withdrawal from Egypt led to Cyprus becoming the new location for their Middle East Headquarters.
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond as required, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas, created and directed an effective campaign beginning in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1, followed by leaflets.
Attacks on police stations started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed a State of Emergency on 26 November. For the next four years EOKA attacked British or British-connected targets and those Cypriots it accused of collaboration.
Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile in the Seychelles. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen including more than 20 in the Operation Lucky Alphonse.
Easily infiltrated by Greek Cypriot sympathisers working for them in various ancillary tasks, the British security forces had to exert great efforts under Field Marshal Sir John Harding to suppress the independence movement. They were much more successful than is often recognised, though the attacks on British personnel never quite ceased. Makarios was exiled, suspected of involvement in the EOKA campaign, but was released when EOKA, exhausted but still determined to fight, agreed to cease hostilities on the Archbishop’s release free to return.
From mid-1956 onwards there were constant discussions in NATO but all efforts to create an independent Cyprus which would be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations proved to be futile.
The Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the “Enosis demand” by calling for partition (taksim). Taksim became the slogan which was used by the increasingly militant Turkish Cypriots to counter the Greek cry of ‘enosis’. In 1957 Küçük declared during a visit to Ankara that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.
In April 1957, in the new conditions made obvious by the Suez debacle, the British government accepted that bases in Cyprus were an acceptable alternative to Cyprus as a base. This produced a much more relaxed British attitude to the problem. It was now to be solved in conjunction with Greece and Turkey, the latter thoroughly alerted to the dangers of enosis to the Turkish community. Violence was renewed in Cyprus by EOKA, but it increasingly drew in the Turkish community when the new Governor Sir Hugh Foot’s plan (for unitary self-government) incited Turkish-Cypriot riots and produced a hostile response from the Turkish government. Violence between the two communities developed into a new and deadly feature of the situation.
In 1957 the UN decided that the issue should be resolved according to its Statutory Map. The exiles returned, and both sides began a series of violent acts against each other.
In the few years that existed before the Zürich and London agreements (1959 /1960) Greece tried again to win international recognition and support for the cause of enosis at the UN against a background of renewed and continuing EOKA violence directed against the British. It was to no avail. Eventually Greece had to recognise that Turkey was now a vitally interested party in the dispute.
Grivas and EOKA also had to accept the changed situation. Makarios could see no way of excluding Turkey from participating in any solution. It was widely believed by the Greek-Cypriots that Britain had promoted the Turkish-Cypriot case, thus preventing the achievement of enosis.
In 1958 the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan prepared new proposals for Cyprus but his plan, which was a form of partition, was rejected by Archbishop Makarios. The Archbishop declared that he would only accept a proposal which guaranteed independence excluding both Enosis and partition. On February 19, 1959 the Zürich agreement attempted to end the conflict. Without the presence of either the Greek or the Turkish sides, the UK outlined a Cypriot constitution, which was eventually accepted by both sides. Both Greece and Turkey along with Britain were appointed as guarantors of the island’s integrity. Some of the major points of the Zurich agreement are:
- Cyprus is to become an independent state.
- Both taksim and enosis are to be prohibited.
- Greek and Turkish military forces, at a ratio of approximately 3:2, are to be present at all time in Cyprus. Both forces are to answer to all three Foreign Ministers: of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
- The President is to be a Greek Cypriot, elected by the Greek Cypriot population, and the Vice President a Turkish Cypriot, elected by the Turkish Cypriot population.
- The Cabinet is to include seven Greek Cypriots, chosen by the President, and three Turkish Cypriots, chosen by the Vice President.
- Decisions will need an absolute majority but both the President and the Vice President have the right of veto.
- Britain is to remain a guarantor and keep both of its military bases.
On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom, after an anti-British campaign by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group which desired political union with Greece, or enosis. Archbishop Makarios III, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected the first president of independent Cyprus. In 1961 it became the 99th member of the United Nations.
The Zurich agreement, however, did not succeed in establishing cooperation between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot populations. The Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government and as such developed the Akritas Plan aimed at forcing all Turkish Cypriot parliamentarians from government so as not to disrupt Greek Cypriot plans of enosis. Both sides continued the violence. Turkey threatened to intervene on the island.
In November 1963, President Makarios advanced a series of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate some of these special provisions. The Turkish Cypriots opposed such changes. The confrontation prompted widespread intercommunal fighting in December 1963, after which the Akritas Plan was put into motion and Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased on December 23 1963, when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers, including the Turkish Vice-President Dr Fazıl Küçük were out of the government.
Makarios ordered a cease-fire and again addressed the issue to the United Nations. Although the government was no longer functional or legal, with the forced withdrawal of Turkish Cypriot politicians, UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964, effectively recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government.
The force, UNFICYP, included Canadian, Irish and Finnish troops. Its mandate was to prevent fighting, maintain law and order. In 1964 the UK Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, met with the American Attorney General, Robert Kennedy to explain why international intervention is required stating that “If they had not done so, there would probably have been a massacre of Turkish Cypriots” which were confined in enclaves totalling little more than 3% of the island. The same year the Turkish parliament voted in favour of the intervention of Cyprus but the lack of support that Turkey faced from both the UN and NATO prevented it. In answer Grivas was recalled to Athens and the Greek military force left the island.
In 1967, on Cyprus Airways Flight 284 a de Havilland Comet suffered an explosion in the cabin, killing 66. The cause and motive were unsolved, but a recovered seat cushion showed traces of a military plastic explosive. Following another outbreak of inter communal violence in 1967-68, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed.
Greek Coup & Turkish Invasion
In July 1974, the President was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard. Turkey, after failed UN meetings, invaded Cyprus on July 20. It believed it was legitimately intervening to protect the Turkish Population and therefore had a mandate, however this invasion was in violation of the Zurich accords as it was an act of taksis, but it could be argued that said the accord was now null and void in light of the coup.
In a two-stage offensive, Turkish troops took control of 38% of the island, 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the northern areas which were under occupation, whilst at the same time 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to these northern occupied areas by the United Nations and British SBA authorities after an agreed temporary population exchange by Turkish and Greek leaders.
Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognized Cyprus government and the northern part occupied under a Turkish administration and the Turkish army. Turkey has further bolstered its claim to the area by actively engaging in demographic-engineering by relocating at least 40,000 Turkish civilians to the occupied part of the island through coercive measures, meaning that now only 45% of the Turkish population were actually born on Cyprus.
Equally a number of Greek citizens have relocated to Cyprus.
The Turkish Army did not invade the British Sovereign Base Areas.
British Sovereign Base Areas
The British Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia comprise those parts of Cyprus which stayed under British jurisdiction and remained British sovereign territory when the 1960 Treaty of Establishment created the independent Republic of Cyprus.
Akrotiri and Dhekelia are UK Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) on Cyprus, a former British Crown Colony. Akrotiri is located in the south of the island near the city of Limassol (or Lemesos).
Dhekelia is in the southeast near Larnaca. Both of these areas include military bases as well as farmland and some residential land.
Akrotiri is surrounded by the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, but Dhekelia also borders on the UN buffer zone and the territory controlled by the Turkish occupied part of the island.
The SBAs, contain the only fully fledged RAF station in the Mediterranean (since Gibraltar does not have any aircraft permanently based there), RAF Akrotiri.
In addition to the garrison, the UK makes a contribution to the United Nations force in Cyprus. In total, some 3,500 British personnel are based in Cyprus.
The boundaries of the SBAs are marked by white pillars, there are roads running through the territory and through the military camps, which are open to traffic from Cyprus. Civilian laws are enacted by the British civilian authorities, but are patterned on those of the Republic of Cyprus.
Many Cypriots work in the SBAs, mainly for the British authorities or as farmers, or for a few local businesses. However only those Cypriots with a local connection are permitted to live within the SBAs, such as those from Akrotiri village or from the outskirts of villages neighbouring the bases. The villages of Xylotimbou and Ormidhia, are enclaves surrounded by Dhekelia SBA, and are part of the Republic of Cyprus and subject to Cypriot law.
The SBAA is responsible for protection of the environment in the bases and works closely with the relevant Cypriot Republic departments. A joint exercise protects breeding loggerhead and green turtles on the beaches within the WSBA. The only remaining colony of griffon vultures on Cyprus is on the cliffs at Episkopi in the WSBA, and there is a large colony of Eleanora’s falcons both here and on the cliffs bordering the Royal Air Force station at Akrotiri. The most important wetland on the island of Cyprus, Akrotiri salt lake, lies within the WSBA and is proposed as a Ramsar wetland site of international importance.