The multicultural character of Cyprus

Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra
yprus, located in the eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea with an area of 9.251 km² and a population of about a million, looks from above like a golden-green leaf tossed into the sea. Due to its strategic geographical position, at the crossroads of three continents, its history has been marked indelibly. The first traces of civilisation (10.000-6.000 BC) can be found primarily at Aetokremmos, Khirokitia, Kalavasos-Tenta and also elsewhere (Kastros, Petra tou Limniti, Phrenaros, Shillourokambos, Troulli); a plethora of settlements dates back to the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic periods. Between 1400-1050 BC Mycenaean and Achaean Greeks settled here, establishing city-Kingdoms that flourished from the Late Bronze age onwards. By the 4th century BC the indigenous Eteocypriots had gradually adopted the religion, civic organisation, culture and arts of the Greek colonists, as well as their language and alphabet.


In 1191 Cyprus was seized by the crusader King of England, Richard the Lionheart. In 1192 it was purchased by the titular King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan. During the Frankish Era (1192-1489), considerable numbers of Christians and Jews of the Levant settled in Cyprus, ultimately resulting to a fusion of culture, the arts, education, language and religion. After a series of machinations, the last Queen of Cyprus, Catherine Cornaro, was forced in 1489 to cede her Kingdom to the Republic of Venice, in the hands of which it remained until July 1570; the Ottomans eventually occupied the entire island by August 1571. During the Ottoman Era (1571-1878), many Christians were coerced into Islamisation or became Linobambaki (crypto-Christians). The Latins and the Maronites who were not expelled from Cyprus were forced either to become Orthodox or to embrace Islam; many opted to become Linobambaki. At the same time, many Ottoman families arrived. The only consolation for the Catholic community were the foreign consulates in the coastal town of Larnaca, as their presence attracted European bankers, doctors, merchants and some Roman Catholic monks. On 8 July 1878, as a result of the Congress of Berlin and an agreement to pay an annual lease of £92.800, the British became governors of the island. Their improved administration, infrastructure works and religious tolerance allowed all Cypriots to prosper throughout the British Era (1878-1960). Thousands of Armenians fleeing the Genocide and the horrific massacres found refuge in Cyprus. The Latin community was also enlarged with Britons, Europeans and some Maronites, while small Anglican, Protestant and Jewish communities were formed. After a 4-year liberating war led by EOKA (19551959), Cyprus gained its Independence on 16 August 1960. The new Constitution recognised two communities (Greeks and Turks) and three religious groups (Armenians, Maronites and Latins). Intercommunal violence broke out in December 1963, resulting in the seizure of 39 land pockets by extremist T/C and the formation of a UN contingent to prevent further bloodshed. Using the Juntaorchestrated coup d’état against President Makarios as a pretext, Turkey savagely and unlawfully invaded Cyprus in two phases in the summer of 1974, occupying 34,85% of its soil and displacing 210.000 people from their homes. To-date, over 160.000 settlers from Anatolia have illegally settled in occupied Cyprus, dramatically altering its character and demography. The financial boom of free Cyprus over the last 30 years has attracted a large number of immigrants from all corners of the planet, especially from south-east Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caucasus.

Cyprus was consecutively occupied by the Phoenicians (950-850 BC), the Assyrians (709-669 BC), the Egyptians (565-546 BC) and the Persians (546-332 BC). In 332 BC, it was conquered by Alexander the Great. Upon his death it was passed to the Ptolemies. It became a Roman province in 58 BC; during the Roman period some Jewish refugees settled here. In 45 AD Cyprus was visited by Apostles Paul, Barnabas and Mark, who arrived at Salamis and then Paphos, where they converted the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, after Saint Paul blinded his sorcerer, Elymas (Acts 13:4-12). Thus, Cyprus became the first country in the world to be governed by a Christian ruler. Apostle Barnabas is considered to be the founder of the Church of Cyprus, which became officially autocephalous from the Patriarchate of Antioch at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, and has been represented in all seven Ecumenical Synods. Rightly, Cyprus has been called “the isle of Saints”, due to large number of Saints who martyred here. In 330 Cyprus became a Byzantine theme (province). This period saw the first Armenians and Maronites (Eastern Christians of Syrian origin) settle here, as well as some Jewish merchants (they had been banned by the Romans after a bloody revolt in 116 AD). Between 632-965, several Arab raids took place and a condominium was established, however the raiders did not found permanent settlements. During the 647-649 raid by Muawiyah, Umm Haram (Mohammed’s wet-nurse), fell from her mule, broke her spine and died near the Salt Lake just outside Larnaca, where the famed Hala Sultan tekke was built in 1760. In 965, after the liberation of the island by patrician Niketas Chalkoutzes, Nicosia became the capital of Cyprus (earlier the capital had been Constantia and before that Paphos and Salamis). The first origins of the Latin community (Roman Catholics of European or Levantine descent) can be traced back to the Late Byzantine period.

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