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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 2. 1965.

Puzzle of Cyprus

page 7

Puzzle of Cyprus

"A Race advancing on the East must start with Cyprus. Alexander, Augustus. Richard, and Saint Louis took that line. A race advancing on the West must start with Cyprus. Cargon. Ptolemy, Cyprus, and Haroun-al-Rashid took this line.

"When Egypt and Syria were of first-rate value to the West, Genoa and Venice, struggling for the trade of India, fought for Cyprus and enjoyed supremacy in the land by turns."

Cyprus, then, was once a strategic island. And it is still strategic, for recent disturbances there have had repercussions throughout the world. A knowledge of the background of this small Mediterranean republic might help to throw some light on the present puzzling situation.

The first settlers were Stone Age people who were present about 3700BC. From the twelfth millenium onwards. Greeks began to settle all over the island and the result was that the Greek language and culture came to be strongly established amongst the inhabitants. This marked the alpha of history and civilization on the island.

The inhabitants were assimilated with the newly arrived Greeks and a new era of a new nation, the Greek Cyprus, started. The island was then occupied by the Egyptians (1,450BC), after which It was ruled by Assyrians, Persians, Ptolemies, Byzantines, Richard 1, Templars, Lusignans and Venetians respectively up to 1571.

In that year the Turks captured the island and it became a Turkish province until the British occupation in 1878. During this period nothing else worth mentioning took place except that progress was retarded, a common characteristic of Ottomite occupation in Greece and other countries.

In 1821 the Turks, suspecting that the Cypriots were assisting their compatriots of the mainland Greece in their struggle for freedom, hanged the then archbishop and executed many bishops in an attempt to frighten the people.

In 1925, after Turkey had sided with Germany during the War, Cyprus became a British crown colony under a governor and remained so until it became an Independent republic in 1960 within the British Commonwealth.

The striking characteristic of this long and variable reign by different conquerors, is that the Greekness of the inhabitants remained all the way through unchanged. Thus during the reign of Evagoras of Salamis (410-381BC) the island is found united and organised, and with a flourishing civilization clearly Greek. Manners and customs were Greek: language and art were Greek. The conquerors left few traces.

Besides the island from 330BC until 1191AD, was administratively an integral part of the Byzantine Empire. And, from 1191 until the Turkish invasion in 1571. Cyprus was ruled by the Crusaders, Lusignans and Venetians as a typical feudal kingdom in all its aspects; who, although they left conspicuous buildings, castles and Gothic churches, did not manage to change the manners and customs of the inhabitants, who always remained Greek and belonged to the Greek Orthodox church.

The church was cruelly persecuted, especially during the Roman rule and after the Turkish occupation during the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Nevertheless, the church remained always the inspirator of the people's struggles and the ethnarch or archbishop has never ceased to be the leader of the nation. Thus on the eve or the British occupation the then archbishop, speaking on behalf of his people, read an address of welcome, in the course of which he said:

"We accept the change of Government in as much as we trust that Great Britain will help Cyprus, as it did the Ionian islands, to be united with Mother Greece, with which it is naturally connected."

Bibliography: Romantic Cyprus, by Kevork K. Keshishian; A History of Cyprus, by Sir George Hill; British Cyprus, by W. Hepworth Dixon, 1887.