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Cyprus: Independence and Partition

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations since 1945.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 placed the island of Cyprus in a very important strategic position in the Mediterranean. It had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire for several centuries, but in 1878 it was placed under a British administration. After World War I, Cyprus became a British Crown colony.

Greek Cypriots, who represented 80% of the population, and Turkish Cypriots lived peacefully side by side but, once Cyprus came under British sovereignty, the Greek population called for their right to Enosis, union with Greece. In 1931, a Greek uprising against the British authorities was crushed, but created greater tension between the two communities.

In 1960 Cyprus became an independent republic, though the United Kingdom maintained two airbases on the island. The new constitution established a strict division of power between the two communities, but their positions soon became radically opposed, sparking a series of serious incidences which required the presence of a UN Peacekeeping Force.

On 15 July 1974, Archbishop Makarios, who had been elected president after Independence, was overthrown by a coup d’état encouraged by the Colonels’ regime in Athens. On 20 July, Turkey sent troops to the island and took control of the northern region, which was now cut off from the southern region by the “Green Line”. This dividing line also ran through the city of Nicosia.

After partition, many Cypriots left their homes and moved across the island: the Greeks headed south, while the Turks withdrew to the northern areas, where an autonomous state was created. In 1983, this became Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized by Turkey but by no other country.

Since 1974, negotiations between the communities for the reunification of the island have repeatedly failed and it was not until 2004 that a UN proposal for reunification could be put to a referendum.  This proposal was, however, rejected by the Greeks.

Hopes for a solution to the problem now lies with Brussels, since Cyprus has now become a member of the European Union.