February 22, 2020

On This Day: Cyprus gains independence from Britain amid ethnic conflict

AUGUST 16, 1960: Cyprus gained independence from Britain amid a bloody ethnic conflict between Greek and Turkish-speaking residents on this day in 1960.

It ended 82 years of British rule after it was gifted the Mediterranean island by the Ottoman Empire in return for military support against Russia.

The decision followed a five-year insurgency by the members of the ethnic Greek majority, which wanted enosis (union) with Greece.

A total of 371 British soldiers and hundreds more Turkish Cypriots, who accounted for 18% of the population and opposed the idea, were killed during this period.

The Turkish Resistance Organisation had also carried out attacks against the Greek EOKA paramilitary group in a bid to gain an ethnic partition of the island.

A British Pathé newsreel shows UK troops struggling to comb the mountainous island for terrorists during the declared State of Emergency.

Yet, by the end of the 1950s, it was recognised by both the government in Greece and Greek Cypriots that Turkey, which is just 70 miles away, would not allow enosis.

The Greek Cypriot army stages a Pre-independence Day parade (Rex Features)The Greek Cypriot army stages a Pre-independence Day parade (Rex Features)

So both ethnicities agreed to a deal that would give the island independence while also prohibiting both enosis and partition (taksim).

Under the plan, Britain kept two sovereign military bases in the new Republic of Cyprus, which it continues to maintain to this day.

Soldiers from Greece and Turkey – at a 3:2 ratio – were also to remain present on the island in a bid to keep the peace.

And, under the new constitution, Greek Cypriots would elect the president from their own ethnicity and Turkish islanders would vote for vice president from among theirs.

[On This Day: Britain deports Archbishop Makarios from Cyprus for actively fostering terrorism]

Archbishop Makarios III, who was exiled during the guerrilla war, was elected the first head of the new independent state while Fazıl Küçük became his deputy.

Yet, despite agreeing to a power-sharing deal at the 1959 London and Zurich Conferences, this system did not secure peace and both sides continued the violence.

Makarios had secretly drawn up a plan to destabilise the government and pave the way for a referendum on enosis with the vain hope of international approval.

Archbishop Makarios III was elected the first head of the new independent state (Getty)Archbishop Makarios III was elected the first head of the new independent state (Getty)

Turkey threatened to invade in December 1963 when bloodshed followed the decision by Turkish Cypriots to quit parliament after refusing to water down power sharing.

Over two days, during what became known as Bloody Christmas, Greek islanders killed 133 ethnic Turks and forced 25,000 others to flee their homes.

It prompted the United Nations, which had earlier refused to support both enosis and taksim, to send a peacekeeping force composed of Canadian, Irish and Finnish troops.

Greek soldiers were also withdrawn from Cyprus, which finally ensured Turkey did not invade and brought temporary peace to the island.

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Intercommunity violence flared once again and a Cyprus Airline jet was blown up in 1967, which prompted Turkish Cypriots to form their own illegal administration.

Turkey finally invaded on July 20, 1974 after Greece’s military rulers supported a coup that ousted Makarios and installed the even more pro-enosis Nikos Sampson.

They took control of 38% of the island and prompted 200,000 Greek Cypriots to flee the northern occupation zone – with 60,000 Turks leaving their homes in the south.

The Greek Army contingent parading in Cyprus in 1964 on the anniversary of Greek Independence (PA)The Greek Army contingent parading in Cyprus in 1964 on the anniversary of Greek Independence (PA)

Since then the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus has ruled the south and remains the internationally recognised government of the whole island, except the British bases.

However, in reality, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus administration controls the northern part, although it is only recognised by Turkey.

The island has been largely peaceful since 1974, although bitter division continues and the UN patrols a 112-mile-long buffer zone that is up to 4.6 miles wide in places.

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And Nicosia remains the only divided capital in the world, with the Green Line running through the city, although both citizens have been able to cross it since 2003.

Referendums were held across the island in 2004 over whether to accept a UN plan calling for Cyprus to be reunified as a federation of two states.

Turks overwhelmingly backed the idea, which would have ended a trade embargo – but only 24% of Greeks supported it.

[On This Day: Lynmouth floods killed 34 people in 1952 after three month’s worth of rain fell in just 24 hours]

But Greek Cypriots’ romantic quest for enosis was dealt a huge blow when its financial system followed Greece and collapsed under the weight of the euro.

Northern Cyprus, though poorer, has remained stable in large part due to subsidies from Turkey, which has the fastest growing economy in Europe and is thriving.

This changed scenario –and the discovery of huge gas fields off the northern shore – has prompted unprecedented talks, which remain ongoing.


On This Day: Cyprus gains independence from Britain amid ethnic conflict