((Editor’s note: This article was written, before the referendum, and before May 1st – as such it deals with the history of Cyprus, rather than the current developments. Three Monkeys Online intends to publish a further article on the politics of current day Cyprus)
The referendum on the reunification plan for Cyprus held on the 24th April, has once more brought that troubled eastern-Mediterranean island into international focus. The last significant event in the history of Cyprus, the Turkish invasion of 1974, was only the most recent incident in a long history of conquest and occupation. It was for this reason that Cyrpus has often been compared to Ireland. And indeed, the Greek-Cypriot illegal army, EOKA, that fought the British colonial administration in the 1950’s was considered analogous to the I.R.A. campaign against the British administration in Ireland in the 1920’s. However, the analogy misses a vital point, for where the I.R.A. fought to establish an all-Ireland republic on the island of Ireland, EOKA’s goal was that of ‘Enosis‘, i.e. to unite (or reunite as they would see it) the island of Cyprus with Greece with whom it had a long association dating back beyond pre-Christian times to the Hellenistic period of 325-50 BC. Cyprus had been a Graeco-Roman province between 50 BC and 395 AD and a province of the Byzantine Empire until 1191.
The irony is therefore, that when the Turks first invaded and occupied Cyprus in 1571, their arrival was considered a mixed blessing to the indigenous Greek-Cypriot population of the island. From 1489, prior to the Turks arrival, Cyprus had been under the control of the Venetians and, before that, from 1192, the Lusignan monarchy of French origin. The Lusignans had imposed the Latin Church and western feudalism on the Orthodox Greek-Cypriots. The Turks, on the other hand, were tolerant of other religious beliefs, recognised the Orthodox Church and re-established the Orthodox Archbishopric. Although the Turks allotted the best land to approximately 20,000 Turkish settlers, mostly soldiers, some 90,000 Orthodox Christians became peasant proprietors or free tenants, and these peasants enjoyed limited self-government.
In 1660 the Sultan of Turkey recognised the Greek Archbishop and the three other bishops as spokesmen for the non-Turkish population (This included a number of Maronites and Armenians). The Archbishop was given the right to send petitions directly to Constantinople and could by-pass the Turkish governor of the island. In 1754 the Sultan recognised the Archbishop as head of the autocephalous Church of Cyprus, in other words as Ethnarch or leader of the Greek Cypriot nation.
The Archbishop was given the task of collecting taxation; a task that he and his fellow bishops carried out with such zeal that occasionally both Greek and Turkish Cypriot peasants came together to resist the imposition!