Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Cyprus – A recent history.

The Greek War of Independence of 1828-29, and the consequent liberation of Greece from Turkey, changed the situation in Cyprus. Britain had supported the Greeks in their struggle, and once Greek independence had been achieved, British policy was to support the Turkish Empire against Russia. Under British and French protection, trade began to increase in the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus enjoyed a degree of economic prosperity. With the improved situation, a growing number of young Greek Cypriots went to Athens for their education and the ‘great idea’, to unite the island with mainland Greece, began to take hold of the newly educated population.

In 1878 Britain took formal control of Cyprus. Turkey was again under threat from Russian encroachment, the strategic importance of the Eastern Mediterranean was growing and this was accelerated by the opening of the Suez Canal. Britain did not seek to develop Cyprus as a base to defend Suez. The British occupation of Alexandria fulfilled that purpose. Instead the British occupation of Cyprus was primarily intended to deny that island to any other power. Whatever one may think of colonialism per se, there can be no denying that Cyprus prospered under British rule. The island administration was placed under a succession of High Commissioners, the first of these being Sir Garnet Wolseley. A new legal system was established together with a legislative council. New roads were constructed and water supplies and irrigation systems developed. Significant development occurred in the area of afforestation. Per capita income rose appreciably. In a space of less than fifty years the population of Cyprus increased threefold, reaching a figure of 310,700 in the census of 1921 of which 80% were Greek Cypriots. To what extent these developments were a direct consequence of the British administration, or a reflection of the general economic expansion of Europe over the period, remains a matter for debate.

Notwithstanding the economic expansion of Cyprus during the period of the first fifty years of British rule (whatever its cause), the majority Greek Cypriot population were not enamoured of that rule.

While it is fair to suggest that the majority of Turkish Cypriots and the other minorities were, at the least, content to remain under British rule, the Greek Cypriots hankered after union with Greece. After all, in 1864 the British had ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece. And in 1915 the British had offered Cyprus to Greece as an inducement to enter the WW1 on the side of the Allies. Therefore most Greek Cypriots considered their membership of the British Empire to be a temporary arrangement that would inevitably be followed by enosis.

Leave a Reply