The Cyprus Chronicles: Background to the Books
The Cyprus Chronicles is a trilogy that takes place on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus over second half of the 20th century, but the history of Cyprus goes back millennia.
In ancient times Cyprus was known as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. According to Homer, the great archer Teucer moved to Cyprus and founded the city of Salamis near Famagusta after the Trojan War.
First she drew near holy Kythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Cyprus, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet. Her gods and men call Aphrodite, and Aphrogeneia (the foam-born) because she grew amid the foam, and well-crowned (eustephanos) Kythereia because she reached Kythera, and Kyprogenes because she was born in billowy Cyprus …
-From the Theogony of Hesiod
Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, was born in Cyprus in 334 BC.
In the Bible, Cyprus is mentioned as the birthplace of Saint Barnabas, and as the place of Paul’s first mission. Cyprus was a province of the Roman and Byzantine Empires for more than a thousand years, and was the birthplace of numerous saints.
The end may be defined as life in accordance with nature or, in other words, in accordance with our own human nature as well as that of the universe.
– Zeno of Citium
In 1191 it was captured by King Richard the Lionhearted during the Third Crusade. A year later Richard sold the island to the Knights Templar, who in turn sold it to Guy de Lusignan, a French noble.
In 1473, the island fell to the Venetian Empire. Shakespeare’s Venetian tragedy Othello was set “in a Seaport in Cyprus,” presumably Famagusta. In the story, Othello leads a garrison to Cyprus to defend it from the invading Turkish navy, only to find when they arrive that a storm has sunk all of the enemy’s ships. In reality, Venetian forces weren’t so fortunate. In spite of the impressive fortifications the Venetians built in Nicosia and Famagusta, the Ottoman Turks conquered the island in 1571.
By no assay of reason: ’tis a pageant / To keep us in false gaze. When we consider / The importancy of Cyprus to the Turk
Cyprus remained a province of the Ottoman Empire until it was ceded to Britain in 1878, in return for the British help during the Russo-Turkish war.
Throughout a succession of different empires and a revolving ruling class, the peasant Greeks of Cyprus maintained their identity and their Orthodox Christianity. In 1955, after many years of protest, Greek Cypriots (comprising 80 percent of the population) started an armed insurrection with the aim of throwing off British rule and uniting the island, at long last, with Greece. In suppressing the insurrection, the British Colonial government fomented inter-communal strife between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, who comprised 18 percent of the population.
During a lifetime devoted to the arts of war I have fought three times with the British: twice, in world conflicts, alongside them, and once, in a struggle of my own making, against them. History will vindicate my claim that on each occasion I was fighting for the same ideal: freedom.
-General George Grivas
By 1959, the Greek revolutionaries successfully threw off British rule, but were denied the long-sought union with Greece. Instead, a hastily drafted and ultimately unworkable constitution was imposed on them. Within three years, constitutional government had fallen apart, leading to a short, bloody civil war.
Naturally Turkey has strategic interests in Cyprus. It is fortunate that the Turkish Cypriot community exists here. Even if the Turkish Cypriot community did not exist, Turkey would not have left Cyprus to Greece.
– Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash , 23 July 1985
Over the next decade, the two communities of the island grew increasingly embittered, with Turkish Cypriots withdrawing into isolated enclaves, as Greek nationalists attempted to undermine the Greek Cypriot government and unite the island with Greece.
In 1974, at the behest of the right-wind military junta in Greece, Greek nationalists in Cyprus staged a coup against the elected Greek Cypriot government of Archbishop Makarios. In response, Turkey invaded, pushing 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes and de facto partitioning the island. Turkish Cypriots moved north, and for some 29 years, the two communities of Cyprus were entirely separated, unable to cross the “Green Line.”
In 1983 Turkish authorities formally announced the creation of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” a breakaway state that is only recognized by Turkey.
In 2003, Turkish Cypriot authorities opened up the border, allowing Greeks to cross into northern Cyprus for the first time in decades. The following year, the United Nations put forward a plan (dubbed the Annan Plan, after U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan) to resolve the political division of the island. Put to referendum in the two communities, the plan was accepted by the Turkish Cypriot community, but was rejected by the Greek Cypriot side, who feared that it would create yet another unstable political system on the island.
In 2013, due to exposure to Greek debt, Cyprus suffered the near complete collapse of the its economy–an event which culminated in a highly controversial bailout plan that included an unprecedented confiscation of up to 10 percent of customer bank deposits and the dismantling of the country’s banking industry.
As of this writing (2016) the Cyprus economy is slowly recovering, and talks to reunify the nation as a bi-zonal federation are again underway.
The Memoirs of General Grivas by George Grivas
The Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell
Cyprus: Hostage to History by Christopher Hitchens
The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion by Brendan O’Malley and Ian Craig