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Cyprus

History & Background


Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and Sardinia, and is situated at the eastern end of the sea. The island has an area of 9,251 square kilometers (3,572 square miles), measuring 226 kilometers long and 98 kilometers wide. The 755,000 inhabitants create a population density of 82 persons per square kilometer. The Greek Cypriots (including Armenians, Maronites, and Latins) comprise more then 85 percent of the population, the Turkish Cypriots make up 12 percent, and foreign residents the remaining amount. These population figures do not reflect the more than 115,000 Turkish settlers residing in the northern Turkish-occupied part of the island.

The strategic position of the island has earned Cyprus the designation of "crossroads of the world." The prehistory and history of the island document this title. The earliest signs of life in Cyprus date back to the pre-neolithic period, 10,000 to 8500 B.C. During the Bronze Age (2500 to 1050 B.C.), copper was extensively exploited and a metal work industry developed on the island. During the Late Bronze Age (1650 to 1050 B.C.), commercial contacts with the Aegean world were established, and Myceneans (ancient Greeks) settled on the coasts of Cyprus. The Mediterranean indigenous people gradually assimilated, creating a peripheral center of Greek culture in Cyprus.

The years 1050 to 333 B.C. witnessed waves of immigrants from mainland Greece (Arcadia), invasions by the Phoenicians, and successive submission to the Assyrian, Egyptian, and Persian states. King Evagoras of Salamis, who ruled from 411 to 374 B.C., unified Cyprus and it became a leading political and cultural center of the Greek world. In 323 B.C., Cyprus came under the rule of the Viceroys of Ptolemy I of Egypt and his successors. The capital transferred from Salamis to Paphos.

In 45 A.D., the Apostles Paul and Barnabas arrived in Cyprus to spread the Christian doctrine and succeeded in converting the Proconsul, Sergius Paulus, to Christianity at Paphos. Cyprus thereby became the first country to be governed by a Christian.

Constantine the Great, became sole ruler of the Roman Empire in 324, and proclaimed his mother Helena as Augusta soon after. Legend reports that Helena established the Stavrovouni Monastery in Cyprus, where she stayed during a return journey from Jerusalem. The monastery occupies the easternmost summit of the Troodos mountain range, at a height of 2,260 feet.

The seventh to tenth centuries A.D. are chiefly notable for continuous Arab raids on the island that caused great destruction, especially to churches and ecclesiastic art. In 965 A.D., the Arabs were expelled from Asia Minor and neighboring coastal areas by Byzantine Emperor, Nikiforos Focas, ending the raids. Nicosia became the capital of Cyprus in the tenth century.

From 1192 until 1489, the time known as the Frankish (Lusignan) Period, Cyprus was ruled under the feudal system. While the Catholic Church officially replaced the orthodox, the latter managed to survive.

A period of rule by the Venetians began in 1489 that would continue until 1571. The Venetians used Cyprus as a fortified base against the Turks. Trade and culture languished under the heavy taxes imposed to pay for the fortifications. Even so, Turkey successfully attacked Cyprus, eventually gaining control of the island.

Under Turkish rule, which lasted for 300 years (1571 to 1878), the Greek Orthodox Church was re-established and the Latin Church expelled. Turkish rule ended in 1878, under the Cyprus Convention, when Turkey transferred the administration of Cyprus to Great Britain in exchange for assistance in the event of Russian hostility. In 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey relinquished all rights to Cyprus. In 1925, Cyprus was declared a Crown colony.

A national liberation struggle launched in 1955 against colonial rule was finally resolved in February 1959 when Cyprus became an independent republic under the Zurich-London Treaty, with a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president. In 1960, following the treaty agreement, and with Greece and Turkey guaranteeing its independence, territorial integrity, and constitution, Cyprus was proclaimed an independent state and became the 99th member-state of the United Nations. It became a member in the same year of the Commonwealth and was the sixteenth member-state of the Council of Europe in 1961 (Panteli 1990).

Evidence of an emerging social demand for education is the fact that in 1960, when the British left Cyprus, 90 percent of the 6 to 12 year old population attended primary schools, although compulsory education had not been implemented (Persianis 1996a). This is in stark contrast to school attendance just two decades earlier. In 1938 and 1939, of the 77,000 children of elementary school age, only 46,926 (61 percent) were attending school. Of the 60,000 children of secondary school age, only 4,784 (8 percent) were attending school. Through the postwar years (1945-1950), "the Cypriot youngster, as in the England of Dickens' Oliver Twist had to find work and receive next to nothing or toil in the field for ten to fifteen hours a day to supplement the meager family income" (Panteli 1990).

In 1963 the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, suggested amendments to the constitution, with which the Turkish Cypriot leaders disagreed. The Turkish leaders then engineered an intercommunal crisis, withdrew from the Cyprus government and House of Representatives, and set up Turkish military enclaves in Nicosia and other parts of the island, with the help of military personnel from Turkey. This event marks the separation and division of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, although in many villages and towns the people of Cyprus continued to live together in peace and friendship. However, the first riots between the two communities in 1963-1964 and later in 1967 created an atmosphere of fear and mutual distrust, which gradually poisoned the friendly relations of the past.

On 15 July 1974 the Greek military junta organized a coup against Archbishop Makarios, who escaped to England. The coup and the constitutional provisions for the guarantor powers, provided Turkey the opportunity to invade Cyprus. On 20 July 1974, alleging they were coming in peace to protect the Turkish Cypriots and restore the constitutional order, 40,000 Turkish troops landed on the island assisted by Turkish air and naval forces. This maneuver violated the Charter of the United Nations, the fundamental human rights of thousands of Greek Cypriots, and all principles governing international relations. Three days later the coup was overthrown and constitutional order was reestablished.

If Turkey wanted to maintain any claim to be acting as a guarantor power, it would have withdrawn its forces on 23 July. Instead, in August it mounted a second attack against Cyprus. As a result, the Turkish Army occupied the northern third of the island, including 204 of 626 Greek Cypriot villages and 51.5 percent of the island's coasts and shores (Katsonis & Huber 1998). Thousands of people were killed or disappeared, and 200,000 people became refugees in their own country. A truce arranged by the United Nations (UN) mandated that the island be partitioned. Currently the Greek Cypriots occupy the southern two-thirds of the island and the Turkish Cypriots, with the aid of Turkish military and budgetary support, occupy the northern third. A United Nations peacekeeping force maintains a buffer zone between the two sectors.

The area under Turkish occupation unilaterally declared independence in 1983, fanning emotions in the south about previously owned property, family burial sites, and the loss of famous historical sites (Bradshaw 1993). The continued division and occupation of Cyprus serves as a major factor in understanding educational policy. One of the major problems that education in Cyprus continues to face is the occupation by Turkish troops of a number of primary and secondary schools (Papanastasiou 1995). The political division, rather than political pluralism, impacts every aspect of the culture, including education.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceCyprus - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education