Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Historical development


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.1Historical development

Last update: 27 November 2023


Historical development before Independence

Despite its small area, Cyprus has a century-long history dating back to the 9th millennium BC. The cultural identity of the island was decisively and indelibly determined by the settlement of the Mycenaean and Achaean Greeks between the thirteenth and the eleventh century BC. They introduced the Greek language and culture, which are preserved by Greek Cypriots to this day. Situated in the eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, an area where Empires struggled for supremacy, Cyprus has, from the dawn of its history, become the stepping stone of many conquerors. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Persians became, in turn, its masters in antiquity. Alexander the Great liberated the island from the Persians making Cyprus part of his Empire in 333 BC. On the partition of Empire, Cyprus became a part of the Empire of the Ptolemies of Egypt, until it came under the dominion of Romans in 30 BC. Christianity first spread throughout the island as a result of the visit, in 45 AD, of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas. On the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Cyprus became a province of the Byzantine Empire. In more recent times the island came under the Franks in 1192, the Venetians in 1489 and the Ottoman Turks in 1571. The Turkish period lasted until 1878 when Great Britain rented Cyprus in exchange for a British commitment to protect Turkey from Russia. In 1914 Great Britain annexed Cyprus and in 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey relinquished all claims on the island. In 1925 Britain declared Cyprus a crown colony.

Further information can be found here.

Independence - the Republic of Cyprus

Cyprus was declared an independent and sovereign State – The Republic of Cyprus (Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία) - on 16 August 1960, on the basis of the Zurich - London Agreements following a four-year armed liberation struggle against British colonial rule. According to the founding Agreements three countries – Greek, Turkey, and Britain - became the guarantors of the new State.

The 1960 Constitution provided for a Greek Cypriot Community and a Turkish Cypriot Community, while the Armenian, Maronite and Latin religious groups had to choose to belong to either of the two communities. All three groups opted to be part of the Greek Cypriot Community. According to the 1960 Census, Cyprus had a population of 572,707 consisting of 77.1% Greek Cypriots, 18.2% Turkish Cypriots, 1.1% Armenians, Maronites and Latins, and 3.6% others.

The 1960 Constitution provided for a presidential regime with the President being Greek and the Vice President being Turk(ish), elected by their respective communities. In addition, three out of ten ministries were reserved for Turkish Cypriots. The same communal dualism (70% Greek and 30% Turkish) was provided for the composition of the House of Representatives, the Civil Service and all other spheres of government activity.

Communal dualism was provided for education too. Articles 86 and 87 of the Constitution provided for the creation of a Greek and a Turkish Communal Chamber (Κοινοτικές Συνελεύσεις) to be responsible for all educational, cultural and teaching matters of the Greek and the Turkish community respectively. Their members would be elected from amongst each respective community.

It soon became clear that the Constitution was not facilitating the smooth functioning of the State. In the attempt of President Makarios to suggest amendments to the Constitution, the Turkish Cypriot side withdrew from the government and set up its own separate enclaves, in 1964. The Government appealed to the UN Security Council, which confirmed the sovereignty and legality of the Republic of Cyprus and its government. Since then the government has functioned by necessity only with its Greek Cypriot members.

The Turkish invasion

In July 1974, the military junta at that time ruling Greece staged a coup to overthrow President Makarios and the legal government of Cyprus. Turkey, using as a pretext its position as a guarantor country, invaded Cyprus and occupied 37 % of the island’s territory. As a result, 200,000 Cypriots were displaced and 1,619 people were listed as missing persons.

In November 1983, the Turkish Cypriot leadership, with the support of Turkey, declared an ‘independent state’. This unilateral action was condemned and declared legally invalid by the UN Security Council in resolutions 451 (1983) and 550 (1984), which called for the withdrawal of the declaration.

Many other adverse consequences of the Turkish invasion concern the enclaved, the illegal settlers from Anatolia and the Turkish Cypriots. 


As a consequence of the Turkish invasion, some 20,000 people, mostly Greek Cypriots and Maronites remained enclaved in their villages, in the occupied area. Unfortunately, Turkey has followed a policy of ethnic cleansing, which resulted in a continuing reduction of the number of the enclaved. By May 2014, only a total of 445 persons - 340 Greek Cypriots and 105 Maronites - had remained in the occupied area.


In parallel, Turkey is implementing a policy of bringing in thousands of settlers from Anatolia to settle in the occupied area, in its effort to change the number and the ethnic characteristics of the population. Settlers are presently (the year 2011) estimated to exceed 160,000.

Turkish Cypriots

Because of undue privileges given to Turkish settlers by the illegal regime in the occupied area, in parallel to unemployment and adverse economic and social conditions, Turkish Cypriots are forced to emigrate. It is estimated that their total population of 160,000 in July 1974, has been reduced to about 90,000 in 2011.   

Despite the prohibiting conditions of military occupation, the Government provides essential services to Turkish Cypriots, such as employment, free medical care, social services, and educational services.  

Legitimacy and sovereignty

Although the northern part of the island is still under Turkish occupation, the Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognised as the sole legitimate state on the island with sovereignty over its entire territory.

The efforts of the Cyprus government for a solution to the problem have been continuous from 1974 to this day. 

EU membership

Cyprus submitted its application to join the European Union, on the 31st March 1998, and it became a full EU member on the 1st May 2004, after completing all the relevant requirements. On the 1st January 2008, Cyprus adopted the 'Euro' as the monetary unit of the state, replacing thus the Cyprus pound. On the 1st July 2012, Cyprus ran the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for a 6-month period. Poland, Denmark, and Cyprus constituted the Trio Presidency for an 18-month period which spanned from the 1st July 2011 to the 31st December 2012. Poland held the Presidency in the second half of 2011, Denmark in the first half of 2012 and Cyprus in the second half of 2012.

Cyprus is also a member of the following international organizations:

  • the United Nations (1960) and almost all of its specialized agencies;
  • the Commonwealth (1961);
  • the Council of Europe (1961);
  • the World Bank (1961);
  • the International Monetary Fund (1961);
  • the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975); and,
  • the World Trade Organisation (1995).