Cyprus, The Cypriots, and Country Profile

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, is known for its rich history and cultural heritage. The island is home to the Cypriots, who are divided into two main ethnic groups, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, each with its distinct language, customs, and traditions.

Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean and lies at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The island boasts a diverse landscape, including coastal plains, mountain ranges, and stunning beaches. Nicosia’s capital city is a vibrant hub of culture and commerce, reflecting the island’s unique blend of influences.

The Cypriots History and Culture

The Cypriots’ story whispers from the depths of time, with the first whispers of civilisation echoing around 8000 BC. Drawn by rich copper deposits, early settlers laid the foundation for a vibrant island culture. By 1200 BC, Mycenaean Greeks arrived, weaving their language, mythology, and artistic traditions into the fabric of Cypriot identity. The island became a crossroads of empires, conquered by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, and eventually Alexander the Great, leaving behind layers of influence that continue to intrigue archaeologists today.

The Romans

The arrival of the Romans in 30 BC ushered in a period of relative stability and prosperity. Christianity blossomed under Roman rule, and the island became a bridge between East and West. Yet, the tremors of imperial decline reached Cyprus, and the island fell under Byzantine rule in 330 AD, facing new challenges from Arab and Crusader incursions.

The Ottomans

In 1571, the Ottoman Empire swept through the Mediterranean, claiming Cyprus as its own. This era left an indelible mark, with a significant Turkish Cypriot community establishing roots on the island. However, by the late 19th century, the winds of change were blowing. The Ottoman grip loosened, and in 1878, Cyprus passed into the hands of the British Empire.

Independence and the Seeds of Division

1960 marked a pivotal moment as Cyprus finally gained its independence. Yet, beneath the surface of celebration simmered the tensions of a divided island. The Greek Cypriot majority yearned for union with Greece, a desire known as “Enosis,” while the Turkish Cypriot minority feared marginalisation. This ethno-political divide erupted into violence in 1963, culminating in a Turkish military intervention in 1974 that tragically left the island partitioned.

Living History

Today, Cyprus remains a land of contrasts. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, predominantly Greek Cypriot, is south, while the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is north. Reunification talks continue, but the path to a united future is fraught with challenges. Security concerns, economic disparities, and the lingering scars of the past make reconciliation complex and sensitive.

Cyprus Political Landscape

Due to the division between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, Cyprus has a complex political landscape. Following the 1974 Turkish invasion, the island was split into the Republic of Cyprus, predominantly inhabited by Greek Cypriots, and Northern Cyprus, where Turkish Cypriots live. Efforts for reunification and establishing a federation are ongoing, with involvement from the Greek and Turkish governments and international organisations such as the European Commission.

Understanding the Cypriot political landscape requires awareness of these critical elements and their interplay. It’s a dynamic and evolving scene, constantly impacted by domestic realities, regional developments, and global forces.

The Cypriots

The Cypriot people are an amalgamation of different cultures and ethnicities, mainly comprising two main groups: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots

The Greek Cypriots are the majority population, constituting roughly 78% of the island’s total residents. They trace their ancestry back to Greek settlers who arrived on the island around 1200 BCE, although many other civilisations left their mark before and after.

On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots are about 18% of the population, with roots in Anatolia and Turkey, arriving primarily after the Ottoman conquest in 1571. There are also smaller communities, including Maronites, Armenians, and Latins.

Shared History

Despite their ethnic differences, the Cypriot people share a long and complex history on the island, with periods of cooperation and conflict. The recent political division of the island in 1974 has further shaped their identities and experiences.

The Cypriot people face ongoing challenges related to the island’s political division, economic disparities, and historical tensions. However, they also share a solid national identity and a desire for the island’s peaceful and prosperous future.

Cyprus’ location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East has added to the diversity and complexity of its population. Cypriots have a significant diaspora in countries like Greece, the UK, the US, and Australia, influencing cultural exchange and maintaining ties to their homeland. Beyond the broad categories of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, individuals have diverse experiences and perspectives shaped by their family background, religion, location, and personal choices.

Culture and Traditions 

Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have distinct cultural traditions, evident in their languages, music, dance, cuisine, and religious practices. However, there are also shared elements, especially in food and customs, reflecting the interconnectedness of their history.

Greek Cypriot Traditions

  • Religious Feasts: Easter is a highlight, with midnight church services, festive feasts featuring “margarita” (lamb soup) and “flaounes” (cheese pastries), and joyful egg-cracking customs. Christmas traditions involve carols, “Christopsomos” bread, and “loukoumades” (honey puffs).
  • Anthestiria: Celebrated in February or March, this ancient spring festival marks the return of flowers and fertility. Rituals involve singing, dancing, and decorating homes with blossoms.
  • Festivals: Cyprus pulsates with vibrant festivals throughout the year, showcasing music, dance, local food, and traditional costumes. Paphos Carnival, Limassol Wine Festival, and Kataklysmos (flood festival) are just a few examples.
  • Coffee Culture: Indulging in strong Cypriot coffee brewed in a “briki” (small pot) is a daily ritual, often accompanied by conversation and socialising.
  • Hospitality: Warmth and generosity are paramount in Cypriot culture. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and treated to hearty meals and friendly discussions.

Turkish Cypriots Traditions

  • Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr: Muslims observe Ramadan fasting with traditional meals and vibrant “Sahur” pre-dawn feasts. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated with joy, family gatherings, and delicious sweets.
  • Mehterhane Music: Ottoman military band music adds a distinctive touch to celebrations and ceremonies with its rhythmic drums and brass instruments.
  • Henna Night: Before weddings, henna paste is applied to the bride’s hands in elaborate designs, accompanied by music, singing, and dancing.
  • Coffee Rituals: Similar to Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots cherish their coffee breaks, usually brewed in a “cezve” (pot) and enjoyed with conversation and sweets.
  • Crafts and Handicrafts: Traditional art forms like embroidery, rug weaving, and metalwork thrive, creating beautiful souvenirs and household items.

Cypriots Shared Traditions

  • The Cypriots Cuisine: Both communities savour dishes like “souvlaki” (grilled skewers), “kleftiko” (slow-cooked lamb), “halloumi” (grilled cheese), and “meze” (small plates), creating a unique culinary blend.
  •  Folk Dances: Lively dances like “syrtaki” and “zeybekiko” unite communities at celebrations, showcasing a shared cultural heritage.
  •  Storytelling and Music: Folktales, proverbs, and traditional music passed down through generations enrich cultures and connect the present to the past.

Economy and Trade of Cyprus

Cyprus boasts a dynamic economy and thrives on international trade, strategically positioned at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Here’s a glimpse into its economic landscape:

Economic Profile

  • High-income economy: Classified by the World Bank as a high-income nation, Cyprus enjoys a relatively prosperous economy with a GDP per capita of $45,034 (PPP) in 2023.
  • Service-based: Services dominate, accounting for roughly 80% of GDP. Tourism, financial services, professional services, and shipping are vital contributors.
  • Light manufacturing: While less prominent, sectors like food processing, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals also play a role.
  • Challenges: Dependence on imports for manufactured goods and essential commodities creates an imbalance, although substantial tourism revenue and foreign investment help offset it.

Trade Landscape

  • Exports: Main exported goods include passenger and cargo ships, refined petroleum, packaged medicaments, cheese, and recreational boats.
  • Imports: Petroleum, petroleum products, foodstuffs, and machinery are the top imports.
  • Trade partners: Greece, Lebanon, Marshall Islands, and the UK are the primary export destinations, while Greece, Italy, the UK, Germany, and France are the primary import sources.
  • Free trade agreements: Cyprus has several contracts, including with the EU and Egypt, facilitating trade across borders.

Key Features

  • Open and market-oriented: The Cypriots’ economy follows a free-market approach, encouraging foreign investment and international trade.
  • Eurozone member: The euro adoption in 2008 enhanced economic stability and integration with the European Union.
  • Shipping hub: Cyprus’ strategic location and well-developed ports make it a crucial hub for maritime trade, attracting international shipping companies.

Future Trajectory

  • Growth prospects: The post-pandemic period has seen a strong rebound in tourism and economic activity, with projections for continued growth in the coming years.
  • Challenges: Dependency on specific sectors like tourism, potential energy security concerns, and ongoing geopolitical tensions pose risks to economic stability.
  • Focus areas: Government efforts are directed towards diversifying the economy, promoting sustainability, and fostering innovation to strengthen long-term financial resilience.

Places to Visit in Cyprus

Cyprus, a sun-kissed island in the eastern Mediterranean, boasts stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and vibrant cultures waiting to be explored. Whether you crave the charm of Greek villages or the intrigue of Ottoman history, both the Greek and Turkish sides of the island offer unique experiences. Here are some must-visit destinations to add to your itinerary:

On the Greek Cypriots Side

  • Paphos: a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting Roman mosaics, Hellenistic tombs, and the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
  • Nicosia: Step into the divided capital, where vibrant cafes and modern bars share space with historic landmarks like the Venetian Walls and the Selimiye Mosque (formerly St. Sophia Cathedral).
  • Troodos Mountains: Hike through lush pine forests, discover charming villages clinging to cliffsides, and visit Kykkos Monastery, a 12th-century Byzantine masterpiece nestled amidst the peaks.
  • Ayia Napa: Soak up the sun on golden beaches, dance the night away in bustling clubs, and explore hidden coves along the picturesque coastline.
  • Larnaca: Relax on Mackenzie Beach, delve into history at the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque and the Kamares Aqueduct, and savour fresh seafood at the bustling marina.

On the Turkish Cypriots Side

  • Kyrenia: Wander through the charming Old Town, explore the majestic Kyrenia Castle, and soak up the sun on Turtle Beach, renowned for its clear waters and loggerhead turtles.
  • Famagusta: Witness the eerie beauty of the abandoned walled city, a haunting reminder of the island’s division, and marvel at the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque (formerly St. Nicholas Cathedral).
  • Salamis: Step back at the ancient ruins of this once-thriving Roman city, home to amphitheatres, baths, and temples.
  • Karpaz Peninsula: Escape the crowds and experience unspoiled nature on this scenic peninsula, with its wild beaches, salt lakes, and charming villages like Dipkarpaz.
  • Bellapais Abbey: Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Kyrenia coast, this evocative Gothic abbey offers stunning views and a glimpse into medieval monastic life.

Cyprus is more than just a destination; it’s an experience that lingers long after your departure. So pack your bags, embrace the island’s sun-kissed embrace, and prepare to discover a land where ancient whispers mingle with modern rhythms, history comes alive at every turn, and warm Cypriots hospitality awaits you around every corner.

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