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Cyprus, independent country and third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and Sardinia. Cyprus lies in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean, about 65 km (40 mi) south of Turkey and 110 km (65 mi) west of Syria. Nicosia is the capital and largest city.

Steep, narrow mountains line the island’s northern coast, and an extensive mountain system rises in the south. At the center of the island, between the mountains, lies the fertile Mesaoria plain, the site of Nicosia. Wide bays and small inlets indent the rocky coastline, which is broken in places by long, sandy beaches. Summers in Cyprus are hot and dry, and rain is scarce on the island, except during the winter months. Cyprus is vulnerable to drought, and most crops require irrigation.

Cyprus has a long, eventful history that reaches back more than 9,000 years. Rich deposits of copper have been mined on Cyprus since antiquity. The island’s name, Cyprus (Greek Kypros), means “copper.” Long an important trading post linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Cyprus became a key commercial and cultural center of ancient Greece. Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, arose from sea foam near the shores of Paphos. Cyprus was later ruled successively by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans, and then became a part of the Ottoman Empire. At the start of World War I, the United Kingdom annexed Cyprus and made it a British colony. Cyprus gained its independence on August 6, 1960.

Today, Cyprus is a divided country. More than four-fifths of the island’s inhabitants are of Greek descent and less than one-fifth make up the Turkish-speaking minority. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and its troops claimed the northern third of the island. A separate state called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was proclaimed in 1983, but only Turkey has recognized it. United Nations (UN) troops patrol the buffer zone, or “Green Line,” that divides the island.

UN-sponsored talks aimed at reuniting Cyprus repeatedly faltered in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the island’s desire to join the European Union (EU) focused renewed efforts to reach a settlement. In April 2003 Cypriot authorities eased travel restrictions over the buffer zone for the first time in nearly 30 years. As the EU’s entry deadline approached, UN negotiators were unable to find an agreement acceptable to both sides. As a consequence, in May 2004 Cyprus joined the EU as a divided country, with membership extended only to the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. UN-backed efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue.



Boroweic, Andrew. Cyprus: A Troubled Island. Praeger, 2000. A study from a veteran foreign correspondent.

Hitchens, Christopher. Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger. Verso, 1997.

McDonagh, Bernard. Cyprus. Norton, 1998. Travel guide that also brings to life the history of this beguiling island.

Streissguth, Tom. Cyprus: Divided Island. Lerner, 1998. A high-level overview that places very complex issues into an understandable historical context.


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