Cyprus - A Country Overview

Information on Cyprus; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Cyprus...

Geography

Cyprus is a mountainous island in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea. It has two main mountain ranges -the Troodos and Kryenic Mountains - which run east west along the island. The Kyrenic range is a large limestone ridge on the island’s northern coastline. The highest point in this range is Mount Selvili, which reaches a height of 1,023m. The Troodos Mountains are volcanic, very rugged and densely forested. They are home to Mount Olympus, the highest peak on the island at 1,951m. The Mesaoria Plain between the two is the most densely populated part of the island and is very fertile, supporting a lot of agriculture.

The island regularly suffers from water supply problems as a result of centuries of deforestation. The rivers which flow from the Troodos Mountains are dry in the summer months, so a large network of dams is used to bring water to farming areas. Agriculture on the Mesaoria Plain is dependent on irrigation and winter rain.

Cyprus’s capital city Nicosia (or Lefkosia) is located in the centre of the island. It is both the business centre and the seat of government. It is the only divided capital city in the world, with the Turkish occupied north being separated from the rest of the city by a United Nations buffer zone.

History

Cyprus has a long and complex history reflecting its location at a maritime crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. It was home to one of the oldest civilisations in the Mediterranean with evidence of agriculture and pottery manufacturing dating back thousands of years. Over the centuries it has been invaded and settled by Greeks, Turks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans and the British, amongst others.

The first human traces on Cyprus can be traced to around 10,000 BC and by 3,700 BC the island was well inhabited. Its inclusion in the Roman Empire left Egypt politically isolated and the Roman domination of the Mediterranean complete. From 364 AD, Cyprus was part of the Byzantium Empire before being ruled for a short period during the crusades by Richard I of England. During Byzantine rule, the Orthodox Church flourished, developing its own dogma. The island subsequently fell under Frankish rule in the late 12th century which continued until 1489 when control was given to the Venetian Republic.

In 1571 Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who allowed religious authorities to rule their own non-Muslim minorities, reinforcing the position of the Orthodox Church and cementing the ethnic Greek population. Ottoman rule of the island lasted for three centuries until control was given to the United Kingdom in 1878. Many of the Turks who had settled on the island stayed there, though a lot subsequently left in the 1920s. The island became a crown colony in 1925.

After many years of resistance Cyprus gained independence from British colonisation in 1960 and became a constitutional republic. Continuing tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority over the constitution peaked in December 1963 when violence broke out in Nicosia. The violence continued despite the work of United Nations peacekeepers. Many Turkish Cypriots were forced into small enclaves around the island. In 1974 the Greek government sponsored a coup by extremist Greek Cypriots but Turkey responded with military force and occupied the northern part of the island.

Greek Cypriots remained in control of the south and the island was effectively partitioned with a United Nations buffer zone between the two sides. In 1983 the north proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is only recognised by Turkey. The government has continued as the internationally recognised authority on the island, though in reality its rule does not extend into the Turkish occupied area. The island entered the European Union in 2004, though the rights and obligations of membership only apply in areas of internationally recognised government.

In 2008 a new president was elected and the United Nations worked to move towards unification once again between the Greek and Turkish communities. The talks, which began in September 2008, are ongoing.

British military bases are still maintained on the island today.

Politics and Government

The Republic of Cyprus is the internationally recognised government of the country. Their legal system is a mixture of English common law and civil law which has been influenced by the Greek Orthodox religion. It is based on the constitution of 1960. The constitution includes power sharing between Greek and Turkish Cypriots though the government of the Republic is made up solely of Greek Cypriots.

The president is both the head of state and the head of government. He or she is democratically elected and serves five year terms of office, appointing a council of ministers. Legislature is shared between the government and a house of representatives, which has 56 members.

Northern Cyprus, which Turkish Cypriots refer to as the TRNC, or Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has its own constitution, president and governing bodies. The TNRC is only recognised by Turkey.

The division of Cyprus has been an ongoing and difficult problem making relations between Turkey and Greece problematic. Repeated attempts at unification (which both sides claim to want) and the formation of one federal government are yet to be successful.

Economy

The economy of the Republic of Cyprus is very dependent on tourism. Other important sectors are real estate, financial services and the service sector. The erratic nature of the country's economy reflects its dependence on tourism, which itself fluctuates with the wider economic and political conditions in the region. The euro has been the Cypriot national currency since the start of 2008 and the country dipped into recession in 2009 as tourism slowed in response to the global economic crisis. The economy has been slow to recover from this downturn and has a growing budget deficit.

Climate

Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cooler but still mild winters. Temperatures in July and August can reach as high as 36°C on the Mesaoria Plain and 27°C in the mountains. The island averages more than 300 days of sunshine each year. Spring and autumn are short seasons. The wettest months of the year are in winter, between November and March. Snow is rare on the island except in the Troodos Mountains, where there may be snow falls above 1,000m between December and April.

Security

Cyprus is a safe country with a very low crime rate. People should be careful when driving in Cyprus as the general standard of driving in the country is considered poor.

The United Nations buffer zone between the area of internationally recognised government and Turkish Cyprus should only be entered at designated crossing points. It is an area of military protection and is mined. Signs indicating that photography is forbidden should be strictly adhered to and it is advisable not to photograph any military or security installations. Photography rules are strictly enforced on both sides of the buffer zone.

Foreigners Living in the Country

There is a large foreign worker and expatriate community in Cyprus with foreigners settling throughout the country. It is a particularly popular choice with British people, in part because English is so widely spoken. Many people are drawn to the relaxed pace of life, relatively low cost of living and year round good weather.

The south of the island has seen an influx of British, Arab, Eastern European, Chinese and Russian immigrants. Since Turkish Cyprus declared its independence many Turkish nationals have moved to the country and been naturalised. They are not recognised by the government of the Republic or included in population statistics. Their settlement is a violation of the Geneva Convention as the Turkish occupation was declared an illegal occupation force by the United Nations.

Tourism

Cyprus is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. It is chosen for its history and archaeology, scenery, weather, warm sea and large number of beaches.

Popular tourism spots include the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite near Pafos. Legends claim that the Greek goddess of love and beauty rose from the waves before being transported on a shell to Petra tou Romiou (Rock of Aphrodite). Other sites of historical interest include the ruins of ancient Salamis, Choirokoitia, one of the most well preserved sites of prehistoric settlement in the Eastern Mediterranean; the Kolossi Castle and the Kourion theatre. The island's history can also be explored at a number of archaeological museums.

The Troodos Mountains are popular with walkers and people wanting to visit the tiny mountain villages and the ten painted Byzantine churches, which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The coast of Cyprus is littered with beaches which are very popular with tourists. There are rocky coves as well as long sandy beaches and it is possible to find quiet spots away from the main resorts. Fishing, water sports and diving are all popular along the island's coast.