Britain’s Close Cypriot Relationship

Britain has long had a close relationship with Cyprus and retains a 3,500 strong tri-service military presence on the island as a strategic location at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, which can be used as a staging point for Middle East and Asian operations. Historically, the British Colonial period in Cyprus began, when in 1878, with the agreement of the Ottoman government, Cyprus was taken over by Britain under Benjamin Disraeli’s government. This began a period that would dramatically change its history, society and culture.

In the Beginning

In the early years of British rule, Britain introduced basic political freedoms and effective westernized administration, both of which significantly contributed to its modernization. Cyprus was annexed by Britain on the outbreak of war with the Ottoman Empire in 1914, and then became a Crown Colony in 1925. While outwardly the reason for Britain’s occupation of Cyprus was to protect the Ottoman Sultan against Russia, defence of the Suez Canal was also important and the underlying reason, since Britain had an interest in it.

Cyprus Conflict

In the period 1931 to 1959 Cypriots did not have a role in the island’s central administration and Britain was criticized for ignoring the aspirations and needs of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which gave rise to the Cyprus conflict, which would, ultimately, end in the fall of British rule and with Cyprus gaining independence in 1960. During this time many Britons completed National Service in Cyprus.

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Fight for Enosis

On acquiring Cyprus from Turkey and the Ottoman government, the nation’s majority Greek Christian community believed that the pro-Greek British government would grant them “Enosis” or union with Greece. However, the demands of British imperial rule and bitter opposition to Enosis by the Turkish Muslim community frustrated the dreams of the Greek Cypriots. Having loyally served Britain during World War II, the Greek Cypriots pushed further for Enosis and independence, but following much British parliamentary debate politicians in London decreed that Cyprus could never be fully independent. This caused the Greek Cypriots to react violently and embark upon a savage guerrilla campaign for independence, which also manifested in a civil war between the Greek and Turkish communities.

Placating Turkey

The 1950s was a decade of intense Greek Cypriot struggle against Britain, which was still in a weak economic state following World War II. This weakened state caused Britain to withdraw from India and relinquish its role as protector of Greece and Turkey to the United States. However, Britain still wanted to retain control of Cyprus, its only sovereign territory in the eastern Mediterranean. When Turkey proved itself allied to the Western Alliance and a pivotal link between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Central Eastern Treaty Organisation (CENTO), Britain did not want to offend Turkey by handing Cyprus to the Greeks.

Bloodshed Leads to Independence

The National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) launched bomb attacks in April, 1955 beginning the guerilla war. This spurred Prime Minister Anthony Eden that he must back down from his original position that there was not a problem in Cyprus, and he invited both Greece and Turkey to talks. Encouraging Turkey to adopt a strong stance so that Britain could appear as the moderate broker between Greece and Turkey, the Turkish government laid claim to Cyprus and sparked anti-Greece riots within Turkey. Britain then offered Cyprus a new constitution, which included increased self-government, but not independence. This was rejected, and it was not until four years of bloody battle between pro-Enosis Greek Cypriots and pro-partition Turkish Cypriots had passed, did Britain sign a treaty granting Cyprus its independence.

This historic article about Cyprus was donated by medwelcome

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