The Republic of Cyprus (Κυπριακή Δημοκρατία in Greek, or Kıbrıs Cumhuriyeti in Turkish), is the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Israel and Palestine, north of Egypt, and southeast of Greece. The Cyprus Republic has de jure sovereignty over the island of Cyprus, as well as its territorial sea and exclusive economic area, according to international law except for the British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, administered as Sovereign Base Areas, 2.8% of the territory.
However, the Republic of Cyprus is partitioned into two main parts: the area under the effective control of the Republic, located in the south and west, and comprising about 59% of the island’s area; and the north, administered by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, covering about 37% of the island’s area. Another nearly 4% of the island’s area is covered by the UN buffer zone. The international community considers the northern part of the island as territory of the Republic of Cyprus occupied by Turkish forces. The occupation is viewed as illegal under international law, amounting to illegal occupation of EU territory since Cyprus became a member of the European Union. Northern Cyprus stamps will be dealt with in a separate article.
The earliest confirmed site of human activity on Cyprus is Aetokremnos, situated on the south coast, indicating that hunter-gatherers were active on the island from around 10,000 BC, with settled village communities dating from 8200 BC. The arrival of the first humans correlates with the extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants. Water wells discovered by archaeologists in western Cyprus are believed to be among the oldest in the world, dated at 9,000 to 10,500 years old. Remains of an 8-month-old cat were discovered buried with a human body at a separate Neolithic site in Cyprus. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old (7500 BC), predating ancient Egyptian civilization and pushing back the earliest known feline-human association significantly. The remarkably well-preserved Neolithic village of Khirokitia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to approximately 6800 BC.
During the late Bronze Age the island experienced two waves of Greek settlement. The first wave consisted of Mycenaean Greek traders who started visiting Cyprus around 1400 BC. A major wave of Greek settlement is believed to have taken place following the Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece from 1100 to 1050 BC, with the island’s predominantly Greek character dating from this period. Cyprus occupies an important role in Greek mythology being the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis, and home to King Cinyras, Teucer and Pygmalion. Beginning in the eighth century BC Phoenician colonies were founded on the south coast of Cyprus, near present-day Larnaca and Salamis.
Cyprus is at a strategic location in the Middle East. It was ruled by Assyria for a century starting in 708 BC, before a brief spell under Egyptian rule and eventually Persian rule in 545 BC. The Cypriots, led by Onesilus, king of Salamis, joined their fellow Greeks in the Ionian cities during the unsuccessful Ionian Revolt in 499 BC against the Achaemenid Empire. The revolt was suppressed, but Cyprus managed to maintain a high degree of autonomy and remained oriented towards the Greek world.
The island was conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 BC. Following his death and the subsequent division of his empire and wars among his successors, Cyprus became part of the Hellenistic empire of Ptolemaic Egypt. It was during this period that the island was fully Hellenized. In 58 BC Cyprus was acquired by the Roman Republic.
When the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western parts in 395, Cyprus became part of the East Roman, or Byzantine Empire, and would remain so until the Crusades some 800 years later. Under Byzantine rule, the Greek orientation that had been prominent since antiquity developed the strong Hellenistic-Christian character that continues to be a hallmark of the Greek Cypriot community. Beginning in 649, Cyprus suffered from devastating raids launched by Muslim armies from the Levant, which continued for the next 300 years. Many were quick piratical raids, but others were large-scale attacks in which many Cypriots were slaughtered and great wealth carried off or destroyed.
There are no Byzantine churches which survive from this period; thousands of people were killed, and many cities — such as Salamis — were destroyed and never rebuilt. Byzantine rule was restored in 965, when Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas scored decisive victories on land and sea.
In 1191, during the Third Crusade, Richard I of England captured the island from Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus He used it as a major supply base that was relatively safe from the Saracens. A year later, Richard sold the island to the Knights Templar, who, following a bloody revolt, in turn sold it to Guy of Lusignan. His brother and successor Amalric was recognised as King of Cyprus by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. Following the death in 1473 of James II, the last Lusignan king, the Republic of Venice assumed control of the island, while the late king’s Venetian widow, Queen Catherine Cornaro, reigned as figurehead. Venice formally annexed the Kingdom of Cyprus in 1489, following the abdication of Catherine. The Venetians fortified Nicosia by building the Venetian Walls, and used it as an important commercial hub. Throughout Venetian rule, the Ottoman Empire frequently raided Cyprus. In 1539, the Ottomans destroyed Limassol and so fearing the worst, the Venetians also fortified Famagusta and Kyrenia.
During the almost four centuries of Latin rule, there existed two societies on Cyprus. The first consisted of Frankish nobles and their retinue, as well as Italian merchants and their families. The second, the majority of the population, consisted of Greek Cypriots, serfs and laborers. Although a determined effort was made to supplant native traditions and culture, the effort failed.
In 1570, a full-scale Ottoman assault with 60,000 troops brought the island under Ottoman control, despite stiff resistance by the inhabitants of Nicosia and Famagusta. Ottoman forces capturing Cyprus massacred many Greek and Armenian Christian inhabitants. The previous Latin elite were destroyed and the first significant demographic change since antiquity took place with the formation of a Muslim community. Soldiers who fought in the conquest settled on the island and Turkish peasants and craftsmen were brought to the island from Anatolia. This new community also included banished Anatolian tribes, “undesirable” persons and members of various “troublesome” Muslim sects, as well as a number of new converts on the island.
The Ottomans abolished the feudal system previously in place and applied the millet system to Cyprus, under which non-Muslim peoples were governed by their own religious authorities. In a reversal from the days of Latin rule, the head of the Church of Cyprus was invested as leader of the Greek Cypriot population and acted as mediator between Christian Greek Cypriots and the Ottoman authorities. This status ensured that the Church of Cyprus was in a position to end the constant encroachments of the Roman Catholic Church. Ottoman rule of Cyprus was at times indifferent, at times oppressive, depending on the temperaments of the sultans and local officials, and the island began over 250 years of economic decline.
The ratio of Muslims to Christians fluctuated throughout the period of Ottoman domination. In 1777–78, 47,000 Muslims constituted a majority over the island’s 37,000 Christians. By 1872, the population of the island had risen to 144,000, comprising 44,000 Muslims and 100,000 Christians. The Muslim population included numerous crypto-Christians, including the Linobambaki, a crypto-Catholic community that arose due to religious persecution of the Catholic community by the Ottoman authorities; this community would assimilate into the Turkish Cypriot community during British rule.
As soon as the Greek War of Independence broke out in 1821, several Greek Cypriots left for Greece to join the Greek forces. In response, the Ottoman governor of Cyprus arrested and executed 486 prominent Greek Cypriots, including the Archbishop of Cyprus, Kyprianos and four other bishops. In 1828, modern Greece’s first president Ioannis Kapodistrias called for union of Cyprus with Greece, and numerous minor uprisings took place. Reaction to Ottoman misrule led to uprisings by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, although none were successful. After centuries of neglect by the Turks, the unrelenting poverty of most of the people, and the ever-present tax collectors fueled Greek nationalism, and by the 20th century idea of enosis, or union, with newly independent Greece was firmly rooted among Greek Cypriots.
In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) and the Congress of Berlin, Cyprus was leased to the British Empire which de facto took over its administration in 1878 (though, in terms of sovereignty, Cyprus remained a de jure Ottoman territory until November 5, 1914, together with Egypt and Sudan) in exchange for guarantees that Britain would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire against possible Russian aggression.
The island would serve Britain as a key military base for its colonial routes. By 1906, when the Famagusta harbor was completed, Cyprus was a strategic naval outpost overlooking the Suez Canal, the crucial main route to India which was then Britain’s most important overseas possession. Following the outbreak of the First World War and the decision of the Ottoman Empire to join the war on the side of the Central Powers, on November 5, 1914 the British Empire formally annexed Cyprus and declared the Ottoman Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan a Sultanate and British protectorate.
In 1915, Britain offered Cyprus to Constantine I of Greece on condition that Greece join the war on the side of the British, which he declined. In 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, the nascent Turkish republic relinquished any claim to Cyprus, and in 1925 it was declared a British crown colony. Many Greek and Turkish Cypriots fought in the British Army during both world wars. During the Second World War, many enlisted in the Cyprus Regiment.
The Greek Cypriot population, meanwhile, had become hopeful that the British administration would lead to enosis. The idea of enosis was historically part of the Megali Idea, a greater political ambition of a Greek state encompassing the territories with Greek inhabitants in the former Ottoman Empire, including Cyprus and Asia Minor with a capital in Constantinople, and was actively pursued by the Cypriot Orthodox Church, which had its members educated in Greece. These religious officials, together with Greek military officers and professionals, some of whom still pursued the Megali Idea, would later found the guerrilla organization Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA). The Greek Cypriots viewed the island as historically Greek and believed that union with Greece was a natural right. In the 1950’s, the pursuit of enosis became a part of the Greek national policy,
Initially, the Turkish Cypriots favored the continuation of the British rule. However, they were alarmed by the Greek Cypriot calls for enosis as they saw the union of Crete with Greece, which led to the exodus of Cretan Turks, as a precedent to be avoided, and they took a pro-partition stance in response to the militant activity of EOKA. The Turkish Cypriots also viewed themselves as a distinct ethnic group of the island and believed in their having a separate right to self-determination from Greek Cypriots.
Meanwhile, in the 1950’s, Turkish leader Menderes considered Cyprus an “extension of Anatolia”, rejected the partition of Cyprus along ethnic lines and favored the annexation of the whole island to Turkey. Nationalistic slogans centered on the idea that “Cyprus is Turkish” and the ruling party declared Cyprus to be a part of the Turkish homeland that was vital to its security. Upon realizing the fact that the Turkish Cypriot population was only 20% of the islanders made annexation unfeasible, the national policy was changed to favor partition. The slogan “Partition or Death” was frequently used in Turkish Cypriot and Turkish protests starting in the late 1950’s and continuing throughout the 1960’s. Although after the Zürich and London conferences Turkey seemed to accept the existence of the Cypriot state and to distance itself from its policy of favoring the partition of the island, the goal of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders remained that of creating an independent Turkish state in the northern part of the island.
In January 1950, the Church of Cyprus organised a referendum under the supervision of clerics and with no Turkish Cypriot participation, where 96% of the participating Greek Cypriots voted in favor of enosis. The Greeks were 80.2% of the total island’ s population at the time (1946 census). Restricted autonomy under a constitution was proposed by the British administration but eventually rejected. In 1955, the EOKA organization was founded, seeking union with Greece through armed struggle. At the same time the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT), calling for Taksim, or partition, was established by the Turkish Cypriots as a counterweight. The British had also adopted at the time a policy of “divide and rule”. Woodhouse, a British official in Cyprus, revealed that then British Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan “urged the Britons in Cyprus to stir up the Turks in order to neutralize Greek agitation”. British officials also tolerated the creation of the Turkish underground organisation T.M.T. The Secretary of State for the Colonies in a letter dated July 15, 1958, had advised the Governor of Cyprus not to act against T.M.T despite its illegal actions so as not to harm British relations with the Turkish government.
On August 16, 1960, Cyprus attained independence after the Zürich and London Agreement between the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. Cyprus had a total population of 573,566; of whom 442,138 (77.1%) were Greeks, 104,320 (18.2%) Turks, and 27,108 (4.7%) others. The UK retained the two Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, while government posts and public offices were allocated by ethnic quotas, giving the minority Turkish Cypriots a permanent veto, 30% in parliament and administration, and granting the three mother-states guarantor rights.
However, the division of power as foreseen by the constitution soon resulted in legal impasses and discontent on both sides, and nationalist militants started training again, with the military support of Greece and Turkey respectively. The Greek Cypriot leadership believed that the rights given to Turkish Cypriots under the 1960 constitution were too extensive and designed the Akritas plan, which was aimed at reforming the constitution in favor of Greek Cypriots, persuading the international community about the correctness of the changes and violently subjugating Turkish Cypriots in a few days should they not accept the plan. Tensions were heightened when Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III called for constitutional changes, which were rejected by Turkey and opposed by Turkish Cypriots.
Intercommunal violence erupted on December 21, 1963, when two Turkish Cypriots were killed at an incident involving the Greek Cypriot police. The violence resulted in the death of 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots, destruction of 109 Turkish Cypriot or mixed villages and displacement of 25,000–30,000 Turkish Cypriots. The crisis resulted in the end of the Turkish Cypriot involvement in the administration and their claiming that it had lost its legitimacy; the nature of this event is still controversial. In some areas, Greek Cypriots prevented Turkish Cypriots from travelling and entering government buildings, while some Turkish Cypriots willingly withdrew due to the calls of the Turkish Cypriot administration. Turkish Cypriots started living in enclaves; the republic’s structure was changed, unilaterally, by Makarios and Nicosia was divided by the Green Line, with the deployment of UNFICYP troops.
In 1964, Turkey tried to invade Cyprus in response to the continuing Cypriot intercommunal violence. Turkey was stopped by a strongly worded telegram from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 5, warning that the US would not stand beside Turkey in case of a consequential Soviet invasion of Turkish territory. By 1964, enosis was a Greek policy that could not be abandoned; Makarios and the Greek prime minister Georgios Papandreou agreed that enosis should be the ultimate aim and King Constantine wished Cyprus “a speedy union with the mother country”. Greece dispatched 10,000 troops to Cyprus to counter a possible Turkish invasion.
On July 15, 1974, the Greek military junta under Dimitrios Ioannides carried out a coup d’état in Cyprus, to unite the island with Greece. The coup ousted president Makarios III and replaced him with pro-enosis nationalist Nikos Sampson. In response to the coup, on July 20, 1974, the Turkish army invaded the island, citing a right to intervene to restore the constitutional order from the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. This justification has been rejected by the United Nations and the international community.
The Turkish air force began bombing Greek positions in Cyprus, and hundreds of paratroopers were dropped in the area between Nicosia and Kyrenia, where well-armed Turkish Cypriot enclaves had been long-established; while off the Kyrenia coast, Turkish troop ships landed 6,000 men as well as tanks, trucks and armored vehicles. Three days later, when a ceasefire had been agreed, Turkey had landed 30,000 troops on the island and captured Kyrenia, the corridor linking Kyrenia to Nicosia, and the Turkish Cypriot quarter of Nicosia itself. The junta in Athens, and then the Sampson regime in Cyprus fell from power. In Nicosia, Glafkos Clerides assumed the presidency and constitutional order was restored, removing the pretext for the Turkish invasion. After peace negotiations in Geneva, the Turkish government reinforced their Kyrenia bridgehead and started a second invasion on August 14. The invasion resulted in the seizure of Morphou, Karpass, Famagusta and the Mesaoria.
International pressure led to a ceasefire, and by then 37% of the island had been taken over by the Turks and 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been evicted from their homes in the north. At the same time, around 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moved to the areas under the control of the Turkish Forces and settled in the properties of the displaced Greek Cypriots. Among a variety of sanctions against Turkey, in mid-1975 the US Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey for using American-supplied equipment during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. There are 1,534 Greek Cypriots and 502 Turkish Cypriots missing as a result of the fighting.
After the restoration of constitutional order and the return of Archbishop Makarios III to Cyprus in December 1974, Turkish troops remained, occupying the northeastern portion of the island. In 1983, the leader of Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. The events of the summer of 1974 dominate the politics on the island, as well as Greco-Turkish relations. Around 150,000 settlers from Turkey are believed to be living in the north — many of whom were forced from Turkey by the Turkish government — in violation of the Geneva Convention and various UN resolutions.
The Turkish invasion, followed by occupation and the declaration of independence of the TRNC have been condemned by United Nations resolutions, which are reaffirmed by the Security Council every year. The last major effort to settle the Cyprus dispute was the Annan Plan in 2004, drafted by the then Secretary General, Kofi Annan. The plan was put to a referendum in both Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus. 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in support of the plan and 74% Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, claiming that it disproportionately favoured the Turkish side. In total, 66.7% of the voters rejected the Annan Plan V.
On May 1, 2004, Cyprus joined the European Union, together with nine other countries. Cyprus was accepted into the EU as a whole, although the EU legislation is suspended in Northern Cyprus until a final settlement of the Cyprus problem. In July 2006, the island served as a haven for people fleeing Lebanon, due to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
Efforts have been made to enhance freedom of movement between the two sides. In April 2003, Northern Cyprus unilaterally eased border restrictions, permitting Cypriots to cross between the two sides for the first time in 30 years. In March 2008, a wall that had stood for decades at the boundary between the Republic of Cyprus and the UN buffer zone was demolished. The wall had cut across Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia and was seen as a strong symbol of the island’s 32-year division. On April 3, 2008, Ledra Street was reopened in the presence of Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials. North and South relaunched reunification talks on May 15, 2015.
The Venetians organized postal communications and letters are known from dignitaries and merchants between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first known letter sent from Famagusta to Constantinople bears the date August 17, 1353. Μany other letters followed without postmarks. Instead of postmarks were the the initials C.D.G., standing for Che Dio Guardi (“God is guarding it”).
During the Ottoman period of occupation, there were three post offices — Larnaca, Limassol and Nicosia — but the use made of these can be gauged by the fact that only £14 worth of stamps were sold in the whole of Cyprus in 1871. There were egg-shaped postmarks inscribed VENDAMAR and in the middle the lion of St. Mark of Venice. The confidentiality of the letters in those days was secured by means of sealing-wax. Between 1845 and 1864 the first hand-made stamps appeared.
Consular offices for the use of nationals were established by Britain, Austria, France, Naples and Spain. The Austrian Lloyd office in Larnaca opened a post office on June 1, 1864, using stamps of the Austrian Offices in the Turkish Empire there until its closure on August 6, 1878. Turkish stamps were used on mail from Nicosia from 1871. Cyprus joined the Universal Postal Union in 1875 under Turkey.
The British administration of Cyprus began on July 11, 1878. A post office was opened at Larnaca on July 27 with British stamps on sale. Additional post offices were opened in September, using numbered obliterators — Famagusta (982), Kyrenia (974), Larnaca (942), Limassol (975), Nicosia (969), and Paphos (981). In 1880, postal administration was taken over by the island authorities and Cyprus overprints, which had been ordered by the military, were introduced. The overprinting was done at the Government printing Press in Nicosia. These first postage stamps were British stamps overprinted CYPRUS (Scott #1-7) and issued on April 1, 1880. The first postage stamps produced specifically for use in Cyprus, rather than being overprinted British stamps, were issued on July 1, 1881 (Scott #11-15).
In 1886, rural and parcel services were introduced. The first rural post was for post offices on the Karpas peninsula and was served by a mounted postman. Service was further extended and by 1914 the whole island was covered. The postal services continued to be expanded and by 1917 mule transport, which had been the traditional link between villages, was replaced by motor transport.
During World War II, Cyprus was a base for Allied forces and was garrisoned by British troops. Field post office markings. were used. After the fall of France in June 1940, mail from Cyprus to Britain was carried by airmail via Singapore and Hong Kong to the United States. As in other colonies, there were some problems with the supply of stamps during the war, and unusual perforation varieties for the 1 piastre and 2 piastre stamps appeared in 1944.
For several years from 1956 there was a large British garrison, which was served by British field post offices. On August 16, 1960, Cyprus became a republic within the British Commonwealth but with strong ties with Greece. On that particular day, a commemorative series of three stamps was put into circulation (Scott #198-200) while the definitive series of Queen Elizabeth was overprinted in Greek and Turkish with the words CYPRUS REPUBLICA (Scott #183-197). British presence was retained by bases on the south coast of the island, which continued to use British field post offices. Cyprus Postal Services took over the government-operated Post Office. A legacy of British colonial rule is the use of pillar boxes (mail boxes) with the initials of the British monarch, although after independence they were painted yellow.
Clashes between the Greeks and Turks began in 1963 and a separated postal service was established in the Turkish Cypriot areas. A handstamp reading KIBRIS TURK POSTALAI was used and some local stamps were produced. During 1964, an agreement was reached for the restoration of postal services and Turkish employees of the Cyprus Post Office staffed post offices in the Turkish areas of Famagusta, Limassol, Lefka and Nicosia.
On October 29, 1973, stamps to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Turkish republic were issued by Turkish Cyprus, but these were not used for mail outside this area until after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974. Following this intervention, an autonomous Turkish area was set up in the northeast of the island. On February 13, 1975, a Turkish Cypriot federated state was proclaimed in the area of Turkish occupation and 9000 Turkish inhabitants were moved from the southern area. Turkish Cyprus has continued to issue stamps since that date, but is not recognized by the UPU.
Cyprus adopted a new postcode system on October 1, 1994. The alphanumerical code precedes the name of the town or city. The system covers the entire island, including the disputed area under Turkish occupation known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but only a few have been allocated. Mail to that part of the island must be sent via ‘MERSIN 10, TURKEY’.
Scott #149 is a 4½ piastres grey stamp released on May 12, 1938, portraying a map of Cyprus as part of an eventual 16-stamp definitive set recess printed by Waterlow & Sons Limited. It is perforated 12½ and bears a multiscript CA watermark.