Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Originally leased by the British from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and annexed in 1914, Cyprus was granted Crown Colony status in 1925.

Summary of Event

Great Britain proclaimed the island of Cyprus a Crown Colony on May 1, 1925. Britain had directly administered the island for a number of years, but the proclamation formalized and regularized British rule there. However, since the change in legal status failed to lead to any immediate reforms in British administration and did not solve any of the island’s long-term problems, most Cypriots regarded the change as unimportant. [kw]Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony (May 1, 1925) [kw]British Crown Colony, Cyprus Becomes a (May 1, 1925) [kw]Colony, Cyprus Becomes a British Crown (May 1, 1925) Cyprus;Crown Colony status [g]Cyprus;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [g]England;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [g]Ottoman Empire;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [g]Turkey;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [c]Colonialism and occupation;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [c]Government and politics;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 1, 1925: Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony[06420] Stevenson, Sir Malcolm Amery, L. S. Cyril III

At 3,572 square miles (9,251 square kilometers) Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies only forty miles south of the great Turkish peninsula historically known as Asia Minor. Cyprus’s strategic location led to its invasion and rule by a succession of powers, including the Ottoman Empire, which came to power in 1571. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, Russia was attempting to increase its influence in the eastern Mediterranean at the expense of the languishing Ottoman Empire, which was widely regarded as the “sick man of Europe.” After agreeing to protect the Ottomans from Russian aggression, Great Britain leased Cyprus on June 4, 1878, under the terms of the Cyprus Convention.

At the time of the lease, the Britain Empire stretched around the world, and as a territory, Cyprus was at first something of an anomaly in Britain’s vast assemblage of possessions. As a result, the British were uncertain about how to treat the colony; for example, an early plan to use the island as a site for a large military base never came to fruition. The leased territory was initially administered by the British Foreign Office but passed to the supervision of the Colonial Office on December 6, 1880.

According to a British census taken soon after the Cyprus Convention, more than three-fourths of the island’s residents were Greek and Christian, while most of the remainder were Turkish and Muslim. After years of Ottoman corruption, both groups welcomed British rule, particularly the Greeks, who hoped that the British would give them control of the island. Since the Cypriots remained Ottoman subjects under the terms of the convention, however, it was more convenient for Britain to ignore the Cypriots’ larger political aspirations. This pattern would persist despite changes in the island’s status.

The most dramatic change in Cyprus’s status took place during the opening phases of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany against Great Britain. On November 5, 1914, the British announced that the Ottomans’ actions annulled the Cyprus Convention and that Great Britain was adopting the island as a colony. Questions about the legality of this move would be resolved on July 24, 1923, when the new nation of Turkey, created from the core of the dismembered Ottoman Empire, signed the Treaty of Lausanne, Lausanne, Treaty of (1923) recognizing Britain’s actions.

With the island’s annexation by the British, the attitudes of the citizens of Cyprus intensified. Greek Cypriots saw the move as yet another prelude to unification with Greece, a step referred to as “enosis” and routinely supported by the archbishops of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. Most Turkish Cypriots were receptive toward the idea of annexation, but they were mindful of the reprisals taken against the Turkish population of Crete when that island became part of Greece in 1908. As a result, Turkish Cypriots came to favor taksim, the partition of Cyprus between the two ethnic and religious groups. Britain actually offered to cede Cyprus to Greece in 1915 as a reward for entering the war on the side of the Allies, but Greece remained neutral and Britain retained the island.

Compared to the annexation of 1914, Britain’s conferral of Crown Colony status on Cyprus in 1925 was anticlimactic. To the British, a Crown Colony was simply an overseas possession under its direct control. A Crown Colony’s primary administrator was British and was appointed by the British monarch on the recommendation of the secretary of state for colonies. Depending on the colony’s level of development, it might have a legislative council of elected and appointed members (usually civil servants), from which the administrator could choose an advisory executive council. Cyprus had essentially been ruled in this manner from its earliest years as a leased territory.

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The changes enacted on May 1, 1925, were almost all formal in nature. High Commissioner Sir Malcolm Stevenson became governor, and the number of members of the legislative assembly was increased from twenty-one to twenty-four. As before, however, the seats were divided among Greeks, Turks, and appointees in such a way that votes routinely ended in a tie, which allowed the governor to cast the deciding vote (a power he had often similarly exercised as high commissioner). When the Cypriots appealed for greater control over their affairs, Secretary of State for Colonies L. S. Amery turned down the request, asserting that Cyprus had not yet reached an appropriate level of political development.

Predictably, the 1925 conferral provided Cyril III, Cyprus’s orthodox archbishop, with another occasion to lobby publicly and emphatically for enosis. Turkish Cypriot leaders pressed the case against enosis, and Secretary Amery rejected the idea. The conferral of Crown Colony status also failed to remedy the issue of the tax known as the Cyprus tribute. Under the terms of the Cyprus Convention, the British had been obligated to turn over excess taxes collected on Cyprus to the Ottoman Empire, but in practice they kept the money and applied it to war loans on which the Ottomans had defaulted during the Crimean War (1853-1856). This situation that did not change with annexation, and it was a constant source of frustration to the Cypriots.

Significance

Great Britain’s designation of Cyprus as a Crown Colony was more significant for what it did not do than for what it did. The step formalized a legal and constitutional situation that had existed for years, but Britain’s reluctance to address the issue of tax reform and its autocratic refusal to grant a greater degree of freedom to its Cypriot subjects undermined the goodwill that the Cypriots once felt toward the colonial power. Britain did gradually undertake improvements in health and sanitation, education, forest conservation, and the preservation of antiquities, but British parsimony led observers to call Cyprus the “Cinderella colony,” a reference to the ill-treated fairy-tale character.

Most seriously of all, conferral of Crown Colony status did nothing to mollify the contradictory but deeply held attitudes of Cyprus’s divided citizenry. Greek Cypriots saw, or at least pretended to see, the move as another prelude to enosis, which Turkish Cypriots feared as emphatically as Greek Cypriots supported. Admittedly, there was no easy solution to this situation, but Britain’s reluctance to disturb the status quo would lead to increasingly serious outbreaks of violence in the decades ahead. Cyprus;Crown Colony status

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boatswain, Tim. A Traveler’s History of Cyprus. New York: Interlink, 2005. Readable survey with a chapter devoted to the years of British rule, a chronology, and a list of British governors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hill, George Francis. The Ottoman Province, the British Colony, 1571-1948. Vol. 4 in A History of Cyprus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972. This volume of the standard history discusses the period in considerable detail. Lists of orthodox archbishops, British high commissioners, and British governors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holland, R. F., and Diana Weston Markides. Britain and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1850-1960. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2006. Chapter 7, “The Peculiarity of Cyprus, 1878-1931,” deals with Cyprus during the periods leading up to and following the conferral of Crown Colony status.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McHenry, James A. The Uneasy Partnership on Cyprus, 1919-1939: The Political and Diplomatic Interaction Between Great Britain, Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriot Community. New York: Garland, 1987. Emphasizes Britain’s interactions with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot minority. Includes guides to key British and Turkish figures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Purcell, Hugh Dominic. Cyprus. New York: Praeger, 1969. Chapter 6, “The British Period,” covers all aspects of British control.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Solsten, Eric, ed. Cyprus: A Country Study. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993. Authoritative volume in the Area Handbook series; includes a balanced discussion of British rule.

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