Cyprus Gains Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Following a bloody four-year guerrilla war against British colonial rule, Cyprus became an independent state for the first time in its long, turbulent history.

Summary of Event

Cyprus was colonized by the Greeks during the second millennium b.c.e. The Turks settled on the island during Ottoman rule, which lasted from 1571 to 1878. By the time Great Britain took control in 1878, the Cypriot society’s biethnic character had been formed and consolidated. In 1960, when Cyprus became independent from British colonial rule, its population of 570,000 consisted of 78 percent Christian Greek Cypriots, 18 percent Muslim Turkish Cypriots, and 4 percent other minorities. Nationalism;Cyprus Anticolonial movements;Cyprus Postcolonialism;Cyprus Revolutions and coups;Cyprus British Empire;dissolution [kw]Cyprus Gains Independence (Aug. 16, 1960) [kw]Independence, Cyprus Gains (Aug. 16, 1960) Nationalism;Cyprus Anticolonial movements;Cyprus Postcolonialism;Cyprus Revolutions and coups;Cyprus British Empire;dissolution [g]Europe;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] [g]Cyprus;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] [c]Independence movements;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 16, 1960: Cyprus Gains Independence[06640] Makarios III[Makarios 03] Kutchuk, Fazil Grivas, George Karamanlis, Konstantinos Menderes, Adnan Macmillan, Harold

Great Britain granted Cypriot independence after giving way to pressure from three directions. First, there was a bloody Greek Cypriot anticolonial rebellion led by Archbishop Makarios III and Colonel George Grivas, the founder and leader of the underground Ethnike Organosis Kyprion Agoniston Ethnike Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA; National Organization of Cypriot Fighters). Second, global pressure resulted from internationalizing the Cyprus issue in the context of the broader African and Asian self-determination and decolonization movements. Third, American pressure was applied to Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey to seek a solution to the Cyprus question and heal the Greek-Turkish “festering sore” within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Under British colonial administration, life in Cyprus was typical of that of a colony. Human rights Human rights;Cyprus and political freedom were limited by the very nature of colonial rule. Both Cypriot communities enjoyed considerable autonomy on educational, religious, and cultural matters, but any ideas and movements advocating self-determination were adamantly resisted by the colonial power. The anticolonial guerrilla war, which was carried out by the Greek Cypriots from 1955 to 1959, caused trouble and bloodshed that made the administration of the island difficult and costly.

Curfews, riots, arrests, deportations, imprisonments, and executions became part of everyday life. Archbishop Makarios and his closest advisers were arrested and sent to a yearlong exile in the Seychelles. Thousands of political activists were arrested under emergency decrees. Nine members of EOKA were sentenced to death and hanged. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands wounded during the fighting. Collective and individual civil and political human rights were severely restricted and violated. In sum, life on the island was anything but normal.

A settlement of the colonial problem was eventually sought through diplomacy. Early in 1959, talks were held in Zurich among Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey. On February 19, an agreement providing for independence was reached in London by prime ministers Harold Macmillan, Konstantinos Karamanlis, and Adnan Menderes. Archbishop Makarios and Dr. Fazil Kutchuk signed the agreements on behalf of the two Cypriot communities, although they had not participated in the negotiations. In effect, the problem was settled between Greece and Turkey under British directorship. The biethnic character of the Cypriot society, ethnic bonds with Greece and Turkey, and British military interests defined the context and determined the content of the settlement.

The London and Zurich settlement resulted in a series of treaties that were formally signed in Nicosia on August 16, 1960, and went into effect the same day to establish the Republic of Cyprus. These treaties laid the foundations for the domestic political structure of the new state and its relations with the former colonial power and the two ethnic groups’ motherlands. The treaty of establishment was aimed at safeguarding British military interests. It provided for two sovereign military bases of ninety-nine square miles and extensive use of other island facilities. The treaty of alliance was a defense pact between Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. It provided for permanently stationing Greek and Turkish contingents in Cyprus of 950 and 650 soldiers, respectively.

With the treaty of guarantee, Cyprus undertook to ensure its independence and prohibit any activity likely to promote, directly or indirectly, either union with any other state or partition of the island. This provision was aimed at mutual abandonment of the conflicting ethnopolitical goals of enosis (union with Greece) or taksim (partition into Greek and Turkish sections). In effect, that meant that Cypriots were no longer allowed to pursue political objectives and engage in political activities supportive of either enosis or taksim. Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey were named guarantor powers and reserved the right to take action, jointly or unilaterally, to protect the political independence and territorial integrity of the republic.

The basic provisions of the Cyprus constitution Constitutions;Cyprus were also laid down in the Zurich and London agreements and provided for a bicommunal system of government. The two communities were recognized and distinguished with reference to their ethnic origin, language, cultural traditions, and religion.

Communal dualism, which was inherited from the colonial era, was institutionalized in all branches of government and public life. In essence, Cyprus was not a unitary state based on the democratic principle of majority rule. In the executive branch, the president was a Greek Cypriot and the vice president a Turkish Cypriot, each elected separately by his or her community. The cabinet was composed of seven Greek Cypriot and three Turkish Cypriot ministers appointed separately by the president and vice president. Legislative power was exercised by a biethnic house of representatives and two communal chambers. The two ethnic groups elected their representatives separately. The judicial system was also based on ethnic dualism. The composition of courts was determined by the disputants’ communal membership. The supreme court was composed of a Greek Cypriot, a Turkish Cypriot, and a neutral judge who could not be a citizen of Cyprus, Great Britain, Greece, or Turkey. Separate municipalities would be created in the five largest towns with mixed population. Participation of the two communities in the public service, police, and armed forces would be at fixed disproportionate ratios favoring the Turkish Cypriot minority.

The two ethnic groups were granted the right to celebrate respectively the Greek and Turkish holidays and use the flag of the republic or the Greek or Turkish flag without restriction. The two ethnic groups were also free to establish separate “special relationships” with their motherlands on educational, religious, cultural, and athletic matters.

Finally, the constitution provided that provisions incorporated from the Zurich and London accords could not “in any way, be amended, whether by way of variation, addition, or repeal.” All the features presented above were among the basic articles that could not be amended, as were the treaties of alliance and guarantee. Thus, the Republic of Cyprus was created by international agreements reached in the absence of the Cypriot people. The constitution was imposed on Cyprus and never submitted to a referendum or otherwise approved by the Cypriots. Limitations were imposed on the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the island, and foreign powers were granted the right to station military forces on its territory and interfere in domestic affairs.

In essence, the political and administrative foundations of the newborn republic were based on the bicommunal character of the society and fragmented features and practices inherited from the past. Perfect coincidence of linguistic, ethnic, religious, cultural, and political cleavages made it difficult to develop crosscutting national bonds, overarching loyalties, patriotism, or political culture supportive of a common country. With the declaration of independence, the stage was set for ethnopolitical polarization and paralysis of the newborn state.


The declaration of independence on August 16, 1960, ended colonial rule but did not bring about institutions and conditions favorable to a peaceful political transformation. The two communities disagreed on issues affecting political participation and interpretation of ethnic, civil, and political rights. Archbishop Makarios and Fazil Kutchuk, the Cypriot representatives who had signed the London and Zurich agreements, were elected the first president and vice president.

One of the first tasks of their government was to build the new public institutions. This proved to be difficult. The Greek Cypriots were reluctant to implement some of the constitutional provisions that they regarded as unjust and unrealistic. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, were unwilling to negotiate any of their disproportional minority rights, safeguards, and privileges. Some of the major sources of tension were the provision on the 70:30 ratio of Greek to Turkish Cypriots in public service, the separate majority vote of the representatives of the two groups in the parliament, establishment of separate ethnic municipalities, and the vice president’s right to veto certain decisions of the cabinet and legislature.

Because of repeated ethnically colored legal and political controversies at both the elite and grassroots level, no branch of the government could function properly. The Greek Cypriot majority was tempted to seek changes of the status quo created by independence, while the Turkish Cypriot minority made extensive use of its legal and political safeguards, avoided negotiations, and sought autonomy and secession. At the personal level, the underlying dynamics of majority-minority relations added temptations, fears, and uncertainty. Protracted impasses and frustration reinforced mutual mistrust. Ethnicity dominated politics, and the two groups looked upon each other as ethnopolitical enemies.

On November 30, 1963, President Makarios made a last attempt to break the deadlock by proposing thirteen amendments to the constitution that would make Cyprus a more unitary state. The Turkish Cypriots and Turkey rejected the proposal as completely unacceptable and insisted that Cyprus remain a bicommunal state or else that complete separation of the two ethnic groups should occur through partition. After three years of simmering tension, what seemed to be inevitable came on December 22, 1963, when heavy fighting broke out. The flareup brought a complete breakdown of intercommunal relations, and physical separation of the two communities started. The Turkish Cypriots began moving into enclaves that emerged in various parts of the island. Turkish Cypriot leaders and public servants withdrew from the government and established a separate administration. This was the final blow for what had proved to be an inappropriate settlement of the colonial problem of Cyprus. Independence had ended British colonial rule but did not resolve ethnic differences. Instead, open ethnic conflict became the dominant problem. Nationalism;Cyprus Anticolonial movements;Cyprus Postcolonialism;Cyprus Revolutions and coups;Cyprus British Empire;dissolution

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Averoff-Tosizza, Evangelos. Lost Opportunities: The Cyprus Question. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Caratzas, 1986. As Greece’s minister of foreign affairs, the author played a primary role in the handling of the Cyprus colonial problem in the 1950’s. He was an instrumental participant in the negotiations that led to the Zurich and London settlement and the independence of Cyprus. In this volume of memoirs, he writes about events and personalities in an informative and revealing manner.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crawshaw, Nancy. The Cyprus Revolt: An Account of the Struggle for Union with Greece. London: Allen & Unwin, 1978. Provides an account of the events that led to the independence of Cyprus in 1960. The enosis movement and EOKA revolt receive the most extensive coverage. Concludes with a presentation of the Zurich and London settlement and its breakdown.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hill, George. A History of Cyprus. 4 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1940-1952. A monumental scholarly work of unsurpassed value. The most comprehensive and detailed history of Cyprus ever written, probably the most well known and most widely quoted work on Cyprus. Greatly respected for its precision, objectivity, and documentation. The fourth volume, which covers the periods of Ottoman and British rule, provides an excellent historical background to the Greek-Turkish conflict over the island.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Joseph, Joseph S. Cyprus: Ethnic Conflict and International Concern. New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Examines the ethnic problems of Cyprus since independence. Both the domestic and international aspects of the conflict are presented and discussed in a scholarly and analytical manner. The discussion revolves around the failure of the 1960 settlement of the colonial problem, the eruption of ethnic violence, and the unsuccessful search for a peaceful settlement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leventis, Yiorghos. Cyprus: The Struggle for Self-determination in the 1940s—Prelude to Deeper Crisis. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. History of the anticolonial battle of the Cypriots against the British that focuses on the roots of the 1960’s conflict that would tear the island apart. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Markides, Kyriacos. The Rise and Fall of the Republic of Cyprus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977. The work of a political sociologist. Provides a good background on the contemporary history and society of Cyprus. Focuses on the negative impact that ethnic, ideological, and social fragmentation had on the Cyprus republic that was created in 1960.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mayes, Stanley. Makarios: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. An extensive biography of Makarios, probably the best. Tells the story of a person with charisma, talent, and vision who dominated the political life of Cyprus from 1950 to 1977. Provides a good overview of the critical years, major events, and turning points in Cyprus’s modern history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Purcell, Hugh D. Cyprus. London: Ernest Benn, 1989. A history handbook on Cyprus. Especially good are the chapters on the period of British colonial rule, the early years of independence, and the eruption of ethnic violence in 1963. A good introductory book for the reader with a general interest in the island and its colonial and ethnic problems.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stephens, Robert. Cyprus: A Place of Arms. New York: Praeger, 1966. A brief history of Cyprus in which the author argues that the destiny of the island has been determined by imperial rivalries in the region. An informative and readable book with a detached approach.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Xydis, Stephen G. Cyprus: Conflict and Conciliation, 1954-1958. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1967. An excellent book on the colonial and ethnic problems of Cyprus and their internationalization through the United Nations in the 1950’s. Provides a detailed account of the five Greek appeals to the U.N. General Assembly from 1954 to 1958 asking for self-determination on Cyprus. A revealing work on the use of diplomacy and international forums for the promotion of national goals.

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