Cyprus is situated at the north-eastern end of the East Mediterranean basin, 75 kms south of Turkey, 105 kms west of Syria and 380 kms north of Egypt. In respect of Greece, which is situated to the west of Cyprus, it lies at a distance of 280 kms from the small island of Meghisti (also known as Kastellorizo), 400 kms from Rhodes and about 800 kms from the Greek mainland.
The present population of Cyprus is estimated at 754.800 of whom 642.700 belong to the Greek Cypriot community, (85%), 88.200 (12%) to the Turkish Cypriot community and 24.100 (3%) are foreigners residing in Cyprus. Before the Turkish invasion (according to the 1973 census), the population's distribution by ethnic group was 78.9% Greek Cypriots, 18.4% Turkish Cypriots and 2.7% other minorities. Emigration by Turkish Cypriots disgruntled at life in the territories occupied by Turkey, mostly to Britain and Australia, accounts for this substantial reduction in the Turkish Cypriots' numbers. The Turkish Cypriots are mostly descendants from the soldiers of the Ottoman army which conquered the island in 1571 and the immigrants from Asia Minor brought in by the Sultan's government shortly thereafter. Some are descendants from Greek Cypriots who chose to identify with the Turks during the Ottoman occupation, in order to escape persecution, higher taxes etc.
The name of Cyprus has always been associated with Greek mythology (mostly famously as the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite) and history. The Greek Achaeans established themselves on Cyprus around 1400 B.C.. The island was an integral part of the homeric world and, indeed, the word “Cyprus” was used by Homer himself. Ever since, Cyprus has gone through the same major historical phases as the rest of the Greek world (city-states led by rulers like Evagoras who played an important role in Greek history, participation in the campaigns of Alexander the Great, Hellenistic period under his successors, Roman conquest, Byzantine Empire). After the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the island, like the rest of Greece, came under foreign conquerors, notably the [Frankish] Crusaders in 1191 and the Turks in 1571. Throughout history, however, the island's character remained essentially Greek, since neither the disadvantage of its geographical position (distance from mainland Greece), nor the incessant raids and occupations, nor the introduction of foreign languages, religions and civilizations it underwent for centuries on end, were able to alter the religion, the culture, the language and the Greek consciousness of the great majority of its people.
Greek Cypriots played an active part in the wider 1821 - 1830 struggle for the liberation of the Greek nation from the Ottoman yoke, although the island itself could not join the revolt against the Ottoman Empire, due to its geographic position. Despite the fact that the situation was calm, the Ottoman governor of the island asked for the authorization of the Sultan to execute 486 persons prominent in the Greek Cypriot community, in order to eliminate its leadership. After he received it, they were arrested and their executions were carried out during July 1821. Among those hanged on July 9, were Archbishop Cyprianos, leader of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and three bishops. According to some estimates, over 20.000 Greek Cypriots emigrated in order to escape from the repression, which followed.
Despite the desires of the Greek Cypriots, Cyprus was not included in the new, independent Greek state in 1830. In 1878, the Turks ceded Cyprus to Britain. In 1914, the British annexed the island and in 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey unconditionally renounced any claim on Cyprus. British rule ended when, after a valiant - and brutally repressed - liberation struggle by the Greek Cypriots who wanted to unite the island to Greece, a compromise was struck and Cyprus became an independent Republic on August 16th, 1960.
The new state's Constitution, imposed by the Zurich and London Agreements, divided the people of Cyprus into two communities on the basis of ethnic origin.
The divisive and inflexible nature of the Constitution granted a wide-range veto power to the Turkish Cypriot community, although it represented only 18% of the total population. This soon made the operation of the government difficult. The two communities were after a while locked into a constitutional crisis. In November 1963, Archbishop Makarios, first President of the Republic, suggested certain amendments to facilitate the smooth functioning of the State. Turkey rejected these proposals before the Turkish Cypriot community even had a chance to examine them. The Turkish Cypriot leadership fell in with Turkey's partitionist aims.
Following Turkish threats to invade Cyprus, the Government of the Republic brought the matter before the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 186/1964 (the first in a series of U.N. Resolutions to tackle the problem) provided for the stationing of a U.N. Peace Keeping Force (UNFICYP) on the island and initiated U.N. mediation efforts to promote a peaceful solution and an agreed settlement, in accordance with the U.N. Charter. The Cypriot Government did all that was in its power to restore the situation to normality and, in 1968, intercommunal talks began for a negotiated agreement on a new constitutional system. Despite the support given by the Turkish Cypriot leadership to Turkey's partitionist objectives in Cyprus, some progress was achieved during these talks. However, they were abruptly interrupted by Turkey's invasion of the island.