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The island of Cyprus is known as a jewel of the Mediterranean, but it is also plagued by a history of bitter conflict between Turkey and Greece. Both these countries have sought to lay claim to the island, and with no clear result. Now, Cyprus remains a divided country, with portions of the region dedicated to both the Turks and the Greeks.
But will this affect you on your trip to this beautiful, but volatile, destination? Is it safe to travel to Cyprus? Will you get caught in the crossfire? First, lets have a little history lesson to understand the roots of the conflict.
Cyprus's long stretching conflict began in 1571 when it was conquered by the Ottoman empire, which resulted in three centuries of Turkish rule.
Later, in the early 19th century, ethnic Greeks sought to bring an end to the rule, and unite Cyprus with Greece – as it was the site of early Phoenician and Greek colonies.
In 1878, the British Empire took control of Cyprus in order to prevent Ottoman positions falling under control from Russia – and an agreement was reached which allowed the Ottoman Empire to retain ownership. The Greeks welcomed the British involvement as it could see a chance to argue for Greek union, or Enosis.
When the Ottoman empire entered World War I, Britain then determined the island to be a colony of the British Empire. Britain offered Cyprus to Greece on the proviso that Greece join the war, an offer that was declined by the Greek King, Constantine I.
Under the rule of the empire, Cyprus escaped conflict in the Greco Turk war, but saw the continued push by Greek Cypriots to form Enosis. In 1931, an open revolution resulted, which saw 2000 convicted of crimes, and a harsh impositions enforced by the British.
Political parties were banned, some citizens were exiled, and elections were suspend – it was also forbidden to fly Greek or Turkish flags in the country.
Greek Cypriots were enraged after WWII, when Enosis looked unlikely to result. The main political voice for Greek Cypriots was the Cypriot Orthodox church, which led the struggle.
Later, using the Turkish Resistance Organisation as muscle, Turkey called for a division of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish sections – rejecting the idea of a Greek union.
Several resistance organisations surfaced, and the country was soon on the brink of civil war. In December 1958, representatives of Greece and Turkey had open discussion on the status of Cyprus, and three treaties were formed, Establishment, Guarantee and Alliance. A Greek Cypriot president, Makarious III and a Turkish Cypriot vice-president, Dr Fazil Küçük were installed – but this union failed miserably.
Peace keeping efforts were attempted in the years that followed, but due to equal power of veto, both nations kept arriving at loggerheads.
As a result, inter communal fighting resulted which left scores dead.
In 1974, a coup disposed of Makarious, and Turkey ordered an invasion on the north of Cyprus – in the action thousands of Cypriots, Greek and Turkish, lost their lives. The Turkish occupation lead to hundreds of thousands of displaced Greek Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots trapped in the south were invited by the UN to settle in the North.
Now, Cyprus exists in a polarised state. In the North, mainly Turkish Cypriots reside, in the south, mainly Greek. Dividing the two is a dedicated UN buffer zone – and it remains an intractable political problem. However, borders have recently been opened allowing movement between the two sides.
So what does this political conflict mean for you? Well, it depends on where you go. There are still tensions in the area, but they are long running and deep seeded. The country is in a stalemate, and in a sense there is an air of resignation that things wont be resolved for a long time.
There are a few complications as to the logistics of where you are allowed to enter into and out of Cyprus. As a general rule, however, to travel to the island you must enter via one of the legal entry points. And if you enter the north part, you may have trouble getting to the south, and vice versa. Plan your trip with this in mind.
But despite the conflict that has plagued the region, and has left it in a state of political uncertainty, Cyprus is considered a very safe area to visit, with very little violent crime.
The best piece of advice we can give, in regards to the sensitivity of the region, comes from the immortal words of Basil Fawlty, simply put: "Don't mention the war".
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