Cyprus’ struggle for freedom and self-determination dates back to the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the island nation became embroiled in a bloody conflict that would last for decades. Ethnic tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority were at the heart of the conflict, as both groups vied for control of the island’s political and economic systems.
The conflict began in earnest in 1955, when a group of Greek Cypriot nationalists formed the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) and began a guerrilla war against British colonial rule. The goal of EOKA was to establish an independent, Greek-dominated Cyprus, free of both British and Turkish influence. The movement was led by George Grivas, a Greek army officer who had fought against the British in Greece during World War II.
The British responded to the insurgency with a fierce crackdown, using mass arrests, torture, and even execution to quell the rebellion. But EOKA persisted, carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations throughout the island. The group’s most high-profile target was the British colonial governor, Sir Hugh Foot, who narrowly survived a bomb attack in 1957.
As the conflict intensified, tensions between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island grew. Turkish Cypriots, who made up around 18% of the population, feared that a Greek-dominated independent state would leave them vulnerable to discrimination and persecution. In response, they formed their own paramilitary organization, the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT), which launched a campaign of violence and intimidation against Greek Cypriots.
The situation on the island continued to deteriorate in the early 1960s, as negotiations between the Greek and Turkish communities failed to produce a lasting peace. In 1963, Turkish Cypriots declared their own state in the north of the island, which they called the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. This move was rejected by the Greek Cypriot government, which saw it as a challenge to their authority.
Over the next two decades, the conflict simmered on, with occasional outbreaks of violence and sporadic attempts at negotiations. The situation changed drastically in 1974, when the Greek military junta in Athens staged a coup against the democratically-elected government of Cyprus, which was led by Archbishop Makarios III.
The coup was intended to bring Cyprus fully under Greek control, but it sparked a Turkish invasion of the island, as Turkish Cypriots feared for their safety. The resulting conflict, known as the Cyprus War, lasted for two months and left thousands dead and many more displaced. Turkey ultimately established a separate state in the north of the island, which is still recognized only by Turkey. The rest of the island remains divided between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Today, Cyprus remains divided, with a heavily-fortified buffer zone separating the two communities. Talks aimed at reunifying the island have been ongoing for decades, but progress has been slow and uncertain. The scars of the conflict are still visible, both physically in the bullet-riddled buildings that dot the island and emotionally in the distrust and animosity that lingers between the Greek and Turkish communities.
The struggle for freedom and self-determination in Cyprus has been long and painful, marked by violence, repression, and division. But the island’s people remain resilient and hopeful, working towards a future in which they can coexist peacefully and as equals.