Situated on the eastern edge of the Meditteranean Sea, 64 km south of the Turkish mainland, lies the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite ( Venus ), the island of Cyprus.
This 9,251 sq km island, officially known as the Republic of Cyprus, is politically made up of six areas which are divided into four seperate entities.
HISTORY OF THE ISLAND'S DIVISION.
Cyprus has been the site of many colonisations during it's history, from the early Phonecians,Persians, Byzantines and Ottomans to the modern Greeks, Turks and British.
From the late 1500's two large settlements of Greeks and Turks lived side by side in harmony on the island until the British Empire took control in 1878.
It went on to be a British Crown Colony in 1925 and remained so until guerilla war against British rule broke out in 1955, led by the EOKA. ( the national organisation of Cypriot combatants ).
Three years later in 1958 Greek Cypriot nationalist leader Archbishop Makarios, began calling for Cypriot independence, which in turn led to Turkish Cypriots demanding the island be partioned into Greek and Turkish zones.
After both Greek and Turkish Cypriots agreed on a constitution, which excluded both partition or unification, Cyprus gained it's independence on 16 th August 1960, with Archbishop Makarios being the country's first president.
Fierce fighting broke out between the two sides that led to U.N peacekeeeping forces sent to the island in 1965.
On July the 15 th 1974 Archbishop Makarios was overthrown in a military coup by the Cypriot National Guard, this then led to the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish troops who asserted their right to protect the Turkish minority who lived there.
The Turks gained control of 30 % of the north of the island thus displacing an estimated 180,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes.
A U.N sponsored ceasefire on July 22 nd, permitted Turkish troops to remain in the north.
In December of that year, Archbishop Makarios regained his presidency, followed by a partition of Greek and Turkish territories seperated by a U.N buffer zone, the following year.
Turkish Cypriots proclaimed a seperate state under the leadership of Rauf Denktash on November 15 th 1983, naming their state the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,T.R.N.C. ( Kuzey Kibris Turk Cumhuriyeti. K.K.T.C. ) this action was declared illegal by the U.N security council, who called for a withdrawal of Turkish troops.
The international community to this day does not recognise the northern de-facto republic, which is recognised solely by the Turkish government.
In 1988, George Vassilou, a firm critic of the U.N's plan to unify the island, became president, the purchase of missiles by his government capable of reaching the Turkish mainland, bought in 1997 and again in 1999, again raised problems with the Turkish government.
In 2004 dual referendums were held on re- unification, with the Greeks overwhelmingly rejecting the plan and the Turks unanimously in favour.
It was four years later before talks were held again on re- unification, between Cypriot Greek president Christofas and Cypriot Turkish president Talat.
One month later on the 4th of April 2008 Ledra Street in the island's capital city of Nicosia, site of the U.N buffer zone, was torn down in an important symbolic step towards re- unification.
Today the island consists of 6 regions, with a Turkish population of 250,000 in an area of 3,355 sq km in the north,consisting of 5 districts in two of the main regions, a Greek population of 703,529, in an area of 5,895 sq km in 5 of the six regions to the south, 27,000 British ex - pats and 10,000 Russian emigres.
The island is divided into 59.74 % officially recognised republic, 34.85 % Turkish north, 2.67 % U.N buffer zone and the two British overseas territiories of Akrotiri and Dhekeli that make up 2.74 % of the island.
The north has a heavy military presence with over 5,000 Turkish troops based there to uphold security of the north and to counter military insurgance from the south.
Northern ports and airports are also heavilly guarded by Turkish military naval and airforce personnel.
Map of Cyprus showing the north / south division.
The island is made up of two large mountain ranges, the Troodos mountains that make up about half of the terrain of the island, with it's highest elevation at Mount Olympus at 1,952m.
The Kyrenia range extends along the northern coast occupying a much smaller area and elevation.
The interior is made up of the fertile plain of the Mesaoria, the main agricultural belt where wheat, barley and oats are grown.
The 782 km coastline consists of beautiful sandy beaches in the south, giving rise to the island's thriving tourist industry.
The northern beaches are more rugged and unspoilt, leading to the breeding grounds of the Green Turtle and many species of sea birds.
Northern Cyprus coastline.
The Cypriot railway ceased operation in 1951 leaving the interior of the island only acsessible by road.There is over 12,000 km of road network on the island, a third of which is unpaved.
The island is serviced by 3 airports, at Larnaca and Pathos in the south and Ercan international airport in the north, which is accessed only via flights from the Turkish mainland, although the European Community is considering direct flights in the near future.
There are six ports on the island, three in the north and three in the south that serve all cargo and passenger services.
There are regular bus routes on both sides of the island along with regular taxis and the Turkish dolmush in the north. ( a mini-bus that is hailed and departed from, on demand ).
The largest city on the island is Nicosia, ( known as Lefkosha in Turkish and Lefkosia in Greek ) it is also the capital of both republics, and has the distinction of being the world's only divided capital.
It's history goes back some 2,500 years, and it has been the island's capital for over a thousand years.
A walled city built on the banks of the river Pedieos, it is now home to 84,893 Turks in the northern part of the city and 47,832 Greeks in the south of the city.
A vibrant modern part and ancient old sector in the south, seperated by the 'Green Line ' or buffer zone takes one through to the more run down and less commercialised northern part of the city, with both sides steeped in historical buildings depicting it's varied and cosmopolitan history.
Becouse of the international trade embargo on the north, the T.R.N.C. relies heavilly on tourism from the south,( although it does sport a healthy tourist industry accessed from mainland Turkey ), now made possible by the opening of the Ledra Street checkpoint for pedestrians and the Metehan crossing for vehicles, both situated in the centre of the city.
Katopyrgos,Southern Cyprus coastline.
COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA.
Both sides of the island supply their own newspapers, radio and T.V, with many channels on both sides broadcasting in Turkish, Greek and English.
Becouse the north is only recognised internationally by Turkey, it's telephone exchange and internet provider along with it's postal address code is all supplied via the Turkish mainland.
The island's economy is booming, both north and south, mainly due to tourism and a thriving construction trade.
The island grows it's own olives and lemons and these are exported to Northern Europe in the south, but the northern half of the island can only export to the Turkish mainland, with the north relying heavilly on Turkish economic support.
The Turkish government allocates $ 400 million a year to help raise living standards of it's Cypriot community.
Considering this, the annual G.D.P of the north is surprisingly high, with little unemployment and a good standard of living, although parts of the capital are shabby and in need of a facelift.
Healthcare and education is good both sides of the buffer zone, along with local commerce, the public sector and light industry.
The unit of currency in the south is the Euro, with the Turkish Lire in the north, although both currencies are accepted from tourists in the north.
The country's time zone is + 2 GMT.
There are three main languages spoken on the island, Turkish, Greek and English, with some older residents still speaking the old Greek / Turkish dialect that was once prevalent before the divide.
The south of the island is one of the few places in Europe that has it's own religion, Cypriot Orthodox, a derivitive of the Greek othodox religion.
The Muslim north of the island favours the Sunni sect of that religion,with many of the old churches there now turned into mosques.
The large English ex- pat community is catered for with both Catholic and Protestant churches.
READ ERIK VAN TONGERLOO'S TOURIST REVIEW OF CYPRUS
All Images courtesy of wikimedia commons.