Author: Elena Theodoulou-Charalambous
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated at the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea and is at the crossroads of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). Cyprus' historical and cultural tradition is very rich and dates back to the 7th millennium B.C. The arrival of the first Mycenaean Greeks on the island in the 15th century B.C. set the foundations for the development of the Greek civilisation on the island. Due to its unrivalled strategic location, Cyprus was subject to a number of conquerors and came under the influence of many different cultures and civilisations like for example the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Athenian Empire, Hellenistic Greek dynasties, Roman Empire, Byzantium, the French Lusignans, Venetians, Ottoman Turks from 1571 and finally the British from 1878 up until 1960 when Cyprus gained its independence with Greece, Turkey and Britain as guarantors of the country's independence (Treaty of Establishment).
According to the 1960 Constitution (Article 2, paragraph 1&2) all Cypriot citizens are declared as belonging to either the Greek Cypriot Community (if they are of Greek origin or are Greek Orthodox) or to the Turkish Cypriot Community (if they are of Turkish origin or Muslims). There are other religious groups (Armenians 0.3 %, Maronites 6 % and Latins 0.1 %) who, according to the 1960 Constitution, were given the option to become members of either the two Communities. The above mentioned religious groups opted to belong to the Greek Community. Thus the Greek Cypriot Community formed almost 80% of the population and the Turkish Cypriot Community 18% at that time.
Furthermore, the Constitution of 1960 provided that the Turkish Cypriot Community would be given a share of 30% in the government and all state institutions. As a result of this, the ten Ministries provided by the Constitution were divided amongst the two Communities on a 7:3 ratio. However, a Ministry of Education and Culture had not been established, since cultural and educational matters, according to the Constitution, were considered a realm of responsibility of the two Communal Assemblies, the Greek Communal Assembly and the Turkish Communal Assembly.
However, within less than three years – due to some proposals for constitutional amendments suggested by the President of the Republic – a tense situation developed and the Turkish Cypriot Community members of the executive, legislature, judiciary and the civil service withdrew from their posts in 1963; apart from this, they created military enclaves in Nicosia as well as in other parts of the island.
In addition to the above, on 15 July 1974 the then ruling military junta of Greece staged an unsuccessful coup d'état aiming to overthrow the democratically elected government of Cyprus. Turkey used the coup d'état attempt as an excuse to invade the island on 20 July 1974 with about forty thousand troops. As a result of the Turkish invasion, nearly 35% of the territory of the Republic was captured and remains occupied until today. Furthermore, it is estimated that, after the Turkish invasion, one third of the Greek Cypriots who resided in the occupied part became refugees while 115 000 Turkish settlers were illegally transferred from Turkey to the occupied northern part of Cyprus. These and other developments caused a dramatic change in the demographic character of the island. The United Nations have in several resolutions of the Security Council demanded respect for the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus.
In 1983, the occupying regime arbitrarily declared the independence of the northern part of Cyprus. The UN condemned this act and, until now, no country other than Turkey has recognised this entity. In April 2003, the pseudo-state, through a decision of its "Ministerial Council", allowed residents of both areas to cross over the green zone area, demanding until 2015, however, the presentation of a passport and the issuing of "entry visas" for Greek Cypriots and "exit visas" for Turkish Cypriots. As a result of the partial lifting of restrictions on freedom of movement, thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots do regularly cross the demarcation line.
The above described political situation had an impact both on socio-economic as well as on cultural aspects. One of the most tragic consequences of the 1974 Turkish invasion is the systematic destruction and looting of the cultural and religious heritage in the occupied areas. Moreover, this political situation has a tremendous impact on the way cultural matters are being dealt with. More specifically, after the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriot ministers and the public servants, in 1963, the functioning of the Greek Communal Assembly was temporarily suspended and the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Cyprus was formed under the Law 12 of 1965; in 1992, it has been renamed into the Ministry of Education and Culture. Nevertheless, due to the political situation any kind of further reform is avoided as this could be regarded as a breach of the Constitution. As a result, cultural governance structures remained to a great extent static since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus. Since 2004, however, there have been continuous attempts to restructure the cultural governance structures in order to encounter socio-economic challenges in a more effective way (see chapter 2.1).
In this context and despite the small size of its population (about 952 100 people), it is important to note that the demographic make-up of the island nowadays tends to develop rather multicultural features: According to the Demographic Report of the Statistical Service of the Republic of Cyprus (2011), the majority of the population are Greek – and Greek speaking – Cypriots (71.8%). Maronites, Armenians and Latins (Roman Catholics) account for about 1%. Turkish Cypriots make up about 9.5% of the population and the remaining 18.7% are foreign residents and foreign workers. With respect to cultural matters, through the various state subsidies, financial assistance is provided to all cultural, social and athletic clubs of the many different ethnic groups that reside in Cyprus. There are two official languages – Greek and Turkish, although English is widely spoken.
Chapter published: 05-10-2015