U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

2. Background: Background notes

The people of Cyprus represent two main ethnic groups, Greek and Turkish. The Greek Cypriots, who constitute the majority, are descended from a mixture of aboriginal inhabitants and immigrants from the Peloponnese who colonized Cyprus about 1100 BC and assimilated subsequent settlers up to the 16th century. The Turkish Cypriots are the descendants of the soldiers of the Ottoman army that conquered the island in 1571 and of immigrants from Anatolia brought in by the Sultan’s government shortly thereafter. Since 1974 additional immigrants from Anatolia, with their families, have been brought in to work vacant land and increase the total labor force.

For hundreds of years, Cyprus has been home to a mixed population of ethnic Greeks and Turks. But even after Cyprus gained independence from The United Kingdom in 1960, members of the Greek Cypriot majority agitated for a formal union with Greece. Widespread ethnic violence in 1963 led to the Turkish minority’s withdrawal from the government in 1964. The Cyprus National Guard, under the command of Greek officers, staged a coup in 1974. Turkey responded by invading Cyprus and seizing the northern third of the island, home to the Turkish Cypriot minority. A cease-fire line was established after a month of fighting. Cyprus remains divided into the mainly Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized by no other nation but Turkey. Complicating matters further, Turkey has been seeking admission to the European Union for more than three decades and strongly opposes Cyprus’s integration into the Union, on the grounds that the Greek Cypriot government does not represent the whole island. Greek Cypriots, however, view Turkey as a foreign occupation force.