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ETHNONYM: Kypriotes


Identification. Cypriots are the inhabitants of the island of Cyprus, an independent republic since 1960. Two principal ethnic groupsTurkish and Greekform the majority populations on Cyprus; there are small numbers of Armenians and Maronites as well.

Location. Cyprus, the third-largest island of the Mediterranean, has an area of 9,251 square kilometers. It lies 64 kilometers south of Turkey and 96 kilometers west of Syria. The northern and southwestern portions of the island, roughly two-thirds of its area, are composed of hilly and mountainous terrain, while the remaining third is relatively flat. Of the total landmass, 49.6 percent is suitable for farming. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with low annual precipitation (50 centimeters, average) and frequent summer droughts. Temperatures fall to mean winter averages of 7° to 13° C, and rise to summer averages of 29° to 35° C. Water resources are scantrivers are shallow and short, and they dry up during the summer. There are few fish in the coastal waters, and the only large wild animal indigenous to the island is the mouflon (wild sheep), and it is nearly extinct today. Other native fauna include hares, foxes, hedgehogs, and Numerous species of birds.

Demography. Population estimates for the island are somewhat confused. In 1970 there were 628,000 Cypriots, with approximately 82 percent of Greek extraction and 18 percent of Turkish descent. At that time, Greek Cypriot Communities accounted for 97 percent of the land area of the Island, and Turkish Cypriot communities controlled 3 percent. However, beginning in the mid-1970s, as the Turkish Communities sought independence, there have been successive waves of emigrantsprincipally to Greece and the United Kingdom, although also to the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. When, as a result of the Turkish independence movement of the early 1960s, a territory comprising 37 percent of the country was occupied by Turkey in the north, there were large-scale displacements of the Populationsome 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees fled south during the occupation periodand a fresh incursion of settlers from the Turkish mainland, further confusing the demographic picture. The economic disruption resulting from the political problems of the island during the 1970s and 1980s has also touched off new waves of emigration, as people have sought more secure working opportunities. In 1990, the overall population was estimated at 708,000 (78 percent Greek and 18.7 percent Turkish).

Linguistic Affiliation. Both Turkish and Greek are official languages on Cyprus, with Greek having far more speakers. English is used as a second language by most Greek and Turkish speakers.

History and Cultural Relations

The archaeological record discloses settlement along the southern coast of Cyprus prior to 6000 b.c. Bronze Age Cultures actively traded with Crete, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt, and early records indicate that the island was an important source of copper. At around 1200 b.c., the first Greek Immigrants are thought to have begun arriving from the Peloponnesos, with the major influx occurring between 1100 and 700 b.c. These new immigrants firmly established the Greek Language on the island and founded six city-kingdoms. The Phoenicians established a colony in 800 b.c., and aboriginal inhabitants had a kingdom as well. Beginning in the early 700s b.c., the island came under the domination of the Assyrians, who ruled for about 150 years, during which time the artsparticularly poetry, bronzework, and ironworkflourished. The Egyptians followed the Assyrians and ruled until the Cypriots allied themselves with Persia in 525 b.c. However, during the next 200 years, the island strongly supported and identified with the Attic revolts against Persia, and finally it came under direct Greek rule in 323 b.c. The Romans annexed Cyprus in 58 b.c., and it was during the Roman period that Christianity was introduced to the island. When the Roman Empire split, in a.d. 395, Cypriot Christians were subject to the Byzantine Empire, but in 488 the church was granted autocephalous status. There were periods of insecurity, as the island was periodically subject to frequent Arab raids, but these were lessened first by treaties and later by the Byzantine accession, in 965, to complete control of Cyprus. When the governor of Cyprus rebelled against the Byzantine Empire in the late 1100s, the crusading forces of King Richard I seized the island and later sold it to the dispossessed king of Jerusalem. Thus began a long feudal period, as the new ruler granted lands on the island to his supporters. Because of its location and the loyalties of its rulers, the Island also then became a staging area for further crusades. Control of the island was contested, first lost to Genoa, and later ceded to Venice, and then the island fell to a Turkish invasion in 1571. It is from the ensuing three-century period of Ottoman rule that most of the present Turkish Cypriot Minority can be traced. Muslim settlers were brought to the Island, the feudal system was dismantled, and all remnants of the Latin church were suppressed in favor of the Eastern Orthodox version. The Ottomans relied upon the archbishop of Cyprus to collect taxes and impose order, which contributed to rebellions by the Turkish settlers in the 1700s and 1800s. In 1878, the Cyprus Convention established British administration of the island while retaining Turkish sovereignty, so that the British could establish a base from which to protect the Ottoman Empire's possessions from possible Russian incursion. However, during World War I the British and their former Turkish allies found themselves on opposing sides, and the British annexed the island, eventually declaring it a crown colony in 1925. The Greek population was at first amenable to British annexation, hoping that this would eventually lead to enosis (union with Greece). However, the strong minority population of Turks was equally adamant in its desire for taksim (separation), and since that time these two competing drives have led to political agitation and violence. The years between 1947 and 1959 were marked by demonstrations, bombings, and other such violence, as enosis and taksim factions vied with one another and also against movements toward self-government. Finally, with United Nations involvement, Greece and Turkey settled the issue by establishing independent republic status for Cyprus, which would not allow the partition of the island nor political or economic union with any other state. The new constitution provided for a sharing of administrative, executive, and judicial functions between the two ethnic communities, but its implementation was problematic and caused more violence. In 1964, the United Nations intervened, sending a UN peacekeeping force to control the situation. Nevertheless, conflict between the two Cypriot populations increased, troops from both Greece and Turkey were smuggled in, and throughout the period there were frequent threats of invasion by one or the other of the two larger nations. In 1974, following an assassination attempt against the Cypriot president on the part of Greece, Turkish forces invaded the island, eventually succeeding in occupying 37 percent of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot representative on the island declared the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but this independent status has remained unrecognized by all nations other than Turkey. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic covers 3,400 square kilometers and in 1990 had an estimated population of 171,000, 99 percent of whom are Turks.


Cyprus is, and has traditionally been, largely agricultural and rural in orientation. For historic and economic reasons, there are few coastal settlementsthe island was often plagued by pirates, and the lack of fish meant that there was little Economic incentive for settling on the coast. Houses in the Villages are two-to four-room structures of sun-dried mud brick or stone, with long, flat roofs also made of mud. Village settlements were and remain ethnically exclusive, although in the cities such strict divisions necessarily broke down. Nonetheless, even in the cities, there tends to be a marked division into ethnically homogeneous enclaves. Some 40 percent of the population lived in the cities as of 1970, and that ratio has been steadily increasing.


Although agriculture is the principal economic activity on Cyprus, it is inefficient and incapable of providing full employment even for the small village populations. Principal crops are wheat, barley, and citrus fruits, grown on small, scattered plots. Livestock are kept, particularly sheep and goats. The Greek Cypriote raise pigs. Industry is limited on Cyprus and focuses on copper and iron pyrite mining. Petroleum refining, the manufacture of cement and asbestos Products, and electricity are currently being developed, as are light manufacturing enterprises. The Turkish Cypriot sector is today nearly completely divorced from that of the Greeks, and it has had greater difficulties in development. The tourist trade, which had been of great importance to the economy since 1960, suffered greatly during the period of the Turkish land occupations, but it has been recovering rapidly in the Greek Cypriot portion of the island.

Agricultural labor is considered an exclusively male activity, and, except in times of necessity, a "proper" woman will avoid such work. Land is privately owned and is cultivated by its owner. The scattered, piecemeal nature of farm plots Directly derives from the fact that a man's property has traditionally been divided up among his heirs, rather than kept together as a shared family patrimony.


The Greek Cypriote reckon kinship bilaterally, but kinship ties beyond the nuclear family or the three-generation-deep household are unimportant. The relationship between god-child and godparent is expected to be a close one and to endure throughout the lifetimes of its members. Ceremonial kinship establishes a koumbari relationship; individuals who stand in ceremonial kinship to one another are prohibited from marriage to one another. Among Turkish Cypriote, Kinship is reckoned patrilineally.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The family is the fundamental social unit of Greek Cypriot society, and its importance is reflected in the practice of arranged marriages. Engagements of two to eight years are common, and marriages must be celebrated in the church. The Greek Cypriot bride brings a dowry, which constitutes her portion of the familial inheritance; among Turkish Cypriote, the dowry does not occur. In the countryside, there is a strong tendency toward village endogamy. The church prohibits marriage between second cousins or more closely related blood kin, and tradition prohibits marriage Between individuals sharing in a koumbari relationship, as mentioned earlier. Divorce is neither socially nor religiously countenanced.

Domestic Unit. The household is usually composed of a single nuclear family, although it can include the parents of either husband or wife as well, and sometimes it also includes newly married offspring of the core hueband-wife pair, Depending on a number of circumstances, mostly economic. The household is patriarchalthat is, ite oldest male Member has the strongest voice in the ordering of familial affairs. There is a strong emphasis on family honor, and each Individual member is held to represent that honor. Women of the household are thought to embody the most important potential threat to that honorparticularly in the possibility that they may comport themselves immodestly. Consequently, the males of the household act as the public family spokesmen and work and live in the more public sphere, while the women are expected to confine themselves as far as possible to the domestic sphere.

Inheritance. The estate of an individual is shared equally by all his or her offspring. However, daughters receive their portion in the form of a dowry, and land tends to pass to sons.

Socialization. Child rearing during the early years of life is the province of the mother and other female members of the household old enough to lend a hand. The family is the focus of all social values, the most important being the principles of (family) loyalty, honor, and shame. This emphasis on familial honor is shared by Turkish Cypriots, who aleo highly value principles of discipline, religiosity, propriety, and hospitality. A child's formal education begins at age 5, when he or she begins six years of compulsory elementary education. The educational systems of the Turkish and Greek sectors are segregated and separately administered. Secondary education extends to vocational and technical training, much of which is offered free, but there is no university on Cyprus. Students wishing to pursue education at the university level go abroad, most commonly to Greece, Turkey, Britain, or the United States.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In the Greek Cypriot communities, individual families and the relations established between families on the basis of friendship or ceremonial kinship ties provide the framework for organized action. Leadership Beyond the family level is achieved by establishing a reputation for reliability, wisdom, strength, success in business, and honor.

Political Organization. The Republic of Cyprus, formed in 1960, adopted a constitution that provided for the election of a president (chosen from the Greek Cypriot community) and a vice president (chosen from the Turkish Cypriote), each to serve five-year terms; a cabinet; and an elected house of representatives. The ethnic composition of the last two bodies was to be regulated by constitutional provisions as well, reflecting the majority position of Greek ethnics in the general populace. The events of the 1970s and 1980s have produced a number of changes, particularly the declaration of the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983. The most apparent change in the recognized constitutional government has been an increase in the number of governmental positions held by ethnic Greeks. Local government officials are either appointed (district officers) or elected (mayors, council members).

Social Control. Both the Greek and Turkish communities have a formal police body, and a UN civil police force acts as liaison between the two. Roman law forms the basis for the formal Cypriot justice system; community courts are still in use in Turkish communities, although the government Officially abolished them in 1964.

Conflict. Cyprus has had a turbulent history over the last three decades, with ethnic separatism often leading to violence. The UN has been involved with the republic, in mediating and peacekeeping roles, since the 1959 Zurich-London agreements that led to the republic's formation. Because of the breakdown in relations between the Turkish and Greek communities beginning in the early 1960s, the UN has had to maintain a continuous presence on the island since 1963.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Turkish Cypriote are Sunni Muslims, while Greek Cypriote are practitioners in the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The Orthodox Church of Cyprus is a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it was granted auto-cephalous status in a.d. 488. The Greek church emphasizes the mysteries of faith and the performance of ritual. The veneration of icons is a strong characteristic of the faith. Turkish Cypriot beliefs are also devoutly held, but they place greater emphasis on "works" than do precepts of the Greek church. Fasting, almsgiving, and the making of a pilgrimage to Mecca are all important, as is true throughout Muslim society. There are a few Maronite Catholics from Syria, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans on Cyprus as well. The small Armenian Population participates in the Armenian (Gregorian) Apostolic Church.

Religious Practitioners. In the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the highest spiritual authority is held by the archbishop, who, during the Ottoman Empire, was also made responsible for the secular well-being of the faithful and given the title of ethnarch. The spiritual leader for the Muslim community is called the mufti.

Ceremonies. Within the Orthodox Greek communities, ritual expression accompanies the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, confession, Communion, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction. Easter is the most important of the ceremonial occasions on the liturgical calendar. For the Turks, Ramadan is of special importance.

Arts. There is a strong respect for the arts in Cypriot Culture, and cultural support is provided through both Individuals and the government. Theater, writing, painting, and sculpture are strongly encouraged.


Attalides, Michael A. (1976). "Forms of Peasant Incorporation in Cyprus during the Last Century." In Regional Variation in Modern Greece and Cyprus: Toward a Perspective on the Ethnography of Modern Greece, edited by Muriel Dimen and Ernestine Friedl. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 268:363-378. New York.

Attalides, Michael A. (1977). Cyprus Reviewed. Nicosia: Jus Cypri Association.

Durrell, Lawrence (1957). Bitter Lemons. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Ertekun, N. M. (1984). The Cyprus Dispute and the Birth of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

King, Russell, and Sarah Ladbury (1982). "The Cultural Construction of Political Reality: Greek and Turkish Cyprus since 1974." Anthropological Quarterly 55:1-16.

Loizos, Peter (1981). The Heart Grown Bitter: A Chronicle of Cypriot War Refugees. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.