A bitterly divided island that has rejected an opportunity for reunification
The island of Cyprus has two main mountain ranges. The Kyrenian Mountains extend along the northern coast, while the Troodos Mountains are in the south and centre. Between these is the most fertile part of the country, the Mesaorian plain, which includes the capital, Nicosia.
Cyprus is sharply divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Greeks are still in a large majority, virtually all of them living in the south and centre. The Turks are confined to the north; although many have emigrated, others have arrived from Turkey.
The Greek part of the island has shifted decisively away from agriculture and now depends heavily on service industries. The most important is tourism. More than two million tourists arrive each year, half from the UK—accounting for around 12% of GDP. The other main service activity is business and finance, which includes 30 international banks. The economy in the north lags far behind: the main activity is agriculture, growing the traditional export crops of citrus fruit and potatoes.
At times, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have coexisted peacefully, and the constitution adopted at independence in 1960 involved explicit power-sharing. But by 1964 there were violent confrontations and the UN sent in a peacekeeping force, which is still there, though now down to under 1,000. Matters came to a head after a military coup in 1974. Turkey sent in 30,000 troops to protect Turkish Cypriots and established control over the northern one-third. People moved from one part of the island to the other.
In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash proclaimed the north to be the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a claim recognized only by Turkey. The rest of the world recognizes the Republic of Cyprus (ROC), even if it controls only 57% of the territory.
In 2004, the UN proposed a loose federation. While the Turkish part of the island voted in favour, the Greek part voted against. As a result when Cyprus entered the EU in May 2004 the Turkish part was excluded.
Hopes for reunification were revived in 2005 when a more conciliatory figure, Mehmet Ali Talat, was elected president in the north. They further improved with the 2008 election as president of the ROC of Demetris Christofias of the (communist) Progressive Party of the Working People (Akel). But if hardliners win the 2010 elections in the north this window will close.
www.cyprus.gov.cy/portal/portal.nsf/dmlcitizen_en/dmlcitizen_en?OpenDocument Government - official portal in Greek
www.kktcb.eu/ Turkish president's site, in Turkish
Land area: 9,000 sq. km.
Population: 0.9 million—urban 70%
Capital city: Nicosia, 307,000
People: Greek 77%, Turkish 18%, other 5%
Language: Greek, Turkish, English
Religion: Greek Orthodox 78%, Muslim 18%, other 4%
Life expectancy: 80 years
GDP per capita: $PPP 24,789
Currency: Cyprus pound
Major exports: Citrus fruit, potatoes, grapes