PRONUNCIATION: GREEK SIP-ree-ahts
LANGUAGE: Greek; Turkish; English
RELIGION: Greek Orthodox; Islam; Maronitism; Armenian Apostolicism; Roman Catholicism
The name Cyprus comes from the Greek word for copper ( kypros ). The island's rich copper deposits first appealed to the foreign powers from the eastern Mediterranean coast. The conflicts among these rival groups played a major role in the turbulent history of Cyprus.
The island's Greek heritage dates back to the Achaeans from southern Greece, who settled there between 2000 and 1600 BC . Other early foreign powers that occupied Cyprus included the Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans, Persians, and British. Turkey dominated the island from AD 1571 to 1878. Next came a period of British administration. After World War I (1914–18), Britain gained formal possession of the island. People of both Greek and Turkish heritage live on Cyprus today.
Cyprus's Greek community has long desired enosis, political union of Cyprus with Greece, for a long time. This demand has touched off political violence from time to time between Greek and Turkish factions starting with the riots of 1931. In 1959, the two groups agreed to the creation of an independent Cypriot nation with equal representation for both of them. However, political unrest continued through the 1960s. In 1974, the Greek National guard overthrew the government of Archbishop Makarios III (1913–77). The Turkish military then invaded and took over more than one-third of Cyprus.
In 1983, the Turkish-controlled sector proclaimed its independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, it is recognized only by Turkey. The Republic of Cyprus is recognized by the United Nations and other governments, but it controls only the Greek Cypriot areas of the island. Leaders of the two communities have not been able to resolve their problems over the partitioned (divided) island.
Following Sicily and Sardinia, Cyprus is the third largest island in the eastern Mediterranean. Its landscape is flat with little forest area. Mount Olympus, famous as the ancient home of the Greek gods, is the highest point on the island. Today it is visited by skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer.
The Cypriot population is estimated at 750,000.
Greek, Turkish, and English are the official languages of Cyprus. They are standard in schools and used by the media. The Greek spoken by Cypriots in some ways resembles ancient Greek more than does modern Greek. For example, Greeks from mainland Greece say ti kanete? for "how are you?" while Cypriots say tambu kanete? Similarly, che for "and" is the Cypriot pronunciation for the standard Greek ke.
Greek Cypriots strongly support English as their second language, largely because the island was a British colony until 1960.
Despite differences in pronunciation, the Greek Cypriots share the twenty-four-letter alphabet of the Greek mainland, which appears and is pronounced as follows:
|A α||alfa||a as in alfalfa|
|B b||veeta||v as in victory|
|Γ γ||gamma||g as in language|
|D d||thelta||th as in the|
|E ε||epsilon||e as in edible|
|Z ζ||zeeta||z as in zebra|
|H η||eeta||e as in eat|
|Θ θ||theeta||th as in thread|
|I ι||yota||y as in yoke|
|K κ||kapa||k as in kitchen|
|Λ λ||lambda||l as in lamb|
|M μ||me||m as in meat|
|N ν||knee||n as in neat|
|Ξ ξ||xee||x as in extra|
|O o||oh||o as in on|
|Π π||pea||p as in pear|
|P ρ||row||r as in rodeo|
|Σ σ||sigma||s as in seat|
|T τ||taf||t as in tax|
|Y υ||upsilon||e as in bee|
|Φ φ||fee||f as in find|
|X χ||hee||h as in hair|
|Ψ ψ||psi||psi sound as in pepsi|
|Ω ω||omega||o as in oat|
Digenis Akritas is a character from an ancient epic poem whose author is not known. Digenis often battled the deathly grip of Charon, the ferryman on the river between life and death, before he finally died. He is connected with the creation of the Kyrenia Mountain range in northeastern Cyprus. It is said that these mountains were made when Digenis, who was drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, grasped for land, leaving the imprint of one hand on it. The range, which resembles the five fingers of a hand, was given the name Pentadaktylos (five-fingered).
The major religion of the Greek Cypriot population is Greek Orthodox. However, its followers have lost their religious fervor to some extent. The Church of Cyprus has the same Orthodox traditions and liturgy as the church on the Greek mainland.
However, the Cypriot Orthodox service does not use a choir. The balcony, or choir loft, found in most churches is reserved for women and is called the ginekonitis. On the ground level of the church, men usually also sit on one side and women on the other.
Most Cypriot holidays revolve around the Orthodox Church and the celebration of Easter.
The Easter season (beginning in February) has long, elaborate services and ceremonies. The climax is Holy Week (March or April), which brings most Cypriots to church every evening. The Resurrection, the climax of Holy Week, is celebrated at the end of Holy Saturday. After midnight, families feast on a "breakfast" of lemon-based chicken-and-rice soup ( avogolemono ), along with hard-boiled eggs that are dyed red to commemorate the blood of Christ.
On Easter Sunday, the midday meal is grilled outdoors and shared with relatives who visit for the day. The meal usually consists of a whole lamb, or goat, or some other meat. Children often receive a chocolate egg. In the twentieth century, gifts have been added to the Easter celebration. Many Cypriots stay home from work on the Monday and Tuesday following Easter.
Kataklysmos, a holiday exclusive to Cyprus, is celebrated on Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. It is a Christian celebration of the biblical Flood. There are poetry readings, music, and dancing as part of an outdoor fair.
Nonreligious holidays include Greek Independence Day (March 25), Independence Day (October 1), and Greek National Day (October 28).
Engagement, marriage, and childbirth are events that mark a person's coming into adulthood. Girls formally become women through the vow of marriage. For men, military service is a rite of passage. All males eighteen years of age must enter the military; they serve for a period of twenty-six months.
Cypriots have gained a reputation as very hospitable, pleasant people.
Greek Cypriots generally maintain close ties with friends of the same sex. Men often gather together at cafes to play an intense game of tavali (backgammon) and to talk politics. Except for tourists, though, women are strictly excluded from these cafes.
When a man marries, he forms a strong bond with his koumbaro (best man), who also baptizes the first child. A woman also forms a close friendships with her koumbara, or main wedding attendant.
Houses and apartments in Cyprus are equipped with the conveniences found in any modern city. Families typically live close to their relatives within the city and share a village house as well. Movement of people into the cities increased after fertile agricultural regions were seized in the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Life expectancy (the average number of years lived) on Cyprus is seventy-four years for men and seventy-eight years for women.
Traditionally, Cypriots first defined themselves through their families. A Cypriot household typically includes a husband, wife, and unmarried children. Grandparents usually live nearby; if they are in declining health, they live with their grown children. Nursing homes are seldom used, and only when the aged parent is too ill or weak for home care. Grandparents have a special, respected role in Greek Cypriot families, and are revered by their grandchildren. Grandfathers often take their grandchildren to and from school. Grandmothers help with most child-rearing tasks while mothers work.
In the past, a Cypriot wedding consisted of a whole week of festivities. Weddings today are celebrated for only half a day. Customs include the elaborate dressing of the bride and groom, the church service, the ceremonial preparation of the couple's bed, and an elaborate wedding reception. The final dance of the evening is the choros tou androjinou, with the married couple alone on a dance floor strewn with paper money.
Separation and divorce are more common today and are better accepted than they were in the past.
Cypriots wear modern Western fashions. Jeans, the popular garb for teenagers, easily cost $100 per pair, with coordinating shirts priced at more than $50. Women also prefer denim clothes, and often wear cotton leggings. Hand-tailored suits are popular among professional men.
Traditional Cypriot clothing is saved for weddings and festivals. Men wear loose black vrakas (knee pants), dark vests with bright designs, and tall, black boots.
The rich food of Cyprus, mainly Greek in flavor, also shows Turkish, Arabic, and British influences. A typical table of mezedhes (little delicacies) will include halumi (goat cheese), taramosalata (smoked cod eggs), kleftiko (slow-roasted lamb), and moussaka, a casserole of minced lamb and potatoes. Koupepia, or grape leaves, are a favorite in villages as well as in cities:
The usual morning meal for Cypriots includes toast topped with a slice of cheese and perhaps honey. A more traditional breakfast is bread with tomatoes, olives, and halloumi, a cheese made only in Cyprus.
Cypriot children begin their education at age five and a half. Unlike American children, they are required to attend school only to the age of fifteen. The Greek Cypriot school system has four levels, beginning with pre-primary education for children from two to five and a half years old. More than half of the eligible Greek Cypriot children attend preschools. Primary school covers a six-year basic plan of studies. English is a required course for the last two years. Students continue on to high school. The first level, which is called gymnasium , is free, and required. The final three years, called lyceum , are taken only by choice. There are five fields of study: classics, science, economics, commercial/secretarial training, and foreign languages.
Higher education (college) and specialized training for professionals such as teachers, technicians, engineers, foresters, nurses, and health inspectors are offered by technical and vocational colleges. The University of Cyprus in the capital city of Nicosia enrolled its first students in September 1992. Tuition is free for Cypriots who take a full load of courses.
Cultural Services, an agency established by the Ministry of Education, ensures the preservation of Cypriot culture. It finances and promotes such groups as the Cyprus State Chamber Orchestra, the Cyprus State Youth Orchestra, and the National Gallery. It also keeps archives (preserved records) for writers, painters, and sculptors. Cultural Services also gives awards for literature, donates Cypriot books to libraries abroad, and buys works by Cypriot artists.
The Cyprus Department of Antiquities excavates and preserves historic sites and artifacts, including theaters, castles, and churches. The ancient theaters of Salamis, Soli, Kourion, and Paphos have been cultural centers since the Middle Ages. They have become the settings for classical and modern plays from around the world.
The Greek Cypriot labor force numbers about 285,500. Over half of the workers are in the service sector, and under one-third work in industry. Jobs that gain the highest respect are professional positions: doctors, lawyers, civil servants, teachers, dentists, and businessmen. Lower-paid workers include manual laborers, skilled craftsmen, and manufacturing and construction workers. While they are considered lower-class, farmers are usually wealthy because the land in Cyprus is valuable.
Greek Cypriot men are strongly drawn to soccer (called football), as both spectators and players. The island has been a participant in World Cup matches.
The hunting season also attracts a throng of Cypriots. The countryside may host as many as 40,000 hunters on Wednesdays or Sundays during the season.
The natural resources of the island offer Cypriots of all ages a variety of seasonal sports activities. The three ski runs on Mount Olympus draw skiers from January through mid-March.
Like many tourists, Cypriots enjoy packing the car with plenty of food, and heading with relatives to the mountains. During the warmer seasons, swimming is enjoyed on the island's many beaches.
Athletic clubs appeal to young professional people. Women usually participate in same-sex aerobics classes and perform some weight lifting. Men do more weight lifting, in addition to running and working out with a punching bag.
For more than a century, Cyprus's lefkaritiki embroidered linen has been marketed throughout the world. It takes its name from the city where it is made, Pano Lefkara. It is crafted from Irish linen. Each piece is unique and requires several weeks of work. This linen can be quite costly.
Official handicraft centers have been opened in Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, and Nicosia for the purpose of preserving folk arts.
Cyprus has developed into a brokering center for narcotics from nearby Lebanon and Turkey. (Cypriots themselves are not usually users of the heroin and marijuana, which are shipped to Europe.) Cypriot police have joined with other European police forces to try to cut off drug trafficking. Apart from this problem, Cyprus has a low crime rate in comparison with neighboring Western European countries.
Altman, Jack. Cyprus. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Berlitz International, 1993.
Cyprus in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, Geography Department, 1992.
Fox, Mary Virginia. Cyprus, Enchantment of the World. Chicago: Children's Press, 1993.
Solsten, Eric, ed. Cyprus: A Country Study. 4th ed. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993.