Cypriot americans

by Olivia Miller


The Republic of Cyprus is an inland country about the size of Connecticut, measuring 3,572 square miles (9,251 square kilometers). Located at the crossroads of the Levant, as the eastern end of the Mediterranean is known, Cyprus is the third-largest island in Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia. Located 386 kilometers north of Egypt, 97 kilometers west of Syria, and 64 kilometers south of Turkey, this former British colony achieved independence in August 1960. The Republic of Cyprus is partitioned, with the southern part of the country under the control of the Cyprus government and the northern 37 percent of the land under the autonomous Turkish-Cypriot administration, supported by the presence of Turkish troops.

Nicosia, the capital city, is divided to provide areas of control to each of the two major population segments. Other major cities include Limassol, Larnaca, Famagusta, Paphos, Kyrenia, and Morphou. Cyprus's terrain is a central plain with mountain ranges to the north and south. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total population in Cyprus in 1999 was 754,064, including the northern population of 175,000 Turkish Cypriots. The country's flag is a white background with a gold island's shape centered above two crossed olive branches.

The three principal languages spoken in the Republic of Cyprus are Greek, Turkish, and English. In the early 1990s, five ethnic communities lived on the island: Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians, and Latins. About 80 percent of the country's citizens are Greek Cypriots. Greek and Turkish Cypriots share many customs, but maintain distinct identities based on religion, language, and close ties with Greece and Turkey.


Cypriot culture is one of the oldest in the Mediterranean region. The discovery of copper on the island around 3000 B.C. led to more frequent visits from traders, as well as invasions by more powerful neighbors. Cypriots were influenced by traders from the Minoan civilization, who developed a script for Cypriot commerce. By the end of the 2000 B.C., a distinctively Hellenic culture had developed on Cyprus.

The island was ruled successively by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Beginning in 364 A.D., Byzantium ruled Cyprus for 800 years, during which Cypriots suffered from three centuries of Arab wars. These wars led to the deaths of thousands of Cypriots and the destruction of Cypriot cities, which were never rebuilt. After Richard the Lion-Hearted briefly possessed Cyprus during the Crusades, the island came under Frankish control in the late twelfth century. It was ceded to the Venetian Republic in 1489 and conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571. During this time, nearly 6,000 Turkish households were re-settled into approximately 100 empty villages in the Mesaoria, Mazoto, and Paphos regions of Cyprus. The Ottomans allowed religious authorities in Cyprus to govern their own non-Muslim minorities, reinforcing the position of the Orthodox Church and the union of the ethnic Greek population.

Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the three centuries of Ottoman rule remained after control of Cyprus was yielded to Great Britain in 1878. The British had been offered Cyprus three times (in 1833, 1841, and 1845) before accepting it in 1878 to prevent Russian expansion into the area. At the time of British arrival under the Cyprus Defense Alliance between Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, approximately 95,000 Turkish Cypriots lived on the island. Many, however, moved to Turkey during the 1920s. The island was formally annexed by the United Kingdom in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I. It became a British colony in 1925.

After almost a century of British rule, Cyprus gained its independence in 1960 under The Treaty of Guarantee, which provided that Greece, Turkey, and Britain would ensure the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Independence was spearheaded by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group that pushed for political union with Greece. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president. Almost immediately, the two communities disagreed over the implementation and interpretation of the constitution, and by December 1963, Turkish Cypriot ceased participation in the central government. Nearly 80 percent of the population, who were ethnically Greek, wanted enosis, or union with Greece. Ethnic Turks, however, who made up a little less than 20 percent of the population, wanted haksim, or partition from Greece. United Nations peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964 and remain there as of this printing. Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence during 1967 and 1968, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed. Because of its strategic location and its impact on the national interests of Greece and Turkey, Cyprus has led NATO allies close to war several times over its control.

Believing Makarios had abandoned enosis, the Athens military sponsored a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots in July 1974. Citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, Turkey intervened militarily to protect Turkish Cypriots, sending troops to take control of the northern portion of the island. Many Greek Cypriots fled south, while many Turkish Cypriots fled north. Some 30,000 Turkish mainland troops still occupy the northern island, while 10,000 Greek Cypriot national guardsmen protect the south. Since then, the country has been divided, with the government of Cyprus controlling southern region of the island, and the Turkish Cypriot administration controlling the northern region of Cyprus.

In 1983, the Turkish-Cypriot administration proclaimed itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," recognized only by Turkey. United Nations peacekeeping forces maintain a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, there were no violent conflicts between 1974 and 1995. However, in 1996, there were violent clashes, which led to the death of two demonstrators and escalated Greek-Turkish tensions.

There remains little movement of citizens and essentially no trading of goods or services between the two parts of the island. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continue, however, under the auspices of the United Nations, whose efforts focus on creating a bi-zonal, bi-communal state under a single federated government.


Cyprus reports that there was emigration to the United States as early as the 1930s, but there is no available data before 1955. The earliest Greek immigrants arrived in 1768 and settled at New Smyrna near Saint Augustine, Florida, in a colony of 450 Greeks. Turkish American immigration, is not well documented. It is assumed that the Turkish Cypriots who came to the United States between 1820 and 1860 were fleeing religious or political persecution.


The periods of greatest emigration were between 1955-1959, the 1960s, and between 1974-1979. These were times of political instability and socioeconomic insecurity. Between 1955 and 1959, the period of anti-colonial struggle, 29,000 Cypriots (5 percent of the population) left the island. In the 1960s, during periods of economic recession and intercommunal

"I knew then that the United States was the country of opportunity, and since I was a child of a poor family, and I knew I had to more or less do it on my own, I felt this was the best place. And I had a brother here–he came in '29, I think. My brother became an American citizen, and after that he arranged for me to get my visa and come over to the United States."

Nikos Liadis cited in American Mosiac: The Immigrant Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived, by Joan Morrison and Charlotte Fox Zabusky (E.P. Dutton, New York, 1980).

strife, 50,000 Cypriots (8.5 percent of the island's population) left Cyprus. Most of these immigrants were young males, usually unemployed and from rural areas; only 5 percent were university graduates. Although 75 percent immigrated to Britain, and another 10 percent went to Australia, about 5 percent went to North America. After the 1974 invasion by Greek Cypriots and up until 1979, 51,500 Cypriots left as immigrants, and another 15,000 became temporary workers abroad. The new wave of immigrants had Australia as the most common destination (35 percent), followed by North America, Greece, and Britain. According to U.S. statistics, Cypriot immigration peaked at 828 in 1976, with the number of immigrants dropping to 291 in 1984.


In 1984, 274 Cypriots became American citizens. Of this group, 109 settled in New York city, 47 settled in New Jersey, 21 in California, 13 each in Maryland and Virginia, and 10 each in Florida and Illinois. Many Cypriot Americans live in San Diego and Los Angeles. Another large community settled in New Jersey, in Flemington, Brickton and Wayside. According to the 1990 U.S. Census there are 4,897 people of Cypriot ancestry living in the United States.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Cypriot Americans are family-oriented and hard working. Greek Cypriots tend to settle where there are established Greek communities, and these surroundings help immigrants become accustomed to the new culture. Turkish Cypriot Americans often face a more difficult assimilation, as many Americans have negatively stereotyped Turks as "Islamic terrorists." The earliest Turk immigrants settled in industrial cities and found factory work. A large part of the American Turkish community, however, returned to Turkey before the Depression during the 1930s. Today, the Turkish American community is small and closely-knit. Turkish Cypriot Americans tend to be more accepted among American Turks than among Greek Cypriot Americans.


Greek poets and playwrights frequently mention the early influences of Cyprus. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was said to have been born out of the sea foam on Cyprus's west coast. The most important temple to Aphrodite was built at Paphos in Cyprus, where the love goddess was worshipped for centuries. Homer mentioned Aphrodite and a Cypriot king, Kinyras of Paphosin, in the Iliad and Odyssey.

Greek Cypriots are proud of their Greek heritage. Greek Cypriot Americans continue strong church traditions, such as abstaining from meat, fish or dairy products during the Lent season. Easter is the most celebrated religious holiday for Greek Cypriot Americans. Avgolemono soup, made from eggs and lemons in chicken stock, is traditional Easter fare, as are the flaounes, savory Easter cakes that contain a special Easter cheese, eggs, spices and herbs all wrapped in a yeast pastry.

In 1970, American sociologists Marvin Gerst and James H. Tenzel studied the two major ethnic communities of Cyprus and found that Turkish Cypriots value a society in which roles are clearly defined. For example, they regard public service as a more prestigious (though poor-paying) occupation than a successful business career. Turkish Cypriot Americans, though not strict Muslims, also often become a part of the Muslim community in America. Their values suggest that adjustments to American culture are more difficult for them than for Greek Cypriot Americans.


Cypriots have many proverbs: Everyone pulls the quilt over to his side; The hardest crusts always fall to the toothless; Work is hard, but no work is harder; So long as he has a tooth left a fox won't be pious; The fox in her sleep dreams always of chickens; If the baby doesn't cry, Mother won't suckle; One does not go to Hell to light a cigarette; A fool throws a stone into the sea and a hundred wise men cannot pull it out; Every gypsy praises his own basket; and, There is no borrowing a sword in war time.


The distinctive dishes created by Cypriots use Greek ideas mixed with influences from other countries, including Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, France, and Britain. Cypriots cook with less oil than their Mediterranean neighbors and their diet is healthy. A popular food is halloumi, the traditional white cheese of Cyprus, which has been produced on the island for centuries. It is a semi-hard cheese prepared from sheep's milk, with mint added to it. Halloumi is delicious when grilled or fried. Traditional Greek foods are favorites of Greek Cypriots, such as baklava, made from phyllo pastry, nuts, honey and syrup.

Cypriots drink a lot of coffee, and the beverage is made individually in small, long handled pots, called mbrikia. One heaped teaspoon of finely ground fresh coffee is added to a demitasse of cold water. Sugar is added before heating the coffee. Cypriots order coffee glykos (sweet), metrios (medium sweet), or sketos (unsweetened). The mbrikia are heated on the stove, and when the sugar has dissolved, the coffee is allowed to come to the boil, forming a creamy froth kaimaki on top. As the froth turns in from the sides and the coffee begins to rise in the pot, it is removed from the heat and a little is poured into each cup to distribute the froth. Cyprus coffee is strong and is always served with a glass of cold water. It contains no spices and leaves a little sediment in the bottom of the cup.

Turkish Cypriot cuisine owes its heritage to a mixture of Mediterranean, Southern European and Middle Eastern influences. Local dishes are delicious, particularly the meze, a specialty of Cyprus that consists of a large number of cold and hot hors d'oeuvres such as salads, meats, vegetables, and fish dishes. It is eaten either as an appetizer or as a main course. Other typical dishes include choban salatasi (peasant-style salad), one of the most popular salads in North Cyprus. Light, refreshing and easy to make, it makes a perfect lunch under an olive tree by the sea. Ingredients include tomatoes, onions, green peppers, olives, cucumber, halloumi cheese, oregano and olive oil. Yalanci dolma is vine leaves stuffed with rice, onions, and tomatoes. Shish kebab is marinated lamb, skewered and grilled over charcoal. Musakka is layers of mince, potatoes, and aubergines baked in the oven with cheese topping. Cacik is yogurt with cucumber and mint. Ahtapot salatasi is octopus salad.

Desserts and pastries from Turkish Cyprus include: ceviz macunu, made from green walnuts in syrup; lokum, known as Turkish Delight; turunch macunu, a delicacy made of bitter oranges in syrup; and sucuk, a traditional Cypriot sweet, made of thickened grape juice and almonds.

North Cyprus produces a small number of wines, best known of which are aphrodite, and kantara. Both wines are light and fruity and make good accompaniments to local dishes. The country also produces its own sherry called monarch. A locally famous drink is the anise seed based raki, and brandy sour is another favorite with the Turkish Cypriots.


Traditional Cypriot clothing included simple cottons and silks with little variation from village to village. The outer garments were made from alatzia, a durable cotton cloth like ticking, usually with fine vertical or crossed stripes in deep red, blue, yellow, orange, or green on a white ground. Men's shirts and women's dresses for everyday wear were generally of blue alatzia with white stripes. Black was substituted for blue in the cloth used for the jackets of elderly men, while those of younger men were of standard red-striped alatzia zibounisimi. There were local variations for the festival costumes, which had a characteristic color combination and were named according to their source of origin, such as maratheftikes, morphitoudes, lapithkiotikes and interalia.

In medieval times, Cyprus was known for its silk bridal chemises and undergarments. Though the fabric varied from region to region, the fine pure silk, and the silk and cotton taista and itaredes of Nicosia and the towns of Lapithos and Karavas in Karpasia were impressive. Everyday chemises were made of white, hand-woven cottons. There were few distinct regional differences in the male costume of Cyprus, which generally was the densely pleated baggy trousers, vra'ka, the waistcoat, yilekko, and jacket, zibouni. The Cypriot female costume was an outer garment, the chemise, and the distinctive long pantaloons caught around the ankle. The saya, a kind of frock open at the front and sides, was common in most urban and rural regions of Cyprus until the nineteenth century. The foustani, a one-piece, waisted and pleated dress, was the preferred over-garment in the rural areas of Cyprus well into the 1950s.


The traditional Turkish folk dances of Cyprus vary significantly based on the dancers and musicians, the region of origin, and the theme. The names for dances also change with these variables. Many are known by the accompanying items, including wooden spoons, sword and shield, knife and drinking glass. There are Turkish Cypriot folk dances such as the circle, semi-circle, one-lined, and double-lined. Few of these dances are performed solely by either men or women. Traditional Greek dances may be danced in a circle, in a straight line, or between couples.

Varieties of Greek Cypriot music include dimotika, laika and evropaika. Dimotika are traditional rural folk songs often accompanied by a clarinet, lute, violin, dulcimer, and drum. Laika is an urban style song, developed at the turn of the century, which may feature the bouzouki, a long-necked string instrument. Evropaika is Eurostyle music set to Greek words that is popular with the older generations.


Greek Cypriots celebrate many Greek Orthodox holy days throughout the year, in addition to Christmas, Easter, and New Year's Day. New Year's Day is known as St. Basil's Day in Cyprus. To celebrate that day, a special cake, called vasilopitta, is baked by each family, and, when it is cut, the person who finds a coin in his slice is promised luck for the next year. Greek Cypriot Americans celebrate Cyprus Independence Day on October 1, and many celebrate Greek Independence Day on March 25, commemorating Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. Turkish Cypriot Americans observe both civil and religious holidays. In addition, Turkish Americans began a unique holiday in 1984, celebrating Turkish American Day with a parade down New York's Fifth Avenue.


A British medical study found that 17 percent of Cypriots suffer from a high frequency of hemoglobin disorder. Carrier couples have a one in four chance in every pregnancy of having a child with a major thalassaemia, a hereditary anemia due to genetically transmitted abnormalities. The disease is characterized by mongoloid faces, fatigues, severe anemia, enlargement of the heart, and slight jaundice. Prognosis varies, but the younger the child at the onset of the disease, the more unfavorable the outcome.


Modern Greek contains 24 characters with five vowels and four vowel sounds. It is written in Attic characters, their names, transliterations, and pronunciations are: "Aa"-alpha/a ("ah"); "Bβ"-beta/v ("v"); "Gg"-gamma/g ("gh," "y"); "Dd"-delta/d, dh ("th"); "Ee"-epsilon/e ("eh"); "Zz"-zeta/z ("z"); "Hh"-eta/e ("ee"); "Qq"-theta/th; ("th"); "Ii"-yiota/i ("ee"); "Kk"-kappa/k, c ("k"); "Ll"-lambda/l ("l"); "Mm"-mu/m ("m"); "Nn"-nee/n ("n"); "Xx"-kse/x ("ks"); "Oo"-omicron/o ("oh"); "Pp"-pee/p ("p"); "Rr"-rho/r ("r"); "Ss"-sigma/s ("s"); "Tt"-taf/t ("t"); "Uu"-ypsilon/y ("ee"); "Ff"-fee/ph ("f"); "Cc"khee/h ("ch") [as in "ach"]); "Yy"-psee/ps ("ps" [as in "lapse"]); "Ww"-omega/o ("oh").

For Greek Cypriots, the "b" sound of standard Greek is usually replaced with a "p," so that a Cypriot says "tapella" for "tabella," meaning sign or placard. The letter combination sigmi-iota (s-i) is pronounced as sh. When "k" begins a word it sounds more like "g" and the letter "t" sounds more like "d."

Turkish is the official language of North Cyprus, but English is the standard second language for Cypriots in both ethnic communities. The Turkish dialect spoken by Turkish Cypriots is closely related to other dialects of Anatolia, but distinct from the urban dialects of Istanbul, Ankara, and Zmir. Turkish Cypriots followed the reforms of Mustafa Kamal, a Turkish World War I hero who became known as "Ataturk" or "father of the Turks." Ataturk drove the Greeks out of Turkey and initiated many reforms, including replacing the Arabic alphabet with a modified Latin alphabet. The Turkish-Cypriot community was the only Turkish minority in former Ottoman territories outside mainland Turkey to adopt these linguistic changes.

Turkish is part of the Ural-Altaic linguistic group. The alphabet consists of 29 letters–21 consonants and eight vowels. Six of these letters do not occur in the English alphabet. Turkish has no gender distinction and there is no differentiation between he, she, and it. Several Turkish American organizations in the United States that teach Turkish, but few second-and third-generation Turkish Americans speak the language.


For Greek Cypriots, éla ! means "come here and speak to me," and "You don't say!" P ó-pó-pó! is an expression of dismay. The standard telephone response is Embrós ! or Léyeteh ! Orísteh ? means "what can I do for you?" Sigá sigá means "take your time and slow down." Other popular Greek expressions include: cronia polla (pronounced "chrohnyah pohllah")–Many years/Happy Birthday; kalh tuch ("kahlee teechee") means Good year.

Common expressions among Turkish Cypriot Americans include: Merhaba –Hello; Gun aylin –Good Morning; lyi Aksamlar –Good Evening; Bilmiyorum –I don't know; Bir dakika !–Wait a minute; Tesekkur ederim –Thank you; Na'pan – Whatcha doing?

Family and Community Dynamics

The family is traditionally the most important institution in Greek Cypriot society. In villages, people think of themselves primarily as members of families. Greek Cypriot households typically consist of a father, mother, and their unmarried children. Traditionally, marriages are arranged, generally through the mediation of a matchmaker. At marriage, parents give their children a portion of land, if available, along with money and household items. Even at the beginning of the 1990s, such economic considerations remained a decisive factor in marriage settlements. From 1985 to 1989, the country's annual marriage rate was the highest in Europe. In 1988, the average age at marriage was 28 years for men, and 25 years for women. Brides and grooms in rural areas tend to marry younger than their urban counterparts. On the other hand, the divorce rate among Greek Cypriots almost doubled between 1980 and 1988. The number of extramarital births, however, remains very low by European standards.

Cypriots feel a strong obligation to provide a better future for their families, meaning they seek to provide more education and a larger material inheritance for their children. During times of economic hardship between 1946 and 1979, the average family size declined. By the end of the 1980s, however, the Republic of Cyprus's birth rate increased. The higher rate was attributed to an improved of the standard of living, the expansion of education to all sections of the population, and the wider participation by women in the work force.

Turkish Cypriots are also concerned with encouraging economic prosperity within their families. A major part of household income goes to educating children, finding them suitable spouses, and helping them find good jobs. More than in most Western societies, Turkish Cypriots are conscious of their extended family. The nuclear or core traditional family might include not only the husband, wife and their unmarried children, but also a newly married son and his family, and sometimes the mother's parents. The presence of the mother's parents in the core family is an important variation from the traditional Turkish family structure, in which the husband's parents live with the family.


The Republic of Cyprus boasts a high level of education and a 99 percent literacy rate. For Greek Cypriots, preprimary, primary, and secondary levels in academic and technical vocational high schools are free and mandatory. Higher education is available at specialized schools and at a university that opened in the early 1990s.

Education has been a priority for Cypriots since the British passed the Education Law of 1895, which permitted local authorities to raise taxes to finance schools. At the beginning of the 1990s, there were qualified teachers for all levels and types of schools, as well as administrative personnel, accredited by a special committee of the Ministry of Education. All public schools had uniform curricula and modern teaching equipment. Some instructional material for both primary and secondary education was donated by the Greek government. The biggest challenge of the 1990s was to provide the rapidly expanding economy with technicians and skilled workers. Cypriots tended to choose academic rather than technical courses, for reasons of social prestige.

The majority of Cypriots receive their higher education at Greek, Turkish, British, or American universities. Many Cypriots are educated at foreign universities, and the percentage of Cypriot students studying at the university level is among the highest in the world. During the 1970s and 1980s, an average of more than 10,000 Cypriots studied abroad annually. During the 1970s, more than half of these students were in Greece, and about one-fifth were in Britain. In the 1980s, the United States became a major destination for students going abroad, generally surpassing Britain. The number of women studying abroad increased during the 1970s and 1980s, from 24 percent in 1970 to 40 percent in 1987.


For Greek Cypriot children, the naming of the child is done at baptism, not at birth. After a child has been baptized, her or his name day, meaning the day of the saint for whom she or he was named, is celebrated each year instead of her or his actual birthday or day of baptism.


Modern Greek Cypriot American women are better educated than their mothers and are more likely to work outside the home. While the traditional domestic role is still an expectation, Greek Cypriot American women are more likely to balance the home responsibilities with a professional occupation.

After World War II, Greek Cypriot women had greater access to education and increased their participation in the work force. At the beginning of the century, the proportion of girls to boys enrolled in primary education was one to three. By 1943, about 80 percent of girls attended primary school. When elementary education was made mandatory in 1960, there were equal enrollment levels for boys and girls. By the 1980s, girls made up 45 percent of those receiving secondary education. Only after the mid-1960s did women commonly leave Cyprus to receive higher education. In the 1980s, women made up about 32 percent of those studying abroad.

Cypriot women have long participated in the work force, traditionally in agriculture. From 1960 to 1985, the women's share of the urban work force rose from 22 percent to 41 percent, while their share of the rural work force fell from 51 percent to 44.4 percent. Cypriot women had the same rights to social welfare as men in such matters as social security payments, unemployment compensation, vacation time, and other common social provisions. Special protective legislation in 1985 provided women with marriage grants and with maternity grants that paid them 75 percent of their insurable earnings. But occupational gender segregation persisted in Cyprus at the beginning of the 1990s. The participation of women in clerical jobs had more than doubled since the late 1970s, yet only one woman in 15 was in an administrative or managerial position in 1985. Women's share of professional jobs increased to 39 percent by the mid-1980s, compared with 36 percent ten years earlier, but these jobs were concentrated in medicine and teaching, where women had traditionally found employment. In fields where men were dominant, Cypriot women's share of professional positions was 11 percent, up from 8 percent in 1976. In the fields where women were dominant, men took just under half the professional positions.

Traditional attitudes continue to change, especially in urban areas, but were still prevalent in the early 1990s. Although most Cypriot women worked outside the home, they were expected to fulfill the traditional domestic roles with little help from Cypriot male spouses. Women with full-time jobs were pressured by the traditional standards of keeping a clean house and providing daily hot meals. In the 1990s, Cypriot women were still burdened with the expectation of safeguarding the honor of the family by avoiding any social contact with men that could be construed to have a sexual content.


The wedding sponsors, the koumbari, also act as godparents to the first child. The baptism ceremony of the Greek Orthodox church is a special ceremony involving several steps. It begins at the narthex of the church, where the godparents speak for the child, renounce Satan, blow three times in the air, and spit three times on the floor. After reciting the Nicene Creed, the child's name is spoken for the first time. At the front of the church, the priest uses consecrated water to make the sign of the cross on various parts of the child, who is undressed. The godparents rub the child with olive oil and the priest immerses the child in water three times before handing the child to the godparents, who wrap him in a new white sheet. Following baptism, the child is anointed with a special oil ( miron ) and dressed in new clothing. A candle is lighted and the priest and godparents hold the child while other children walk around in a dance signifying joy. Then scriptures are read and communion is given to the child.


In Greek Cypriot culture, an engagement is preceded by negotiations between parents, but parents could not force their children to accept arranged marriages. Cypriot Americans often choose their mates without parental involvement.

For Turkish Cypriots, marriage and divorce are governed by law based on the Koran. Turkish law applies in all religious and family matters among Muslims and in marriages and engagements involving a non-Muslim woman. Marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is prohibited. Turkish Cypriots usually marry someone from their own lineage, the descendants of a common ancestor connected through the male line. Turkish Cypriot Americans do not follow the marriage within the lineage. Even in Cyprus, marriage within one's lineage became less common in the second half of the twentieth century.


In Greek Cyprus, the most popular time for weddings is in the summer, and the whole village celebrates. Resi, a rich pilaf of lamb and wheat, is prepared and special little shortbreads, Loukoumi, are piled high for the guests. The sponsor at a Cypriot wedding, similar to an American best man or maid of honor, becomes a ceremonial relative. The male sponsor, koumbaros, or female sponsor, koumbara, is expected to pay for all of the wedding expenses, except the purchase of the rings. The sponsor usually becomes the godparent of the couple's first child. Most weddings involve several sponsors.

Traditionally, the bridegroom provided the house and the bride's family the furniture and linens. This was the dowry, the allocation of an equal portion of the parents' property to the children, male or female, at the time of marriage, rather than after the death of the parents. Until the 1950s, this transfer of property at marriage was agreed to orally by the parties involved; more recently the so-called written dowry contract has been introduced. A formal agreement specifying the amount of property to be given to the couple, the dowry contract is signed by all parties and enforced by religious authorities. After World War II, it became the bride's obligation to provide the house. Ownership of a house, given the scarcity of land (especially after the invasion of 1974) and the considerable expense of building, became a great advantage for a single woman seeking to marry. In the 1990s, a working woman's income primarily went to the construction of a house.

In rural Turkish Cypriot society, the wedding festivities lasted for several days. Modern Turkish Cypriot couples often do not rely on their parents to arrange a match. Although dating, as practiced in the United States, was not common even at the beginning of the 1990s, couples met in small groups of friends. Once a couple decided to marry, both sets of parents were consulted. The families then arranged the engagement and marriage.

Turkish Cypriots adapted the Greek Cypriot tradition of the bride's family providing substantial assistance to the newlyweds. Turkish Cypriots modified it to include assistance from both families. Traditionally, the bride's family provided a house, some furniture, and money as part of their daughter's dowry. The bridegroom's family met the young couple's remaining housing needs. If the bride's family was unable to provide such assistance, the young couple lived with the bride's family until they saved enough money to set up a separate household. The bride brought to her new home the rest of her dowry, known as cehiz, which made the new family financially more secure. Turkish Cypriot Americans often provide their own housing, though families will send assistance where possible.


Cypriot Muslims and Christians are bitter rivals. From the rise of Greek nationalism in the 1820s and 1830s to the partitioned reality of Cyprus today, the two major ethnic groups do not work together nor attempt social interaction of any kind. Cyprus had three other ethnic groups at the beginning of the 1990s: Maronites, Armenians, and Latins. Together they numbered only about 6,000—less than one percent of the island's population, but they maintained social institutions of their own and were represented in organs of government. The Maronites and Armenians came during the Byzantine period, and the Latins slightly later. Maronites are Catholic Christian people of Arabic origin, who came and settled in Cyprus 1,200 years ago from Lebanon. They speak their native tongue, an Arabic dialect that is mixed with many Greek and Turkish words. By the mid-twentieth century, they lived mainly in four villages in northwestern Cyprus. Armenian Cypriots were primarily urban and mercantile, most of whom had arrived after World War I. Latins were concentrated among merchant families of the port towns on the southern coast and were descendants of the Lusignan and Venetian upper classes.


Most Greek Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians, followers of the Church of Cyprus, a tradition using the Greek liturgy and headed by a synod composed of bishops and an elected archbishop. Turkish Cypriots are Muslims and form the second largest religious group. Ritual is the center of activity for the Orthodox church. Seven sacraments are recognized: baptism in infancy, followed by confirmation with consecrated oil, penance, the Eucharist, matrimony, ordination, and unction in times of sickness or when near death. Many Greek Cypriot Americans are members of local Orthodox churches founded by Greek immigrants in even the smallest of communities, such as the church established in 1900 in Indianapolis by 29 Greek immigrants.

North Cyprus is a secular state with no official religion, although 98 percent of the population are Muslims. Nearly all Turkish Cypriots were followers of Sunni Islam, but, unlike most predominantly Muslim societies, North Cyprus was a secular state. There was no state religion, and Turkish Cypriots were free to choose their own religion. Turkish Cypriots were among the most secular of Islamic peoples, not abstaining from alcohol as standard Muslim teaching requires, but following traditional Mediterranean drinking customs. Wedding ceremonies were civil, rather than religious. Religious leaders had little influence in politics, and religious instruction, while available in schools, was not obligatory. The few Greek Cypriots who lived in North Cyprus were free to follow their Greek Orthodox faith. Religion came to be a personal matter among Turkish Cypriots, and they did not attempt to impose their religious beliefs on others. Although there was some fasting during the month of Ramadan, moderate attendance at the Friday prayers, and widespread observation of the holy days, few Turkish Cypriots were orthodox Muslims. Some Turkish Cypriot Americans become more devoted Muslims, but most continue a less fervent adherence to Muslim beliefs.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Fifty-nine percent of Cypriot immigrants in 1984 had professional occupations. Greek Cypriot Americans are highly educated. Many are teachers and academics in various roles. Turkish Cypriot Americans are also highly educated and are often employed as physicians, scientists, and engineers. While immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century were often unskilled laborers who found employment in large industrial cities, subsequent immigrants were highly-skilled professionals employed in virtually every filed.

Education was a common way of rising in social status, and most Cypriots respected higher education and white collar professions. The expanding economy in the second half of the twentieth century allowed many Cypriots to obtain more sophisticated work than their parents. Within one generation, a family could move from an agricultural background to urban professions in teaching, government, or small business. The traditional economy of subsistance agriculture and animal husbandry was replaced by a commercial economy, centered in expanding urban areas. The flight from agriculture reached a peak in 1974, when the best and most productive agricultural land fell under Turkish occupation. In 1960, some 40.3 percent of the economically active population were agricultural workers; in 1973, the figure was down to 33.6 percent. In 1988, government figures estimated only 13.9 percent of the work force earned a living from farming full time.

Politics and Government

Numerous Greek American political and social organizations have existed since the 1880s. Turkish American involvement in American politics did not begin until the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 mobilized individuals seeking to counter the U.S. government support for the Greeks. In the 1990s, Cypriot American organizations for both Greek and Turk ethnic groups exert lobbying influences aimed at seeking political advantage.

Greek Cypriot immigrants are patriotic to both Cyprus and the United States. During both world wars, Greek Americans, including Greek Cypriots, served in the United States armed forces and participated in assorted war fund drives. Cypriots were staunch supporters of the Allied cause in World War II. This was particularly true after the invasion of Greece by Germany in 1940. The draft was not imposed on the colony, but 6,000 Cypriot volunteers fought under British command during the Greek campaign. Before the war ended, more than 30,000 had served in the British forces.


Cypriot Americans remain involved in political and lobby issues of importance to Cyprus. In late 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton expressed his commitment to finding a solution to the Cyprus problem and stated that his administration would intensify efforts to bring all interested parties together for talks.

Relations between Cyprus and the United States were hindered by the 1974 assassination of United States Ambassador Roger Davies in Nicosia. The Nixon and Ford administrations became involved in refugee resettlement and peace talks during the 1974 crisis and a more activist American policy was institutionalized. A special Cyprus Coordinator in the Department of State was established in 1981. The position was held by Reginald Bartholemew (1981-82), Christian Chapman (1982-83), Richard Haass (1983-85), James Wilkenson (1985-89), and Nelson Ledsky after 1989. In June 1997, the United States appointed Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke as Special Presidential Emissary for Cyprus. Efforts to stimulate discussion about confidence-building measures, intercommunal projects and cooperation, and new directions in the United States' $15 million annual aid program to Cyprus met resistance from the republic's government. The republic looked to the United States Congress and the Greek American community to correct what they considered a pro-Turkish bias in U.S. policy.

The total value of U.S. exports to Cyprus was about $700 million in 1997, making the United States Cyprus's leading supplier of imports. Since the mid-1970s the United States has channeled $305 million in assistance to the two communities through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Cyprus Red Cross. The United States provides $15 million annually to promote bi-communal projects and finance U.S. scholarships for Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Successive U.S. administrations have viewed United Nations-led intercommunal negotiations as the best means to achieve a fair and permanent settlement in Cyprus. As of 1999, the United States actively supports and aids the United Nations Secretary General's efforts to settle the divisions in Cyprus.

Individual and Group Contributions

Garo Yepremian (1944– ), football place-kicker from 1966 to 1981, was born in Larnaca, Cyprus. He played for the Miami Dolphins and lead the NFL in scoring in 1971.

Organizations and Associations

Cyprians of New Jersey.

Organization for the preservation of Greek Cypriot culture and the promotion of good relations between the United States and Cyprus.

Address : 3225 Kennedy Blvd., Jersey City, New Jersey 07306.

Telephone : (201) 333-9815.

The Cyprus Trade Center (CTC).

One of 12 export promotion offices worldwide of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of the Republic of Cyprus. Facilitates and strengthens trade relations between Cyprus and the Americas through promotion of Cypriot products and of Cyprus as an International Business Center.

Address : 13 East 40th St., New York, New York 10016.

Telephone : (212) 213-9100.

Lambousa Cyprian Society.

Organization for the preservation of Greek Cypriot culture and the promotion of good relations between the United States and Cyprus.

Contact : Costas Tsentas.

Address : 12 Bluebird Court, Flemington, New Jersey 08822.

Telephone : (908) 531-3100.

Panpaphian Association.

Organization for the preservation of Greek Cypriot culture and the promotion of good relations between the United States and Cyprus.

Contact : Savas Tsivicos.

Address : 525 Greene Grove Road, Wayside, New Jersey 07712.

Telephone : (732) 531-3100.

Salamis (New Jersey Cypriot Association).

Organization for the preservation of Greek Cypriot culture and the promotion of good relations between the United States and Cyprus.

Contact : Chris Caramanos.

Address : 70 Hedrickson Ave., Bricktown, New Jersey 08724.

Telephone : (908) 458-8785.

United Cypriots of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Contact : Theodosios Rousos.

Address : 153 San Vicente Blvd., No. 4B, Santa Monica, California 90402.

Telephone : (310) 395-0591.

United Cypriots of Southern California, San Diego.

Contact : John Vassiliades, President.

Address : 8032 Bluebird Lane, La Palma, California 90623.

Museums and Research Centers

Institute of Cypriot Studies

Integral unit of University at Albany, State University of New York. Encourages research and cultural activities related to Cyprus.

Contact: Dr. Stuart Swiny, Director.

Address: Humanities 372, Albany, New York 12222.

Telephone: (518) 442-3982.

Fax: (518) 442-4033.


Sources for Additional Study

Dubin, Marc. Cyprus: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides Ltd., 1996.

Durrell, Lawrence. Bitter Lemons. With a new introduction by the author. New York: Marlowe, 1996.

Solsten, Eric. Cyprus: A Country Study. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993.

Streissguth, Tom. Cyprus: Divided Island. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1998.

User Contributions:

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Jul 15, 2007 @ 10:22 pm
Can an American and Egyptian marry in Cyprus?
Can egyptian get visa to cyprus?
If marriage takes place can Egyptian come to USA with souse?
Plzz answer for me!
aris patsalos
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Aug 9, 2007 @ 1:01 am
i am a cypriot student in san diego and i am here with my brother. i feel happy to see cypriots that love cyprus and inform the people about the traditions of our beuatifull island.and also we are looking forward to meet cypriots here in san diego.
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Apr 3, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
Found this article to be very useful. Was wondering when it had been updated as information seemed to end with the 1990's. I am still curious about the role of women, technology and education as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century as well as whether the North and South have collaborated on the common needs related to the infrastructure (electricity, roads, plumbing) of the island.

Am particularly interested in the role of the silk in individual Greek Cypriot homes prior to World WarII. I have heard stories about how silk worms were raised by my grandfather and I am looking for a source that could describe the process as used by the small farmer in villages, as well as the spinning/weaving process in the average home.

I would greatly appreciate it if you can direct me to any useful sources on any of the above. Thank you.
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Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

I am 12 years old.
I am doing a project on Cyprus in which I must include birthday celebrations.

Is it true that Cypriots do not celebrate their actual day of birth?
How many different Saints are celebrated in a year?

I have so many questions:

Do they have a birthday cake?
Do they sing special songs?
Is there a festival with special food and dancing?
Do they wear a specific costume on their birthday?

Any information that you can share with me will be appreciated very much.
Thank you for your time.


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