What Caused The Division Of The Island Of Cyprus?

In 1878 the island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, came under British control. Its population is made up of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot majority desired the removal of British rule and union with Greece, known as Enosis. In 1955, the campaign for Enosis was led by Archbishop Makarios of the Cyprus Orthodox Church and by Colonel George Grivas, Head of Ethniki Organosis Kuprion Agoniston – National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA). They aimed to achieve Enosis by attacking government and military installations and personnel and by mobilising the civilian population to demonstrate against the British presence.


EOKA launched its campaign on 1 April 1955 with a series of bombing attacks against government offices in the island’s capital Nicosia. No one was killed in these initial attacks but EOKA began a campaign of assassination mainly aimed at Greek members of the police force and those who disagreed with the idea of Enosis. A state of emergency was declared by the island’s governor, Lord Harding, in November 1955. The British Government started the process of looking for a political solution. In March 1956, Makarios was exiled to the Seychelles, but the emergency continued. Large numbers of British reinforcements arrived and began a series of operations against EOKA centred on the Troodos Mountains.

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Men Of The 1St Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles

Men of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles search loads carried on a donkey at a road block during the EOKA Emergency in Cyprus. Gradually British tactics began to have an effect. By 1957 most of EOKA’s leaders had been killed or captured, although the organisation stepped up its activities in urban centres. It organised rioting by students and schoolchildren and using execution squads to target police officers, military personnel and their families. These attacks continued throughout 1958, even after Makarios had abandoned his initial demand for Enosis. They finally ended in February 1959 when agreement was reached in London for Cyprus to become an independent republic. Britain would retain two sovereign base areas at Akrotiri and Dhekeila.

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Hms Hermes During The Cyprus Emergency

Wessex helicopters and commandos on board HMS HERMES during the Cyprus emergency, 1974.

In August 1960 Cyprus became a republic but, in the following decades, it was plagued with violence between the Greek and Turkish communities. In 1974 a Greek military coup, which aimed to unite the island with mainland Greece, led to a Turkish invasion and the division of the island between Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus remains divided to this day.