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This article discusses Cyprus under the Ottoman Empire. In 1570, the Turks first occupied the island, and Lala Mustafa Pasha became the first Turkish Governor of Cyprus, challenging the claims of Venice. Simultaneously, the Pope formed a coalition between the Papal States, Malta, Spain, Venice and several other Italian states, with no real result. In 1573 the Venetians left, removing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church

Social History

The Ottoman occupation brought about two radical results in the history of the island. For the first time since the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, a new ethnic element appeared, the Turks. The Ottoman Empire gave timars--land grants--to soldiers under the condition that they and their families would stay there permanently. During the 17th century the Turkish population grew rapidly, partly by conversion. Most of the Turks who had settled on the island during the three centuries of Ottoman rule remained when control of Cyprus--although not sovereignty--was ceded to Britain in 1878. Many, however, left for Turkey during the 1920s. By 1970, ethnic Turks represented 18% of the total population of the island, with ethnic Greeks representing the remainder. The distinction between the two groups was by religion, and by language.

The second important result of the Ottoman occupation benefited the Greek peasants who no longer remained serfs of the land they were cultivating. Now they could acquire it against payment, thus becoming owners of it. The Ottomans also applied the millet system to Cyprus, which allowed religious authorities to govern their own non-Muslim minorities. This system reinforced the position of the Orthodox Church and the cohesion of the ethnic Greek population. The Church of Cyprus was liberated because the Turks were afraid of the presence of the Catholic Church as it might instigate an attack of Western Europe against them. Gradually the Archbishop of Cyprus became not only religious but ethnic leader as well, something the Turks promoted wanting to have somebody responsible for the loyalty of the Greek flock. In this way the Church undertook the task of the guardian of the Greek cultural legacy which is partly carried on even in our days, although diminished after independence.

The Ottoman occupation, apart from adding one more possession to the Ottoman Empire, detached Cyprus from the direct influence, cultural and economic, of the West and brought it directly under the influence of Ottoman despotism.

The heavy taxes and the abuses against the population on the part of the Ottoman conquerors in the early years after the Ottoman occupation gave rise to opposition, following which the Sultan, by order addressed to the Governor, the "Kadi" and the Treasurer, prohibited the oppression of his subjects and commanded the officers to govern with justice. While the Sultan's orders indicated his goodwill towards the local population, the Ottoman local administration proved indifferent, arbitrary and often corrupt, taking no measures whatsoever for the benefit of the people and the situation was aggravated by the heavy burden of taxes. Those collecting the taxes were trying by all means to extract as much money as they could by exploiting the local population.

Following the Ottoman conquest, many Greek Cypriots and Latins, in order to escape heavy taxation converted to Islam.

Many Greek Cypriots who had been converted to Islam remained actually Christians in secret. They were normally called "linobambaki". According to a view expressed for the first time in 1863 AD, and then adopted in the following years, this word was taken metaphorically from a cloth woven with linen and cotton and which had two different sides corresponding thus to the two aspects of their faith. The "linobambaki" turned up during daytime as Muslims, and in the evenings they appeared as Christians, keeping to the Christian religion, its customs and its habits.

The inhabitants of Cyprus, disappointed at the mismanagement of home affairs by the Ottoman governors, soon turned to Europe in search for help for liberation. Very characteristic is the appeal by Archbishop Timotheos to the King of Spain Philip II for liberation of the island, in which, among other things, the following is stated: "There have recently been repeated cases of abuse on the part of the organs of the conqueror; in a greedy manner they attempt to confiscate and seize the property of the inhabitants; Christian houses are broken into and domiciles violated, and all sorts of dishonest acts against wives and daughters are committed. Twice until now churches and monasteries have been plundered, multiple and heavy taxes have been imposed whose collection is pursued by systematic persecutions, threats and tortures, which lead many persons to the ranks of Islam, while at the same time the male children of Cypriot families are seized (in order to form the brigades of "Jannissaries"). This most hard practice is the worst of the sufferings to which the people of Cyprus is subjected by the Ottoman administration".

Between 1572 and 1668 AD about 28 bloody uprisings took place on the island and in many of these both Greeks and Turks (poor Turks were also exploited by the ruling class) took part. But all of them ended in failure.

About 1660 AD, in order to eliminate the greed of the Ottoman administration and stop the oppression and injustice against the people (who they called "rayahs", sheep for milking), the Sultan recognised the Archbishop and the Bishops as "the protectors of people" and the representatives of the Sultan. In 1670 AD, Cyprus ceased to be a "pasaliki" for the Ottoman Empire and came under the jurisdiction of the Admiral of the Ottoman fleet. In his turn, the Admiral sent an officer to govern in his place.

In 1703 AD Cyprus comes under the jurisdiction of the Grand Vizier who sent to the island a military and civil administrator. The title and function of this officer were awarded to the person who paid the highest amount of money in exchange. As a result, heavier taxation was imposed and the Cypriots became the subject of harder exploitation. About 1760 AD the situation in Cyprus was intolerable. A terrible epidemic of plague, bad crops and earthquakes, drove many Cypriots to emigrate. In addition what was worse for the Greeks and Turks of the island, the newly- appointed Pasha, doubled the taxes in 1764 AD. In the end Chil Osman and 18 of his friends were killed by Greek and Ottoman Cypriots alike but the two ethnic elements had to pay a huge sum of money to the Sultan and the families of the victims. It was assessed that each Christian had to pay 14 piastres and each Turk 7. The latter did not accept this judgement and broke into an open rebellion having Khalil Agha, the commander of the guard of the castle of Kyrenia as their leader. Finally the uprising was crushed and Khalil Agha was beheaded.


Greek independence movement


Many Cypriots supported the Greek independence effort that began in 1821, leading to severe reprisals by the Ottoman Empire.The Greek War of Liberation of 1821 had its repercussions on the situation in Cyprus. With the Sultan's consent, the Ottoman administration in the island under governor Kuchuk Mehmed, executed 486 Christians on 9 July 1821, accusing them of conspiring with the rebellious Greeks. They included four Bishops, many clergymen and prominent citizens, who were beheaded in the central square of Nicosia, while Archbishop Kyprianos was hanged. The property of the Church was plundered and the Christians were forced to pull down the upper storeys of their houses, an order that remained in force until the British put the island under their control almost sixty years later. When Greece became independent in 1829 many Cypriots sought the incorporation of Cyprus into Greece, but it remained part of the Ottoman Empire.

Between the years 1849 and 1878 Cyprus witnessed some slow change for the better in the administration section. District councils were set up and consisted of Greek and many Ottoman members. Many reforms, however, which were supposed to have been introduced were frustrated by unwilling administrators.

Ottoman Cypus came to an end in 1878. In all it lasted for 307 years. During their long presence on the island, the architectural remains left by the Turks included the small fort of Paphos dating to the late 16th century and largely based on a Lusignan plan, the tomb that was built where Umm Haram, a relative of the Prophet, died in the mid-7th century, which dates to the late 18th century and over which a tekke and a mosque were built 1816 adding Oriental charm to the place, the aqueduct constructed by Pasha Abu Bekr in 1747 in order to bring fresh water to Larnaca. In Nicosia, the capital, there is a 16th century inn called a Khan, a 17th century Tekke of the Mevleri or the Dancing Dervishes and the Arab Ahmet Pasha mosque of the 18th century.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland showed increasing interest in the island, which is situated in what had suddenly become a very convenient location. When the Turks were defeated by the Russians in 1877 and the Berlin Congress took place the next year in order to revise the treaty of St Stefano which was signed by Russia and the Ottoman Empire according to terms dictated by the former, it was officially announced on 9 July 1878 that on the 4th of preceding June, the British and the Sultan had secretly countersigned the Convention of Istanbul by virtue of which the possession and administration of Cyprus was vested in Great Britain. As exchange for control of Cyprus, the UK agreed to support Turkey in the Russian-Turkish war.This agreement was formalised as the Cyprus Convention.

Reference

Cyprus under Ottoman Empire by Official Republic of Cyprus Web site.

Sources

  • Hunt, Sir David (ed.) 1994. Footprints in Cyprus. London.
  • Cobham, C.D. 1908 (reprint 1969). Excerpta Cypria. Materials for a History of Cyprus. Cambridge.

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