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Cyprus Ethnicity
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Traditionally, both Cypriot communities were very conscious of their languages, cultures, and histories. Turkish Cypriots thought of themselves as Turks living on Cyprus and as members of the larger Turkish nation. Greek Cypriots believed that their language, history, culture and orthodox religion made them part of the larger Greek nation. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that over the centuries, neither group accepted the equality of the other's language, culture, ethnicity, and religion. Despite the separate lives of the two communities, however, some degree of cross-cultural development did occur. Furthermore, both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots were strongly attached to their island, and they distinguished themselves from foreigners, including mainland Greeks and Turks.

    It is here that one observes a great irony in Cypriot selfidentification . On the one hand, the two communities were proud to identify themselves with their respective greater nations. On the other hand, both shared the belief that they were socially more progressive (better educated and less conservative) and therefore distinct from the mainlanders. Thus, until the events of 1963, which led to a strict separation of the two communities, Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived side by side in a love-hate relationship. The two communities had borrowed some customs and ways of living from one another, and to some degree a recognizable "Cypriot feeling" had developed over the centuries, distinguishing Cypriots from their cousins in Greece and Turkey. Generally, one did not know to which community a Cypriot belonged until he or she spoke. Yet the two communities viewed each other with some suspicion and dislike. Tragically, however, a deepening of shared feelings was precluded by the events of late 1963. After that Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived separately, and their offspring grew up with no intercommunal contact.

    Broadly, three main forces--education, British colonial practices, and secularization accompanying economic development- -can be held responsible for transforming two ethnic communities into two national ones. Education was perhaps the most important, for it affected Cypriots during childhood and youth, the period of greatest susceptibility to outside influences. The two communities adopted the educational policies of Greece and Turkey, respectively, resulting in the nationalist indoctrination of their youth. The schools polarized Cypriots in at least two ways. The segregated school systems of the colonial and postindependence period socialized students into Greek and Turkish ethnicity, teaching mainland speech, culture, folklore, and nationalist myths. The texts used in these schools also included ethnic propaganda, often highly chauvinistic, with each community emphasizing its superiority over the other.

    British colonial policies also promoted ethnic polarization. The British applied the principle of "divide and rule," setting the two groups against each other to prevent combined action against colonial rule. For example, when Greek Cypriots rebelled in the 1950s, the colonial administration established an all-Turkish police force, known as the Auxiliary Police, to combat Greek Cypriots. This and similar practices contributed to intercommunal animosity.

    Secularization also fostered ethnic nationalism. Although economic development and increased education reduced the explicitly religious characteristics of the two communities, the growth of nationalism on the two mainlands increased the significance of other differences. Turkish nationalism was at the core of the revolutionary program promoted by the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), and affected Turkish Cypriots who followed his principles. President of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, Atatürk attempted to build a new nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and elaborated a program of six principles (the "Six Arrows") to do so. His principles of secularism (laicism) and nationalism reduced Islam's role in the everyday life of individuals and emphasized Turkish identity as the main source of nationalism. Traditional education with a religious foundation was discarded and replaced with one that followed secular principles and, shorn of Arab and Persian influences, was purely Turkish. Turkish Cypriots quickly adopted the secular program of Turkish nationalism. Under Ottoman rule, Turkish Cypriots had been classified as Muslims, a distinction based on religion; Atatürk's program made their Turkishness paramount and further reinforced their division from their Greek Cypriot neighbors.

    Data as of January 1991

    NOTE: The information regarding Cyprus on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Cyprus Ethnicity information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Cyprus Ethnicity should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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