E Mediterranean island , 40 mi S of Turkey and 60 mi W of Syria. Evidence exists of settlements as early as 4000 b.c. and colonization by the early Greeks. A trading center because of its location, Cyprus has been a veritable palimpsest of the expansion and commercial activity of early Western civilization. A marked Phoenician presence is evident in the ninth century b.c. It was Assyrian for approximately 50 years after 709 b.c., Egyptian from the mid-sixth century b.c., then Persian. Afterward it fell to Alexand er the Great and later became Egyptian once again. From 58 b.c. until the end of the fourth century a.d. it was part of the Roman Empire. For the next 700 years it was usually under the Byzantine Empire, with some periods of Muslim rule. In 1191 it fell to the crusading Richard I of England , who gave it to Guy of Lusignan. The kingdom set up by the Lusignans served as a base of operations for the crusaders for the next two centuries until Genoese and Venetian domination in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Turks seized Cyprus in 1573, and it passed finally into British hand s in 1878.
By the 20th century the population of the country was about 80 percent Greek and 20 percent Turkish, and this has been the bane of its modern history. At the end of the 19th century the Greek element was already demand ing union (enosis) with the motherland . Greek-Turkish conflict brought violence in 1955. The symbol of Greek-Cypriot nationalism was the Orthodox archbishop Makarios III. Its militarypolitical arm was Eoka, a paramilitary group headed by Colonel George Grivas. The British, seeking to impose order, exiled Makarios. Finally, Great Britain, Greece, and Turkey agreed to set up an independent, neutral Cyprus with proportional representation for Greeks and Turks. The new nation emerged in 1960 with Makarios as its president. Renewed conflict brought the stationing of UN troops to maintain order in 1964. Terrorism did not abate, and in 1974 a coup toppled the Makarios government. Turkey invaded Cyprus and seized about 30 percent of the island . The Turkish section then declared its independence from the Greek-held area, resulting in a divided nation and a stalemate that persists today. Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2003, and Turkish Cyprus opened the Green Line border. A plebiscite to reunite the country in 2004 was defeated on the Greek side.