Like many Mediterranean islands, Cyprus has long been seen as an important strategic base and has been coveted by many over its 10,000 years of history. It was first inhabited by Neolithic man and was subsequently invaded by the Mycenaean Greeks, the Persians and Egyptians, and the Romans. After the partition of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, Cyprus became part of the Eastern Byzantine Empire until the time of the Crusaders when it fell to England’s Richard the Lionheart. A year later he sold it to the French Lusignans. In 1570, the Ottoman Turks gained control of Cyprus where they stayed for over three centuries before the island became part of Britain in 1878.
Cyprus achieved independence from Britain in August 1960 after a military struggle with EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) who sought union with Greece. The political leader of the liberation movement, Archbishop Makarios III, was elected president of the newly-independent country. However, the island's new constitution involving the British, Greek and Turkish communities was fraught with tension.
Cyprus’s independence fell apart in July 1974 when Makarios was deposed by a military coup. Within days, Turkish troops arrived on the northern coast of Cyprus on the pretext of protecting the island’s Turkish-Cypriot community. The Greeks failed to respond effectively and only after the Turkish army had taken control of the northern third of the island was a ceasefire arranged under UN auspices.
Cyprus has remained partitioned ever since and UN peacekeeping forces maintain a truce between the two sides. In November 1983, the Turkish part of the island proclaimed itself independent. Formal recognition of the self-styled country has only been granted by Turkey however; the international community regards the government of the Republic of Cyprus as the Greek-Cypriot administration in the capital Nicosia.
Nicosia (locally Lefkosia/Lefkoşa) remains the only divided city in the world. The current president is Greek-Cypriot Dimitris Christofias who, since taking office in 2008, has been involved in on-going talks with Turkish-Cypriot leaders to resolve what has been dubbed the Cyprus problem. Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2004.