Ottoman Period (1571-1878)
The Ottoman Period can be said to have come in like a lion and out like a lamb. On 1st July 1570 a 60,000-strong Ottoman invasion force landed in Southern Cyprus unopposed. Within days the army had marched on Nicosia and routed the city. Their reputation preceded them to Kyrenia (Northern Cyprus), which fell without bloodshed. Famagusta was the last city to fall to the Turks in August 1571, marking the true beginning of the Ottoman era and Turkish involvement in Cyprus that continues to this day.
The Ottoman Empire was met with mixed reaction by the Cypriot people. Noblemen and Cypriots who had gained power under the Franks and Venetians had the most to fear. Leaders of the deposed Venetian regime were imprisoned or exiled, but for the ordinary Cypriots who were willing to accept the new regime, a new-found freedom was gained. The Ottomans abolished the feudal system put in place by the Lusignan's some 380 years earlier and introduced a new method of governance through millets.
Millets under the Ottoman Empire were religious communities. They allowed Greek Orthodox Christians to follow their religion in peace without fear of persecution. As the Ottoman Empire was essentially comprised of a diverse ethnic population, this type of governance was a major key to their success, if only during the early years of their reign on Cyprus.
But Cypriot gains under Turkish rule did not stop at religious freedom. Cyprus was now a safe and secure place in which Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots could coexist. The peasant communities, which for generations were subservient to the nobles on the island, were granted permission to acquire land of their own. Smallholdings sprang up right across Cyprus as a result, and so the art of cultivating fine fruit and vegetables, for which Cyprus today is renowned, began to thrive. Turkish soldiers too were awarded land on Cyprus in return for their services - a decision that was to become a bone of contention centuries later.
As time passed though and different personalities came to power in the Ottoman regime Cyprus spiralled into economic decline and eventually poverty. Uprisings in protest of Turkish mismanagement of Cyprus became all too frequent in the latter years of Ottoman rule. Both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots protested, sometimes in unison, but it was to be the Greek Cypriots who pushed the issue the most, especially after the Greek War of Independence in 1821. The seeds it seems were already sewn for a divided nation.
In 1878 Ottoman rule in Cyprus ended in ineptitude and disarray. The island was ceded to the dominant British Empire who promised better administration and better defences for the island.