Cypriots celebrate Cyprus Independence Day the 1st day of October of every year with a national holiday. This day commemorates Cyprus’ independence from the British after a four year long war and centuries of rule by previous empires including the Ottoman, Byzantine, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Persians, Assyrians and Phoenician.
The British Empire took over administration of Cyprus in 1878 in exchange for assurances that Britain would use the island as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire from possible Russian aggression. In fact, Cyprus remained de jure within Ottoman territory until 1914. Britain used Cyprus for more than that as it became a key military base in its colonial routes. Furthermore, the completion in 1906 of Famagusta’s harbour served as a strategic naval post overlooking the Suez Canal, which at the time was the main route to India. After the outbreak of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire joined the side of the Central Powers and Great Britain formally annexed Cyprus on the 5th of November 1914.
In 1915, Britain offered Cyprus to Greece on condition that it would join the war on the side of the British. Constantine I of Greece declined the offer. Under 1923’s Treaty of Lausanne, the Republic of Turkey relinquished any claims to Cyprus and in 1925, Cyprus was declared a British crown colony. Several Greek Cypriots joined the British Army and fought in both World Wars, hoping that Cyprus would eventually be united with Greece.
The Church of Cyprus organised a referendum in 1959 with regards to the unification with Greece (enosis). The Turkish Cypriot community boycotted the referendum and the majority voted in favour. The EOKA (the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) organization was founded in 1955 with the aim to seek independence from Britain and union with Greece through armed struggle. Contemporaneously, the TMT (Turkish Resistance Organisation) called for a partition (taksim). The British responded with force.
On the stroke of midnight of 16th of August 1960, Cyprus gained its independence after the Zurich and London Agreement. An agreement signed by the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. The United Kingdom retained the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The British governor, Sir Hugh Foot, read a proclamation outside the House of Representatives in Nicosia and a 21-gun salute marked the handover. The new Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios III gave a speech inspiring Cypriots to improve their new nation and calling for unity and bridging of contrasts. Sadly, unity wouldn’t last. In 1974, Greece’s military junta launched a coup against Makarios and the move triggered an invasion of the island by Turkey. The island remains divided to this day.
Cyprus Independence Day is traditionally commemorated with a big military parade in the capital Nicosia’s city centre and ends with an open reception in the Presidential Palace hosted by the Respective President and the First Lady. The parade usually comprise more than 1,000 members of the civil service together with various military vehicles including a 14 strong convoy of battle tanks and flyby helicopters. Schools and communities hold festivals and various activities throughout the island.