Origin of the Turkish Cypriots

The Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Sultan Selim 1(1512-20) conquered the Mamluk Empire centred in Egypt in early 1517. At this time, although Cyprus was occupied and governed by Venetian lords, they paid a yearly tribute to the Mamluk Sultan in recognition of his suzerainty. Following the Ottoman victory in Egypt, the Venetians paid their yearly tribute directly to the Sultan in Istanbul.

However, Sultan Suleyman 1(1520-66), threatened by Venetian fortification of Cyprus and the piracy in the seas surrounding Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean, began military preparations towards removing the Venetian lords from Cyprus. Nevertheless these efforts never materialized into a full-scale operation before Soleyman I`s death. However, taking over the leadership of the Ottoman Empire from his father, Sultan Selim II repeatedly complained to the Venetians and demanded an end to the piracy in the seas surrounding Cyprus. The ~fletians refused to do this and ignored the demand of the Sultan to have full control of the island.

These relations were exacerbated by the Venetian seizure of Turkish ships, execution of Muslim corsairs in violation of an Ottoman-Venetian Treaty, and the continuing presence of Maltese pirates in Venetian ports harassing Muslim pilgrims and interfering in general commerce. Therefore, the Sultan Suleyman II decided to intervene and put an end to this state of af`airs,.as well as to consolidate the Ottoman control of the East in general. The Venetians refused to yield to the Sultan`s demands, and the Ottoman-Venetian war began early in 1570. Nicosia fell on 9 September 1570, followed by Famagusta on 1 August 1571. In spite of a naval reversal at Lepanto on the Adriatic coast on 7 October 1571, Selim`s efforts were successful and the Venetians had to sue for peace.

The peace treaty was concluded in March 1573 with Venice agreeing both to paying a heavy war indemnity sufficient to defray. all the Sultan`s expenses incurred in the conflict, and also to renounce all Venetian claims to Cyprus. It must be remembered that the Venetians were foreign feudal landlords in Cyprus, and the first step of the Turkish Governors was to abolish the feudal system.

Following the defeat of the Venetians in 1571, Lala Mustafa Pasha, the Turkish Commander of the land forces in Cyprus, chose, before I departing for Istanbul, 12,000 foot soldiers to remain on the island for the formation of the defensive garrisons of Famagusta, Nicosia, and Kyrenia. In addition, he distributed 4,000 cavalry men among the localities of Salines, Lemesos, Paphos, Kyrenia, and elsewhere. The military forces were complemented by an additional 20,000 decommissioned soldiers and 2,000 cavalry remaining as colonists. These people as a whole formed the original nucleus of the fledgling Turkish Cypriot community whose members were entirely of pure Turkish origin, and by order of Sultan Selim II they were given fiefs for the provision of their homes, and sustenance. Steps were also taken to assist all soldiers with dependents on the mainland of Turkey to bring their wives and children to Cyprus, as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, in the opinion of Sinan Pasha, the Beylerbeyi (Governor-General) who replaced Lala Mustafa Pasha, the island was still heavily in need not only of more residents in general but also of skilled craftsmen; Consequently, after he informed Sultan Selim II of the island`s condition, a firman* (decree) was issued to the Kadıs (chief judges) of Karaman, tvel, Bozok (Yozgat), Alaiyye (Alanya), Teke (Antalya), and Aydin calling for a population transfer. Throughout their history, this practice was commonly employed by the Ottoman Turks in rebuilding and populating conquered territories. This was an essential part of their political theory.

In this instance Sultan Selim II recommended the transfer of one in every ten families from the areas mentioned above. It was further stipulated that their properties should be sold for their actual market value and that all monies thereby accruing should be given to them for their use in Cyprus. Furthermore, in order to provide additional assistance, they were to be exempt from all taxation for the initial three years of their residence in Cyprus.

In order to ensure the effective development of the island as a homeland for Turkish Muslims, those individuals sent to Cyprus from mainland Turkey were, as part of the relocation programme, screened as to their moral integrity, two witnesses being required to testify to their character. In addition, efforts were made to obtain craftsmen representing a wide range of skills known to be in short supply on the island. Special attention was given primarily to relocating farmers. These were supplemented by some shoe-makers, boot-makers, taii6?>s,i weavers, makers of linen skull caps, quilt-makers, spinners, cooks, candle-makers, farriers, tanners, masons, jewelers, coppersmiths, and miners. Also, efforts were made to transfer families with many young daughters so as to provide spouses for unwed ex-military personnel. Ultimately, families relocated from the Trabzon, Giresun, Samsun, and Sinop areas provided many of the young women needed.

A total of 5,720 households were transferred in this early period and resettled in approximately one hundred empty villages in the Mesaoria, Mazoto, and Paphos regions of Cyprus. Early arrivals consisted of families primarily from Karaman, Yozgat, Alanya, and Antalya. Others quickly following came primarily from Beysehir, Aksaray, Seydisehir, Develihisar, Nigde, and Endugi. The transfer to Cyprus of population from several Anatolian provinces continued in the immediately ensuing years with families from Konya, Kirsehir, Aydin, Corum, Kayseri, Samsun, Eskisehir, Ankara, Burdur, and Usak.

The use of resettlement as a general method for the development of the Turkish population of Cyprus continued intermittently until the middle of the eighteenth century. Later transfer included the Akkesilli tribe from Usak; farmers from the Manavgat, Selendi, Mamuriye, and Karatas regions; and craftsmen and tradesmen numbering two hundred from Aleppo. At the time of the British arrival in Cyprus in 1878 under the Cyprus Defence Alliance between Great Britain and Turkey, approximately 95,000 Turkish Cypriots were residing on the island.