British Law and Order in Cyprus
Alexios Alecou explains how Britain sought to police the strategically important island in the eastern Mediterranean.
By the 1870s Turkey was on the verge of bankruptcy, the result of seemingly unending wars, especially with Russia, in a vain at-tempt to hold together the Ottoman Empire. Fearing Russian expansion into Asia Minor following Turkey’s defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, on June 4th, 1878 Prime Minister Disraeli signed a defence pact with Turkey, which assigned Cyprus to Britain. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 had returned Cyprus to its ancient pride of place and possession of the island, described by Disraeli as the ‘jewel of the Mediterranean’, was of vital military and economic importance to Britain, since it guaranteed a presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant. The Treaty of Berlin (signed by Britain, Austria, Germany, Russia and Turkey on July 13th, 1878) cemented Britain’s possession of the island. The day before the signing, the Turkish flag was lowered at Nicosia, its capital, and the Union Jack was hoisted in its place, ending 307 years of Ottoman occupation. The years of Turkish rule were critical in moulding the economic and social character of the island as it moved slowly towards the modern era. The British took over its administration on the pretext of a need to guarantee the sultan’s possessions.