Umar, the second of the Rashidun caliphs (meaning “rightly guided,”) did not approve Damascus Governor Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan's request for permission to conquer Cyprus. Before writing a reply to his governor, the caliph asked Amr ibn al-As about the expeditions and ships used in the Mediterranean and did not find seafaring safe. His letter read, “I will not allow a single Muslim to travel on those ships.”
Umar also believed that they should not rush in to the conquest and instead gather detailed information about the lands of the enemies, plan strategically and postpone military expeditions that would not produce a guaranteed result. Islamic history resources point out to this belief as the second reason for him not allowing the conquering of Cyprus, which was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire.
Cyprus was conquered by Muslims in 649 during the caliphate of Uthman. Ubadah bin Samit and his wife Umm Haram bint Milhan were among the Muslim army that departed from the pier in Akka, Palestine. Umm Haram became the first martyr after falling off her horse during the military landing in the city known as Larnaca today. Umm Haram's grave is still visited today and is known as the Hala Sultan Mosque.
Cyprus, which became Ottoman land during the reign of Sultan Selim II in 1571, was governed by the Emevis, Byzantines, Crusaders, Genoese, Mamluks and the Venetians. All these states knew that having Cyprus was very important in order to maintain the domination of the East Mediterranean. Thus, they put in extra effort to keep Cyprus in their hands.
Leased to the U.K. in hope of protection against the Russian threat in 1878 during the period of Sultan Abdülhamid, Cyprus was then annexed by U.K. in 1914. Since then, Cyprus has been the weak point of the governments of the Republic of Turkey in foreign politics. Following its independence in 1960 and the increased systematic attack of Greeks on the Turkish minority, the “Peace Movement” in 1974 and Turkey recognizing Northern Cyprus as an independent political entity in 1983 were milestones.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is still an entity recognized by Turkey only. While our so-called European allies support Greece and the Greek Cypriots on the Cyprus issue, unfortunately we are yet to see support from our Muslim allies in the Muslim world regarding this matter.
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I had the opportunity to travel through Cyprus including all the little towns and villages. I saw a Cyprus in which all Islamic symbols have started to fade away, the doors of mosques are closed – the ones that are open do not have people in them – local Turks refrain from identifying themselves as Turkish, a Cyprus which Turkey is trying to hold onto merely with its citizens visiting Girne (Kyrenia) and the entertainment venues in the area, as well as its military. The small Turkish groups that have been located and imported there (students, representatives of nongovernmental organization, tradesmen, et cetera) are incapable of changing the overall course and picture of the island.
I saw that the identity crisis they experience as a result of being a minority and the longing of Northern Cypriots to enjoy the same welfare as the Greek Cypriots, are the reasons the Turkish Cypriots have become distant from Turkey. While an overwhelming majority perceive Turkey as a “burden,” they want to immediately integrate with the Greek Cypriots and move into the European line. The surveys, referendums, elections and governments – elected by the people – clearly show that they want to get out from under Turkey's shadow.
The issue, of course, has military, economic, political, social and demographic aspects. Putting aside how the likelihood of an integration attempt would be welcomed by the Greek Cypriots, it seems impossible that such a break off would work out without Turkey's support.
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There are only two ways to hold on to a land that is out of your borders. The first is to use weapons and the military, which could be a very risky and expensive method. The other is to establish an economic and cultural hegemony and thus indirectly keep them under control.
At the point reached, Turkey can maintain its influence in Cyprus only through cultural and economic hegemony. A Cyprus that has been lost sentimentally and whose people's hearts are inclined toward the opposing side cannot be kept by producing interim remedies and forming and supporting political structures that nobody in the world takes seriously.
An internationally accepted administration that allows the recognition of the choices of Turkish Cypriots should be established immediately and justly – even if their choices are ones that we may have difficulties accepting. These long-term and permanent gains should not be interfered with.
Many countries that were once controlled by the U.K. but are now independent, still continue their lives under British influence. The political system that was inherited and the established economic and cultural ties ensure that those countries are still aligned with the British. There are many lessons to be taken from these policies.