It is known that Cyprus was first settled by humans in the Paleolithic period the first evidence of human occupation on the Karpasia peninsula dates to the Neolithic era, with evidence of habitation on the Kastros hill site at the end of the Apostolos Andreas Peninsula.
By the Classical and Hellenistic period these had developed into cities with Karpasia situated in the locale of Ayios Philonas church and the more important Ourania, which was considered among the most important cities in Cyprus during the period and situated approximately 8 km north of Rizokarpasso in Afentrika. Both were abandoned as a consequence of the Arab Raids which began in 647AD and were said to have struck more the 20 times.
It is during this period that Rizokarpasso is said to have been founded with a number of legends arising as to how the name arose including that that people in fear from the raiders would hide at night among the roots of trees and bushes, thus the name came to be from the composition of the word for roots ‘Rizo’ and ‘Karpasia’.
A more plausible theory was recently put forward by the historian Dr. Kyriakos Hadjioannou, who claimed that the name Karpasia most likely originates from the Karpasos plant (a high quality linen plant) which can be found in the area and which was cultivated up until the Turkish invasion. It was during the Byzantine period that the name changed to Karpasion, however in order to differentiate it from all the villages in the area which were known with the generic name of Karpasia, Karpasion was renamed as Rizokarpasson, highlighting its status as the most important town in the area.
The establishment of the Diocese of Karpasia
According to the synodal letter of Theophilus at the end of the fourth century, there were fifteen episcopal seats in Cyprus including that of Karpasia. It is not known exactly when Karpasia was elevated to a Diocese, however it is certain that a bishopric has existed since the second half of the fourth century, when its first known bishop, St. Philon, was ordained by St Epiphanius. After the devastation of Karpasia the seat of the Diocese was transferred to Rizokarpasso.
.It is assumed that the life and activity of the diocese of Karpasia continued rather seamlessly , throughout the Byzantine period until the first decades of the imposition of the Lusignan rule in Cyprus in 1192 AD. Although it was suppressed in 1222 by the papal legate Cardinal Pelagius, it figures in later episcopal lists.
During the period of Frankokratia (Lusignan period: 1192-1489) A number of villages in Karpasia became feudal estates. According to Stefano Lusignano, Rizokarpasso was a feudal town under the rule of the renown medieval family De Nores, until James II (the Bastard) had the title removed from Gauthier de Nores for his continued support of James’s opponent and half-sister, Queen Charlotte.
Rizokarpasso became the residence of the Orthodox Bishop of Famagusta in 1222, at a time when only four out of 15 Bishops remained in Cyprus and those that did had been forced to abandon the towns.
Karpasia was raided a number of times including in 1363, when Karpasia was twice invaded by the Ottomans Turks according to Leontios Machairas in the Filokypros Chronicles; in 1425, when the Saracens arrived from Syria with 50 galleys and from there advanced onto Famagusta and in June 1489, according to Georgios Boustrianos when Karpasia was raided by the Ottomans during the period when Cyprus was being officially annexed by the Republic of Venice, and bringing to a close the Frankish period
For Cypriots, the change from Lusignan to Venetian rule was hardly noticeable. The Venetians were as oppressive as their predecessors, and aimed to profit as much as possible from their new acquisition.
During the long Lusignan period and the eighty-two years of Venetian control, foreign rulers unquestionably changed the Cypriot way of life, but it was the Cypriot peasant with his Greek religion and Greek culture who withstood all adversity. Throughout the period, almost three centuries, there were two distinct societies, one foreign and one native. The first society consisted primarily of Frankish nobles with their retinues and Italian merchants with their families and followers. The second society, the majority of the population, consisted of Greek Cypriot serfs and laborers. Each of these societies had its own culture, language, and religion. Although a decided effort was made to supplant native customs and beliefs, the effort failed.
The fall of Famagusta in 1571 marked the beginning of the Ottoman period in Cyprus, with the island remaining under Ottoman rule for the next three centuries.
In 1575 the Turks granted permission for the return of the archbishop and the three bishops of the Church of Cyprus to their respective sees. They also abolished the feudal system for they saw it as an extraneous power structure, unnecessary and dangerous. The autocephalous Church of Cyprus could function in its place for the political and fiscal administration of the island’s Christian inhabitants. Ottoman rule of Cyprus was at times indifferent, at times oppressive, depending on the temperaments of the sultans and local officials. The island fell into economic decline both because of the empire’s commercial ineptitude and because the Atlantic Ocean had displaced the Mediterranean Sea as the most important avenue of commerce.
Rizokarpasso and Karpasia fared much like the rest of the island with periods of poverty, hardship and oppression. The religious devotion of the residents of Karpasia is evident by the number of churches in the area, many of which now lie in ruin, however this did not stop a large number of people and residents of whole villages such as Galinoporni and Korovia from converting to Islam, as a means to allay both the poverty and the tyrannical rule of the Ottomans. Becoming Linovamvaki (Crypto-Christian) in the beginning, they outwardly professed Islam and secretly practiced Christianity before eventually integrating into the Turkish Cypriot community. French historian Mas Latrie claimed that Rizokarpaso had a population of less than 500 in 1850 and was predominantly inhabited by Muslims at the time. However, according to the Ottoman census of 1831, Christians constituted the only inhabitants of the village. At the turn of the century there were only one or two Muslim families staying in the village.
Rizokarpasso began to flourish by the late 19th century, thanks to the industriousness of its inhabitants. By the middle of the 20th century it was the largest village in Cyprus with over 5000 inhabitants. Towards the end of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, migration trends towards England, Australia and South Africa, somewhat diminished the population numbers.
The United Kingdom took administrative control of the island in 1878, to prevent Ottoman positions from falling under Russian control. Many Greek-speaking inhabitants of the island welcomed the arrival of the British as a chance to voice their demands for union with Greece (enosis, a movement which had been steadily growing in the latent years of Ottoman rule. When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers, Britain took the opportunity to renounce the agreement and all Turkish claims over Cyprus and declared the island a British colony.
Under British rule in the early 20th century, Cyprus escaped the conflicts and atrocities that went on elsewhere between Greeks and Turks; By 1925, Britain had declared Cyprus to be a Crown Colony, and in the years that followed and especially after World War II, the movement gained strength. In the mid-1950s, when anticolonial guerrilla activities began, Turkish Cypriots, who until that time had only rarely expressed opposition to enosis, began to agitate for taksim (partition), and Greece and Turkey began actively to support their respective ethnic groups on the island.
Rizokarpasso played its part in the national liberation struggles, with many joining the fight for enosis. Both Petrakis Yiallouros and Panayiotis Kaspis lost their lives during the struggles in 1956 and 1958 respectively.
Independence & Invasion
After four years of guerrilla revolt by Greek Cypriots against the British, a compromise settlement was reached between Greece and Turkey, Britain and the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. As a result of this settlement, Cyprus became an independent republic in August 1960. By the early 1960s, political arguments over constitutional interpretation continually dead-locked the government resulting in stalemate and consequently inter-communal violence leading to the segregation of the two ethnic communities and establishment of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Even with United Nations (UN) troops as a buffer, however, intermittent conflict continued and brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war in 1964 and 1967.
The conclusive separation of the two communities occurred in July 1974 when Turkish troops, illegally invaded Cyprus and seized 38% of the territory in the north, thus implementing a de facto partition that still exists to this day. Over 200,00 Greek Cypriots (82% of the population) have been ethnically cleansed, their properties and homes are still occupied by 40,000 troops and over 160,000 illegal settlers transported to colonize and change the demography of northern Cyprus.
Rizokarpasso was caught within the cordon and many of its inhabitants were prevented from fleeing to the south, when the peninsula was cut off by Turkish troops. As of October 1975, the number of the Greek Cypriots who were still in the village was 1,996. By October 1976 their number dropped to 1,664, and by May 1980 their number decreased to 1,002. Today, despite the efforts of the Turkish authorities to ethnically cleanse the Greek Cypriot population and the reduction in their numbers, over 200 Greek Cypriot inhabitants still remain in Rizokarpasso despite the fact that their basic human rights are denied by the illegal administration.