Armenians in Cyprus (Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol)
Early Days: There is a long link between Cyprus and Armenians, at least since 578 AD, when 3.350 Armenians from Arzanene (Aghdznik) were transferred here, establishing military colonies. More Armenians arrived for commercial, military and political reasons, and Armenian generals and governors served Byzantine Cyprus. The Armenian Archbishopric in Nicosia was founded by Catholicos Khatchig I in 973. In the Middle Ages took place a massive immigration of Armenians. Due to their proximity, commercial ties and a series of marriages, the Kingdoms of Cyprus and Cilicia became inextricably linked, and thousands of Cilician Armenians sought refuge here escaping the Muslim hordes.
During the Frankish and the Venetian Eras (1192-1489 & 1489-1570) there were many Armenian churches in Cyprus, Armenian was one of the official languages, and there were two Bishoprics (Nicosia and Famagusta). During the Ottoman occupation (1570-1571), about 40.000 Ottoman Armenian craftsmen were recruited, and many of the ones who survived settled mainly in Nicosia, where the Armenian Prelature was recognised as an Ethnarchy. However, their number declined dramatically due to the onerous taxation and the harshness of the administration, compelling many to become Linobambaki (Crypto-Christians) or to embrace Islam. Gifted with the acumen of industry, Armenians practised lucrative professions.
The arrival of the British in July 1878 and their progressive administration strengthened the small Armenian community even more. The number of Armenians in Cyprus significantly increased following the massive deportations, the horrific massacres and the Genocide committed by the Ottomans and the Young Turks (1894-1896, 1909 & 1915-1923). Cyprus widely opened its arms to welcome over 9.000 refugees from Constantinople, Smyrna and Cilicia. About 1.300 of them decided to stay, bringing new life to the old community and quickly establishing themselves professionally. Unique across the Armenian Diaspora, the Melkonian Education Institute was built between 1924-1926.
With the 1960 Independence, the Armenians were recognised as a "religious group", and opted to belong to the Greek-Cypriot community. During the intercommunal troubles (1963-1964), extremist Turkish-Cypriots evicted the Armenian-Cypriots from their ancient quarter in the walled city of Nicosia; they also took over the Ganchvor church in Famagusta. As a result, many left for Soviet Armenia, Great Britain and elsewhere. After the unlawful and savage Turkish invasion of 1974, Armenian-Cypriots from Famagusta, Nicosia and Kyrenia became refugees, and the Magaravank was occupied. On 24/04/1975, Cyprus became the first European country (and the second world-wide after Uruguay) to recognise the Armenian Genocide.
Today: With the help and support of the Cyprus government, Armenian-Cypriots have managed to thrive and prosper, preserving their religion, education, culture and language. In the last few decades, more Armenians have also settled here as political and economic immigrants from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Armenia and the former USSR. Represented by an elected Representative (MP), Armenians today number about 3.500, mostly living in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos' urban areas.
The community has its churches, schools, clubs, sports teams, and cemeteries in Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol, and the Kalaydjian Rest Home for the Elderly (Nicosia). It frequently organises cultural and charity events. Two Armenian newspapers are published monthly, "Artsakank" and "Azad Tsayn", together with the newsletters of the Prelature ("Keghart") and the Representative ("Lradou") and Gibrahayer.com e-magazine. There is also a one-hour daily radio programme on CyBC 2. Other than the official web site (www.cyprusarmenians.com), there is www.gibrahayer.com and www.hayem.org. There are two Armenian Genocide Monuments (Nicosia and Larnaca); two khachars (Nicosia and Limassol), and Armenian statues/sculptures in the premises of the Melkonian, Sourp Asdvadzadzin church (Nicosia), and the Magaravank. As of 01/12/2002, Armenian is a minority language in Cyprus, spoken by the vast majority of Armenian-Cypriots and taught at Nareg Elementary Schools.