Cypriot Americans

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Author: Olivia Miller
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
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Cypriot Americans

Olivia Miller


Cypriot Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from the Republic of Cyprus, an island country located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Cyprus lies north of Egypt, west of Syria, and south of Turkey. The island of Cyprus is partitioned, essentially along ethnic lines, with the southern part of the country under the control of the Greek government and the northern 37 percent of the land under the autonomous Turkish Cypriot administration, supported by the presence of Turkish troops. Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia, measuring 3,572 square miles (9,251 square kilometers), relatively the same size as the state of Connecticut.

According to the 2011 census conducted by the Statistical Service of the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek-controlled portion of the island has a population of 839,000 people; however, the CIA World Factbook estimated in 2013 that the total population was closer to 1,155,403 people, including both the southern portion and the Turkish-controlled area of Northern Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot population constitutes approximately 77 percent of the island's population, while the remaining population is made up of 18 percent Turkish Cypriots and 5 percent Christian and Muslim minorities. Similar to the divisions of the ethnic population, Greek Cypriots belong to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, and Turkish Cypriots practice Sunni Islam. Minority groups, such as the Armenians, the Maronites, and the Latin populations, identify with the Greek Orthodox Church. In 2011 the United Nations (UN) ranked Cyprus at number 31 on its worldwide Human Development Index (HDI), a composite index that measures life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. Although Cyprus maintains a highly functioning, high-income economy with a strong tourist base, the island was not immune to the tumultuous banking crisis that swept through the European Union (EU) in 2012.

Cyprus reports that there was immigration to the United States as early as the 1930s, but there are no available data in the United States before 1955. The first major wave of Greek Cypriot immigrants (approximately 1,500 people) arrived in the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s, times of political instability and socioeconomic insecurity on the island. Following the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, more Cypriots immigrated to the United States, a total of 8,343 between 1974 and 2004, according to the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics.

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 5,625 people of Cypriot ancestry were living in the United States. Around 36 percent of the population settled in the Northeast, primarily in Flemington, Brickton, and Wayside, New Jersey. Approximately 30 percent of Cypriot Americans live in the western United States, with large concentrations in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. Other states with significant populations of Cypriot Americans include New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, and Illinois.


Early History Cypriot culture is one of the oldest in the Mediterranean region. The discovery of copper on the island in around 3000 BCE led to more frequent visits from traders, as well as invasions by more powerful neighbors. Cypriots were influenced by traders from the Minoan civilization, who developed a script for Cypriot commerce. By 2000 BCE, a distinctively Hellenic culture had developed on Cyprus.

The island was ruled successively by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Beginning in 364 CE, Byzantium ruled Cyprus for 800 years, during which Cypriots suffered from three centuries of Arab wars. These wars led to the deaths of thousands of Cypriots and the destruction of Cypriot cities, which were never rebuilt. After Richard I of England (reigned 1189–1199) briefly possessed Cyprus during the Crusades, the island came under Frankish control in the late twelfth century. It was ceded to the Venetian Republic in 1489.

Cyprus was subsequently conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571. During this time, nearly 6,000 Turkish households were resettled into approximately 100 empty villages in the Mesaoria, Mazoto, and Paphos regions of Cyprus. The Ottomans allowed religious authorities in Cyprus to govern their own non-Muslim minorities, reinforcing the position of the Orthodox Church and the union of the ethnic Greek population.

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Modern Era Most of the Turks who settled on the island during the three centuries of Ottoman rule remained after control of Cyprus was yielded to Great Britain in 1878. The British had been offered Cyprus three times (in 1833, 1841, and 1845) before accepting it in 1878 to prevent Russian expansion into the area. At the time of British arrival under the Cyprus Defense Alliance between Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, approximately 95,000 Turkish Cypriots lived on the island. Many, however, moved to Turkey during the 1920s. The island was formally annexed by the United Kingdom in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I. It became a British colony in 1925.

After almost a century of British rule, Cyprus gained its independence in 1960 under the Treaty of Guarantee, which provided that Greece, Turkey, and Britain would ensure the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Independence was spearheaded by the Greek Cypriot EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, or National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a guerrilla group that pushed for political union with Greece. Archbishop Makarios, a charismatic religious and political leader, was elected president. Almost immediately the two communities disagreed over the implementation and interpretation of the constitution, and by December 1963 Turkish Cypriots ceased participation in the central government. Nearly 80 percent of the population, who were ethnically Greek, wanted enosis, or union with Greece. Ethnic Turks, however, who made up a little less than 20 percent of the population, wanted haksim, or partition from Greece. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964 and remain there. Following another outbreak of intercommunal violence during 1967 and 1968, a Turkish Cypriot provisional administration was formed. Because of its strategic location and its impact on the national interests of Greece and Turkey, Cyprus has led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies close to war several times over its control.

Believing that Makarios had abandoned the idea of Cyprus uniting with Greece, the Athens military sponsored a coup led by extremist Greek Cypriots in July 1974. Citing the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, Turkey intervened militarily to protect Turkish Cypriots, sending troops to take control of the northern portion of the island. Many Greek Cypriots fled south, while many Turkish Cypriots fled north. Some 30,000 Turkish mainland troops still occupy the northern part of the island, while 10,000 Greek Cypriot national guardsmen protect the south. Since then the country has been divided, with the government of Cyprus controlling the southern region and the Turkish Cypriot administration controlling the northern region.

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot administration proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; it was recognized only by Turkey. UN peacekeeping forces maintain a buffer zone between the two sides. Except for occasional demonstrations or infrequent incidents between soldiers in the buffer zone, there were no violent conflicts between 1974 and 1995. However, in 1996 violent clashes led to the deaths of two demonstrators and escalated Greek-Turkish tensions. There remained little movement of citizens and essentially no trading of goods or services between the two parts of the island. Efforts to reunite the island under a federal structure continued, however, under the auspices of the UN, whose efforts focus on creating a bizonal, bicommunal state under a federated government. In 1999 the UN sponsored talks between the Greek and Turkish sides in an effort to secure a comprehensive settlement, known as the Annan Plan. Between 1999 and 2003, the UN spearheaded a series of negotiations in anticipation of Cyprus joining the EU, leading to a series of revisions to the Annan Plan. Known as Annan III, the 2003 version was presented to the Turkish Cypriot president Rauf Denktash and the newly elected Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos. The effort dissolved, however, in March of that year when Denktash refused to put the measure to a referendum, citing his belief that the plan did not adequately account for the needs of the Turkish Cypriot people.

With the May 2004 date for Cyprus to join the EU looming, the involved parties pressured both the Greek and Turkish sides to resume negotiations. Portions of the militarized buffer zone were opened, allowing citizens of both parts of Cyprus to cross the border at open checkpoints. In 2003 Mehmet Ali Talat—running on a pro–Annan Plan platform—won election as prime minister of Northern Cyprus over the incumbent, Derviş Eroğlu. Similarly, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had won election as prime minister of Turkey earlier that year and pushed toward negotiations that would open up relations between the two sides as well as respect the needs of Turkish Cyprus.

In early 2004 UN secretary-general Kofi Annan presented the revised plan, Annan IV, to both leaders. Following highly volatile and contentious negotiations, the plan was amended and revised, culminating in the final version, Annan V. In April 2004 simultaneous votes in Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus were held to approve the stipulations of reunification under the Annan Plan. An overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan; however, Greek Cypriots voted against it, claiming that the settlement would violate Cyprus's sovereignty because Turkey would maintain its troops in Cyprus while the Cyprus National Guard would be dissolved. Relationships between the two sides remained strained as Papadopoulos took a hardline approach to dealing Page 609  |  Top of Articlewith the Turkish minority. Continued negotiations stalled, and the two sides operated under separate, sovereign states. In 2008 Dimitris Christofias, candidate for the AKEL, the communist party of Cyprus, was elected president over the nationalist, right-wing candidate Ioannis Kasoulidis. Almost immediately Christofias opened up talks with Talat, and the wall that had separated the two parts of the country was demolished. In April 2008, Ledra Street, the centerpiece of the buffer zone and the main artery in the capital city of Nicosia, was reopened. Reunification talks, however, lost traction when nationalists gained a majority in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Like much of the EU, Cyprus suffered through the economic crisis that erupted throughout the region and the world in 2008 and 2009. Because Cyprus relied heavily on the Greek economy, the country was immensely vulnerable when Greece was consumed by debt. By 2011 Cyprus's credit rating had been reduced to “junk status,” and Cyprus was unable to borrow from international credit agencies. Rising debt levels forced many EU nations, including Cyprus, to look to third-party governments for assistance. In spite of their best efforts, many of the nations were forced to seek bailouts from Brussels. Poised to take control of the presidency of the EU in 2011, Cyprus, which many viewed as a microcosm of the financial crisis, was forced to borrow close to 10 billion euros (approximately $12 billion U.S.). In 2012 Talat and Christofias renewed negotiations to push for a reunification settlement, but many of the initial problems remained, with Greek Cypriots advocating for a bilateral agreement between the two communities.


There is no information available on immigration to the United States from Cyprus before 1955. The earliest Cypriot immigrants may have been a wave of Turkish Cypriots came to the United States between 1820 and 1860, likely fleeing religious or political persecution.

Most Cypriot Americans immigrated to the United States in order to escape a variety of economic, political, and military upheavals. In the early part of the twentieth century, Cypriots, like many of their European counterparts, immigrated to the United States looking for economic and social opportunities. Most of the immigrants came from rural areas that suffered through drought, particularly in 1932–1933. Settling primarily in the northeastern United States, Cypriots formed small communities and opened up coffeehouses. Cypriots maintained a steady flow of immigration into the 1930s, developing communities that were loosely associated with their village of origin. During the 1950s, Greek Cypriots pushed for independence from British colonial rule. The violence escalated, and in the spring of 1955, the pro-nationalist group EOKA launched attacks against British military and police. For four years EOKA utilized guerrilla warfare tactics, targeting British interests and sympathizers. According to immigration statistics, 749 Greek Cypriots immigrated to the United States during this time.

The Republic of Cyprus was established in August 1960, but the new nation was rife with problems. EOKA had based its anticolonial campaign on a potential union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots resisted the move, and after negotiations the UN established a constitution that would protect the interests of both sides. Uncertainty over the newly formed government as well as over the stability of the nation led to a mass emigration between 1960 and 1963. Approximately 37,000 Cypriots fled the country. Most settled in Britain, and 720 are recorded as immigrating to the United States. The tenuous provisional government was undercut by increasing moments of civil unrest as intercommunal violence broke out in the latter part of the 1960s. Between 1964 and 1974, approximately 30,000 Cypriots fled the bloodshed, with just over 3,000 Cypriots immigrating to the United States. In 1974 the Cypriot National Guard overthrew President Makarios and replaced him with Nikos Sampson, a staunch Greek nationalist who championed anti-Turkish policies. In response, Turkey invaded Cyprus in July 1974, claiming that an invasion was the only means to protect the Turkish Cypriots from further violence. Following the Turkish invasion, 8,343 Cypriots immigrated to the United States between 1974 and 2004, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics.

Although many of the immigrants came from rural areas, Cypriots tended to settle in large urban communities. Cypriots in urban centers tended to find employment in the restaurant and service industries, while Cypriots who migrated to the Midwest sought agricultural jobs. Similar to other immigrant communities, as families progressed, broader opportunities were afforded to the younger generations. By the end of the twentieth century, over half of Cypriot immigrants were employed as professionals.

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 5,625 Americans stated they were of Cypriot ancestry. Some Cypriots settled in the Midwest and along the West Coast, but the largest communities reside in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Other states with significant numbers of Cypriot Americans are California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Illinois.


The three principal languages spoken in the Republic of Cyprus are Greek, Turkish, and English. Modern Greek contains twenty-four characters,

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2009–2011 American Community Survey

with five vowels and four vowel sounds. It is written in Attic characters; their names, transliterations, and pronunciations are as follows:

Aa—alpha/a (ah); Bß—beta/v (v); Gg—gamma/g (gh, y); Dd—delta/d, dh (th); Ee—epsilon/e (eh); Zz—zeta/z (z); Hh—eta/e (ee); Qq—theta/th (th); Ii—yiota/i (ee); Kk—kappa/k, c (k); Ll—lambda/l (l); Mm—mu/m (m); Nn—nee/n (n); Xx—kse/x (ks); Oo—omicron/o (oh); Pp—pee/p (p); Rr—rho/r (r); Ss—sigma/s (s); Tt—taf/t (t); Uu—ypsilon/y (ee); Ff—fee/ph (f); Cc—khee/h (ch [as in ach]); Yy—psee/ps (ps [as in lapse]); Ww—omega/o (oh).

For Greek Cypriots, the “b” sound of standard Greek is usually replaced with a “p,” so that a Cypriot says “tapella” for “tabella,” meaning sign or placard. The letter combination sigmi-iota (s-i) is pronounced as “sh.” When k begins a word, it sounds more like “g,” as in “good,” and the letter t sounds more like “d,” as in “dog.”

Turkish is the official language of Northern Cyprus, but English is the standard second language for Cypriots in both ethnic communities. The Turkish dialect spoken by Turkish Cypriots is closely related to other dialects of Anatolia but is distinct from the urban dialects of Istanbul, Ankara, and Zmir. Turkish Cypriots followed the reforms of Mustafa Kamal, a Turkish World War I hero who became known as “Ataturk,” or “father of the Turks.” Ataturk drove the Greeks out of Turkey and initiated many reforms, including replacing the Arabic alphabet with a modified Latin alphabet. The Turkish Cypriot community was the only Turkish minority in former Ottoman territories outside mainland Turkey to adopt these linguistic changes.

Turkish is part of the Ural-Altaic linguistic group. The alphabet consists of twenty-nine letters—twenty-one consonants and eight vowels. Six of these letters do not occur in the English alphabet. Turkish has no gender distinction, and there is no differentiation between he, she, and it. Several Turkish American organizations in the United States teach Turkish, but few second- and third-generation Turkish Americans speak the language.

Similar to many immigrant communities in the United States, both Greek and Turkish Cypriot Americans continue to speak their native tongue within the home. However, because both communities speak English as a second language, the transition between private and public language use is much more fluid for Cypriot Americans than it is for other immigrant groups. In the 2010 U.S. Census, close to 68 percent Page 611  |  Top of Articleof respondents who spoke Greek in their homes in the New York City Metropolitan Area reported that they could speak English “very well.” Statistical data for Turkish Cypriots is harder to discern, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Turkish Cypriots enjoy the same proficiency with English. Since the 1980s both communities have attempted to rejuvenate their traditional languages by enrolling their children in programs that teach Greek and Turkish.

Greetings and Popular Expressions For Greek Cypriots, éla! means “come here and speak to me,” and Pó-pó-pó!—“You don't say!”—is an expression of dismay. The standard telephone response is Embrós! or Léyeteh! Orísteh? means “What can I do for you?” Sigá sigá means “Take your time and slow down.” Other popular Greek expressions include cronia polla (pronounced “chrohnyah pohllah”), which means “many years/happy birthday”; and kalh tuch (“kahlee teechee”), which means “good year.”

Common expressions among Turkish Cypriot Americans include the following: Merhaba, which means “hello”; Gun aylin, which means “good morning”; lyi Aksamlar, which means “good evening”; Bilmiyorum, which means “I don't know”; Bir dakika! which means “wait a minute”; Tesekkur ederim, which means “thank you”; and Na'pan, a friendly “What are you doing?”


Most Greek Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians, followers of the Church of Cyprus, a tradition using the Greek liturgy and headed by a synod composed of bishops and an elected archbishop. Turkish Cypriots are Muslims and form the second-largest religious group. Ritual is the center of activity for the Orthodox Church. Seven sacraments are recognized: baptism in infancy, followed by confirmation with consecrated oil, penance, the Eucharist, matrimony, ordination, and unction in times of sickness or when near death. Many Greek Cypriot Americans are members of local Orthodox churches founded by Greek immigrants. The church has routinely functioned as a locus for social and political identity for Greek Cypriots, resulting in a generational space in which Greek Cypriots can identify simultaneously with both their homeland and their growing American community. Although overall church attendance has declined in the United States, close to 50 percent of Cypriots reported that they attend church on a regular basis, according to the 2010 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Although 98 percent of Northern Cyprus's population are Muslims, the Turkish administration that controls the region does not impose Islam on the people. The few Greek Cypriots who live in Northern Cyprus are free to follow their Greek Orthodox faith. Turkish Cypriots are among the most secular of Islamic peoples, not abstaining from alcohol as standard Muslim teaching requires but following traditional Mediterranean drinking customs. Wedding ceremonies are civil rather than religious. Religious leaders have little influence on politics in Northern Cyprus, and religious instruction, while available in schools, is not obligatory. Although there is some fasting during the month of Ramadan, moderate attendance at the Friday prayers, and widespread observation of the Muslim holy days, few Turkish Cypriots are orthodox Muslims. Some Turkish Cypriot immigrants become more devoted Muslims after they settle in the United States, but most Turkish Cypriot Americans continue a less fervent adherence to Muslim beliefs.


Cypriot Americans are family-oriented and hardworking. Greek and Turkish Cypriots share many customs but maintain distinct identities based on religion, language, and close ties with Greece and Turkey. Greek Cypriots tend to settle where there are established Greek communities, and these surroundings help immigrants become accustomed to the new culture. Turkish Cypriot Americans often face a more difficult time adjusting, as many Americans have negatively stereotyped Turks as “Islamic terrorists.” The earliest Turk immigrants settled in industrial cities and found factory work. A large part of the American Turkish community, however, returned to Turkey before the Depression during the 1930s. In the early twenty-first century, the Turkish American community is small and close-knit. Turkish Cypriot Americans tend to be more accepted among American Turks than among Greek Cypriot Americans.

Traditions and Customs The ancient Greek poets and playwrights frequently mention the early influences of Cyprus. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was said to have been born out of the sea foam on Cyprus's west coast. The most important temple to Aphrodite was built at Paphos in Cyprus, where the love goddess was worshiped for centuries. In his epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, the poet Homer mentions Aphrodite and a Cypriot king, Kinyras of Paphosin.

Greek Cypriots are proud of their Greek heritage. Greek Cypriot Americans continue strong church traditions, such as abstaining from meat, fish, or dairy products during the Lenten season. Easter is the most celebrated religious holiday for Greek Cypriot Americans. Avgolemono soup, made from eggs and lemons in chicken stock, is traditional Easter fare, as are flaounes, savory Easter cakes that contain a special Easter cheese, eggs, spices, and herbs, all wrapped in a yeast pastry.

Turkish Cypriots value a society in which roles are clearly defined. For example, they regard public service as a more prestigious (though low-paying) occupation than a successful business career. Turkish Cypriot Americans, though not strict Muslims, also Page 612  |  Top of Articleoften become a part of the Muslim community in the United States. Adjustments to American culture tend to be more difficult for them than for Greek Cypriot immigrants.

Cuisine The distinctive dishes created by Cypriots blend Greek traditions with influences from other countries, including Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, France, and Britain. Cypriots cook with less oil than their Mediterranean neighbors, and their diet is healthy. A popular food is halloumi, the traditional white cheese of Cyprus, which has been produced on the island for centuries. It is a semihard cheese prepared from sheep's milk, with mint added to it. Halloumi is delicious when grilled or fried. Greek Cypriots enjoy traditional Greek foods, such as baklava, which is made from phyllo pastry, nuts, honey, and syrup.

Cypriots drink a lot of coffee, and the beverage is made in individual servings in small, long-handled pots called mbrikia. One heaped teaspoon of finely ground fresh coffee is added to a demitasse of cold water. Sugar is added before the coffee is heated. Cypriots order coffee glykos (sweet), metrios (medium sweet), or sketos (unsweetened). The mbrikia is heated on the stove, and when the sugar has dissolved, the coffee is allowed to come to a boil, forming a creamy froth, kaimaki, on top. As the froth turns in from the sides and the coffee begins to rise in the pot, it is removed from the heat, and a little is poured into each cup to distribute the froth. Cyprus coffee is strong and is always served with a glass of cold water. It contains no spices and leaves a little sediment in the bottom of the cup.

Turkish Cypriot cuisine owes its heritage to a mixture of Mediterranean, southern European, and Middle Eastern influences. Local dishes include meze, a specialty of Cyprus that consists of a large number of cold and hot hors d'oeuvres, such as salads, meats, vegetables, and fish dishes. It is eaten either as an appetizer or as a main course. Other typical dishes include choban salatasi (peasant-style salad), one of the most popular salads in Northern Cyprus. Ingredients include tomatoes, onions, green peppers, olives, cucumber, halloumi cheese, oregano, and olive oil. Yalanci dolma is vine leaves stuffed with rice, onions, and tomatoes. Shish kebab is marinated lamb, skewered and grilled over charcoal. Musakka consists of layers of mince, potatoes, and eggplant baked in the oven with cheese topping. Cacik is yogurt with cucumber and mint. Ahtapot salatasi is octopus salad.

Desserts and pastries from Turkish Cyprus include ceviz macunu, made from green walnuts in syrup; lokum, which is Turkish delight; turunch macunu, a delicacy made of bitter oranges in syrup; and sucuk, a traditional Cypriot sweet, made of thickened grape juice and almonds.

Northern Cyprus produces a small number of wines, the best known of which are aphrodite and kantara. Both wines are light and fruity and make good accompaniments to local dishes. The country also produces its own sherry, called monarch. A locally famous drink is the anise seed-based raki, and brandy sour is another favorite with the Turkish Cypriots.

Traditional Dress Traditional Cypriot clothing included simple cottons and silks with little variation from village to village. The outer garments were made from alatzia, a durable cotton cloth similar to ticking, usually with fine vertical or crossed stripes in deep red, blue, yellow, orange, or green on a white ground. Men's shirts and women's dresses for everyday wear were generally of blue alatzia with white stripes. Black was substituted for blue in the cloth used for the jackets of elderly men, while those of younger men were of standard red-striped alatzia zibounisimi. There were local variations for the festival costumes, which had a characteristic color combination and were named according to their source of origin, such as maratheftikes, morphitoudes, lapithkiotikes, and interalia.

In medieval times Cyprus was known for its silk bridal chemises and undergarments. Though the fabric varied from region to region, the fine pure silk and the silk and cotton taista and itaredes of Nicosia and the towns of Lapithos and Karavas in Karpasia were impressive. Everyday chemises were made of white, handwoven cottons. There were few distinct regional differences in the male costume of Cyprus, which generally was the densely pleated baggy trousers (vra'ka), the waistcoat (yilekko), and the jacket (zibouni). The Cypriot female costume consisted of an outer garment, a chemise, and distinctive long pantaloons fastened at the ankle. The saya, a kind of frock open at the front and sides, was common in most urban and rural regions of Cyprus until the nineteenth century. The foustani, a one-piece waisted and pleated dress, was the preferred overgarment in the rural areas of Cyprus well into the 1950s.

Dances and Songs The traditional Turkish folk dances of Cyprus vary significantly based on the dancers and musicians, the region of origin, and the theme. The names for dances also change with these variables. Many are known by the accompanying items, including wooden spoons, sword and shield, knife, and drinking glass. There are Turkish Cypriot folk dances, such as the circle, semicircle, one-lined, and double-lined. Few of these dances are performed solely by either men or women. Traditional Greek dances may be danced in a circle, in a straight line, or between couples.

Varieties of Greek Cypriot music include dimotika, laika (or laïkó), and evropaika. Dimotika are traditional rural folk songs often accompanied by a clarinet, a lute, a violin, a dulcimer, and a drum. Laika is an urban-style song popularized in the mid-twentieth century that may feature the bouzouki, a long-necked string instrument. Evropaika is Euro-style music set to Greek words that is popular with the older generations.

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Holidays Greek Cypriots celebrate many Greek Orthodox holy days throughout the year in addition to Christmas, Easter, and New Year's Day. New Year's Day is known as St. Basil's Day in Cyprus. In celebration a special cake called vasilopitta is baked by each family, and when it is cut, the person who finds a coin in his slice is promised luck for the next year. Greek Cypriot Americans celebrate Cyprus Independence Day on October 1, and many celebrate Greek Independence Day on March 25, commemorating Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. Turkish Cypriot Americans observe both civil and religious holidays. In addition, Turkish Americans began a unique holiday in 1984, celebrating Turkish American Day with a parade down New York's Fifth Avenue.


The family is traditionally the most important institution in Greek Cypriot society. In villages people think of themselves primarily as members of families. Greek Cypriot households typically consist of a father, a mother, and their unmarried children. Traditionally, marriages are arranged, generally through the mediation of a matchmaker. When children marry, parents give them a portion of land, if available, along with money and household items. Even at the beginning of the 1990s, such economic considerations remained a decisive factor in marriage settlements. From 1985 to 1989, the country's annual marriage rate was the highest in Europe. On the other hand, the divorce rate among Greek Cypriots almost doubled between 1980 and 1988. The number of extramarital births, however, remains very low by European standards.

In the United States, Greek Cypriots have attempted to balance their traditional beliefs within the larger culture. American culture affords women the ability to break from patriarchal family structures while also contributing to the development of Greek American culture. The family continues to serve as a mechanism of historical memory, but it also has become a place in which families test their new identities against their traditional beliefs. Second and third generations of immigrants have been able to secure better education and employment opportunities, creating a larger tension between upholding traditional values with the demands of the larger culture.

Turkish Cypriots are also concerned with encouraging economic prosperity within their families. A major portion of household income goes to educating children, finding them suitable spouses, and helping them find good jobs. More than in most Western societies, Turkish Cypriots are conscious of their extended family. The nuclear or core traditional family might include not only the husband, the wife, and their unmarried children, but also a newly married son and his family and sometimes the mother's parents. The presence of the mother's parents in the core family is an important variation from the traditional Turkish family structure, in which the husband's parents live with the family.

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Cypriots have many proverbs, including the following:

Abu binni grasin vereshe, methkia thkio fores.

He who drinks wine on debt gets drunk twice.

Athkiaseros babas thafki je dus zondanus.

A priest with time on his hands buries even the living.

Biamen belli j' irtamen arkobelli.

We went as fools and came back as arch-fools.

Do galon horkon golauzin en theli.

A good village needs no guide.

Enan shelionin en ferni din annixin.

One swallow doesn't bring the spring.

I abandisi du bellu en i siobi.

The response to a fool is silence.

I alithkia je do lain banda fkennun bubano.

Truth and oil always rise above.

O fronimos eyinin du bellu ghaurin.

The wise man became the fool's donkey.

Thkio yelun gadi xerun, enas yela bellos eni.

Two who laugh know something; one who laughs is mad.

Zefkarin aderkaston, horafin sherisson.

An ill-matched couple is a barren field.

As with virtually every immigrant group in the United States, traditional practices and values tend to decline with each succeeding generation. Particularly among Greek Cypriot Americans, but also among the Turkish Cypriots, each succeeding generation increasingly embraces the patterns and practices of the dominant American culture. Old-world practices and beliefs that are viewed as quaint fall into disuse, and traditional celebrations increasingly cluster around such events as baptisms, marriages, and religious holidays.

Education The Republic of Cyprus boasts a high level of education and a 99 percent literacy rate. For Greek Cypriots, pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels in academic and technical vocational high schools are free and mandatory. Higher education is available at specialized schools and at a university that opened in the early 1990s.

The majority of Cypriots who pursue higher education do so at Greek, Turkish, British, or American universities. Many Cypriots are educated at foreign Page 614  |  Top of Articleuniversities, and the percentage of Cypriot students studying at the university level is among the highest in the world. During the 1970s and 1980s, an average of more than 10,000 Cypriots studied abroad annually, mostly in Greece and Britain. In the 1980s the United States became a major destination for Cypriot students going abroad, generally surpassing Britain. Studying abroad continued to be common into the early twenty-first century, with approximately 78.7 percent of Cypriot university students studying abroad in 2009. The number of women studying abroad increased during the 1970s and 1980s, from 24 percent in 1970 to 40 percent in 1987.

Gender Roles Modern Greek Cypriot American women are typically better educated than their mothers and are more likely to work outside the home. While the traditional domestic role is still an expectation, Greek Cypriot American women are more likely to balance the homemaking responsibilities with a professional occupation.

After World War II, Greek Cypriot women had greater access to education and increased their participation in the workforce. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in primary education was one to three. By 1943 about 80 percent of girls attended primary school. When elementary education was made mandatory in 1960, there were equal enrollment levels for boys and girls. By the 1980s girls made up 45 percent of those receiving secondary education. Only after the mid-1960s did women commonly leave Cyprus to receive

Cypriot American cinematographer Harris Savides (1957–2012) attends the Cinema Society and Details screening of Milk at the Landmark Sunshine Theater in 2008 in New York City.

Cypriot American cinematographer Harris Savides (1957–2012) attends the Cinema Society and Details screening of Milk at the Landmark Sunshine Theater in 2008 in New York City. JIM SPELLMAN/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES

higher education. In the 1980s women made up about 32 percent of those studying abroad. By 2006 more women than men studied abroad.

Cypriot women have long participated in the workforce, traditionally in agriculture. From 1960 to 1985, the women's share of the urban workforce rose from 22 percent to 41 percent, while their share of the rural workforce fell from 51 percent to 44.4 percent. Special protective legislation in 1985 provided women with marriage grants and maternity grants that paid them 75 percent of their insurable earnings. Occupational gender segregation persisted in Cyprus at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Reflecting cultural imperatives, Turkish Cypriot women are bound by traditional rules to a greater extent than their Greek counterparts. Although most Cypriot women work outside the home, they were expected to fulfill the traditional domestic roles with little help from their husbands. Women with full-time jobs were pressured by the traditional standards of keeping a clean house and providing daily hot meals. In the 1990s Cypriot Muslim women were still burdened with the expectation of safeguarding the honor of the family by avoiding any social contact with men that could be construed to have a sexual content. Whatever their career or other outside responsibilities, a woman is expected to keep a “good home” and to raise children who are aware and proud of their heritage.

Courtship and Weddings In Greek Cypriot culture, an engagement is traditionally preceded by negotiations between parents, but parents do not force their children to accept arranged marriages. This once-universal practice is declining in Cyprus, however, and Cypriot Americans usually choose their mates without parental involvement.

For Turkish Cypriots, marriage and divorce are governed by law based on the Quran. Turkish law applies in all religious and family matters among Muslims and in marriages and engagements involving a non-Muslim woman. Marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is prohibited. Turkish Cypriots traditionally married someone from their own lineage, the descendants of a common ancestor connected through the male line. Turkish Cypriot Americans do not follow the custom of marriage within the lineage. Even in Cyprus, marriage within one's lineage became less common in the second half of the twentieth century.

In Greek Cyprus the most popular time for weddings is in the summer, and the whole village celebrates. Resi, a rich pilaf of lamb and wheat, is prepared, and special little shortbreads, loukoumi, are piled high for the guests. The sponsor at a Cypriot wedding, similar to an American best man or maid of honor, becomes a ceremonial relative. The male sponsor, koumbaros, or female sponsor, koumbara, is expected to pay for all of the wedding expenses, except the purchase of the Page 615  |  Top of Articlerings. The sponsor usually becomes the godparent of the couple's first child, and sponsors are considered to be relatives, part of the extended family. Most weddings involve several sponsors.

Traditionally, the bridegroom provided the house, and the bride's family supplied the furniture and linens. These items constituted the dowry, the allocation of an equal portion of the parents' property to the children, male or female, at the time of marriage, rather than after the death of the parents. Until the 1950s this transfer of property at marriage was agreed to orally by the parties involved; more recently the so-called written dowry contract has been introduced. A formal agreement specifying the amount of property to be given to the couple, the dowry contract is signed by all parties and enforced by religious authorities. After World War II it became the bride's obligation to provide the house. Ownership of a house, given the scarcity of land (especially after the invasion of 1974) and the considerable expense of building, became a great advantage for a single woman seeking to marry. In the 1990s a working woman's income went primarily toward the construction of a house.

In rural Turkish Cypriot society, the wedding festivities traditionally lasted for several days. Modern Turkish Cypriot couples often do not rely on their parents to arrange a match. Although dating, as practiced in the United States, was not common even at the beginning of the twenty-first century, couples often met in small groups of friends. Once a couple decided to marry, both sets of parents were consulted. The families then arranged the engagement and marriage.

Turkish Cypriots adapted the Greek Cypriot tradition of the bride's family providing substantial assistance to the newlyweds. Turkish Cypriots modified it to include assistance from both families. Traditionally, the bride's family provided a house, some furniture, and money as part of their daughter's dowry. The bridegroom's family met the young couple's remaining housing needs. If the bride's family was unable to provide such assistance, the young couple lived with the bride's family until they saved enough money to set up a separate household. The bride brought to her new home the rest of her dowry, known as cehiz, which made the new family financially more secure. Turkish Cypriot Americans often provide their own housing, though families will send assistance where possible.

Baptisms For Greek Cypriot children, the naming of the child is done at baptism, not at birth. After a child has been baptized, his or her name day, meaning the day of the saint for whom he or she was named, is celebrated each year instead of his or her actual birthday or day of baptism.

The wedding sponsors, or koumbari, also act as godparents to the first child. The baptism ceremony

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Relations between Cyprus and the United States were hindered by the 1974 assassination of U.S. Ambassador Roger Davies in Nicosia. The Nixon and Ford administrations became involved in refugee resettlement and peace talks during the 1974 crisis, and a more activist American policy was institutionalized. A special Cyprus coordinator position in the Department of State was established in 1981. The position was first held by Reginald Bartholomew (1981–1982) and later by Thomas Weston (1999–2004). In June 1997 the United States appointed Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke as special presidential emissary for Cyprus. Efforts to stimulate discussion about confidencebuilding measures, intercommunal projects and cooperation, and new directions in the United States' annual aid program to Cyprus met with resistance from the republic's government. The republic looked to the U.S. Congress and the Greek American community to correct what they considered a pro-Turkish bias in U.S. policy.

Since the mid-1970s the United States has channeled millions of dollars in assistance to the two communities through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Cyprus Red Cross. The United States provides funds annually to promote bicommunal projects and to finance U.S. scholarships for Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Successive U.S. administrations have viewed UN-led intercommunal negotiations as the best means to achieve a fair and permanent settlement in Cyprus. Beginning in 1999, the United States aided the UN secretary-general's efforts to settle the divisions in Cyprus. Following the Annan Plan, the Obama administration announced that it would continue to push for a single government that adequately represented both the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots. These efforts tend to be hampered by strong and continuing antagonism between the Greeks and Turks—an antagonism sharpened by the strife of the twentieth century as well as historic antipathy reaching back to the days of Ottoman rule.

of the Greek Orthodox Church is a special ceremony involving several steps. It begins at the narthex of the church, where the godparents speak for the child, renounce Satan, blow three times in the air, and spit three times on the floor. After the Nicene Creed is recited, the child's name is spoken for the first time. At the front of the church, the priest uses consecrated water to make the sign of the cross on various parts of the child, who is undressed. The godparents rub the child with olive oil, and the priest immerses the child in water three times before handing the child to the godparents, who wrap him in a new white sheet. Following baptism, the child is anointed with a special oil (miron) and dressed in new clothing. A candle is lit, and the priest and godparents hold the child while other children walk around in a dance signifying joy. Then scriptures are read, and Communion is given to the child. The parents will often sponsor a joyous celebration, including a lavish meal, after the ceremony.

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Cypriot American kicker Garo Yepremian, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, is honored with the rest of the team at a ceremony during halftime of a game in 2012.

Cypriot American kicker Garo Yepremian, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, is honored with the rest of the team at a ceremony during halftime of a game in 2012. JOEL AUERBACH / GETTY IMAGES SPORT / GETTY IMAGES


Greek Cypriot Americans tend to be highly educated. Many are teachers and academics. Turkish Cypriot Americans are also highly educated and are often employed as physicians, scientists, and engineers. While many immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century were unskilled laborers who found employment in large industrial cities, subsequent immigrants were highly skilled professionals employed in virtually every field. Among Cypriot Americans, education is valued as a mark of status, but it also is viewed in very practical terms as the key to economic achievement. Children are expected to work hard and to do well in school. Cypriot American parents expect that their children will attain comparable or greater levels of success.

Education was a common way of rising in social status, and most Cypriots respect higher education and white-collar professions. The expanding economy in the second half of the twentieth century allowed many Cypriots to obtain more sophisticated work than their parents had. Within one generation, a family could move from an agricultural background to urban professions in teaching, government, or small business. The traditional economy of subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry was replaced by a commercial economy, centered in expanding urban areas. The flight from agriculture reached a peak in 1974, when the best and most productive agricultural land fell under Turkish occupation. In 1960 some 40.3 percent of the economically active population were agricultural workers; in 1973 the figure was down to 33.6 percent. In 1988 government figures estimated that only 13.9 percent of the workforce earned a living from farming full-time.


Numerous Greek American political and social organizations have existed since the 1880s. Turkish American involvement in U.S. politics did not begin until the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 mobilized individuals seeking to counter the U.S. government's support for the Greeks. In the 1990s Cypriot American organizations for both Greek and Turk ethnic groups exerted lobbying influences aimed at seeking political advantage in Cyprus. Cypriot Americans remain involved in political issues of importance to Cyprus.

Greek Cypriot immigrants feel patriotic duties to both Cyprus and the United States. During both World Wars, Greek Cypriot Americans served in the U.S. armed forces and participated in assorted war fund drives. Cypriots were staunch supporters of the Allied cause in World War II, particularly after the invasion of Greece by Germany in 1940. The draft was not imposed on the colony, but during the war more than 30,000 Cypriot volunteers served in the British forces.


Academics Chrysostomos L. Nikias (1952–) is a Greek Cypriot American who was appointed president of the University of Southern California in 2010. Symeon C. Symeonides is a Cyprus-born Greek Cypriot American who began serving as dean of the Willamette Law School in 1999.

Government Charlie Crist (1956–), an American of Greek Cypriot heritage, served as governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011.

Sports Garo Yepremian (1944–), football placekicker from 1966 to 1981, was born in Larnaca, Cyprus. He played for the Miami Dolphins and led the National Football League in scoring in 1971.

Stage and Screen Hal Ozsan (1976–) is a British-born actor of Turkish Cypriot descent who moved to the United States in the 1990s; he is known primarily for his role in the television series Dawson's Creek but continued to appear in a variety of television shows, including Californication, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Bones.

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Full Text: 

Panpaphian Association

This organization seeks to preserves Greek Cypriot culture and promote good relations between the United States and Cyprus. Among other activities, it sponsors an annual scholarship awards program.

Michael Hadjiloucas, President
48-02 25th Avenue
Suite 303
Astoria, New York 11103
Phone: (908) 227-5576

Cyprus Federation of America

An organization that works to maintain Greek Cypriot culture and to raise awareness about issues relating to Cyprus. It operates a youth program, the Cyprus Youth Association of America.

Despina Axiotakis
Phone: (201) 444-8237

United Cypriots of Southern California, San Diego

John Vassiliades, President
8032 Bluebird Lane
La Palma, California 90623


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Institute of Cypriot Studies

An integral unit of the State University of New York–Albany, the program encourages research and cultural activities related to Cyprus.

Matthew Griggs
Humanities 372
Albany, New York 12222
Phone: (518) 442-3982
Fax: (518) 442-4033


Borowiec, Andrew. Cyprus: A Troubled Island. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.

Durrell, Lawrence. Bitter Lemons. With a new introduction by the author. New York: Marlowe, 1996.

Hannay, David. Cyprus: The Search for a Solution. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.

Mallinson, William. Cyprus: A Modern History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2000.

Salih, Halil Ibrahim. Cyprus: Ethnic Political Counterpoints. Maryland: UP of America, 2004.

Streissguth, Tom. Cyprus: Divided Island. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1998.

Uslu, Nasuh. The Turkish-American Relationship Between 1947 and 2003: The History of a Distinctive Relationship. Hauppague, NY: Nova, 2006.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300058