By Edmond Y. Azadian
Why does Cyprus matter for the Armenians? Because its history is intimately intertwined with ours. At one point in history, Armenia’s destiny was bartered against Cyprus. The medieval Armenian kingdom of Cilicia had close relations with the Greek principalities on the island, until the Armenian kingdom fell victim to the Mamluks in Egypt and the island was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1571.
During the occupation of Cyprus, the Ottomans settled 40,000 Armenians on the island.
In modern times, the Armenian question was featured in the world political forum for the first time in 1878, at the conclusion of the Russo-Ottoman war, which allowed the victorious Tsarist army to arrive and camp at San Stefano, where a peace treaty was signed between the warring parties. The Russian side, posing as the protector of Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire, was able to include Article 16 in the treaty, which demanded that the sultan carry out reforms in the Armenian provinces and report about those reforms to the tsar.
That left Britain apprehensive, as for centuries its policy was designed to keep away Russia from the warm waters of the Mediterranean. And with the new treaty, Russia also gained control over the Dardanelles Strait.
Britain’s Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was able to convene another conference, this time in Berlin, to revise the treaty. At the Berlin Conference of 1878, the Armenian question was placed on the back burner, this time by Article 61 of the new treaty, which had watered down the restrictions on the sultan. Thus, the noose was kept away from the sultan’s neck, to treat the minorities the way he had been treating them always — using pogroms, persecution, heavy taxing and abuse of human rights in general.