Arabs in Larnaca and Cyprus

Арабы в Ларнаке и на Кипре
5 November 2021 DOM LiVE
1764

Like the Greeks or Jews, the Arabs are one of the "old" nations who lived and still live in Cyprus.

One of the dialects of Arabic is the officially recognized indigenous language of the Republic of Cyprus and is protected by the government.

Arab influence has changed the culture and way of life of local residents, some of the most famous cultural objects of modern Greek Cypriots have Arab roots. The Arabs mostly brought to the island not Islam but Catholicism. However, most of the inhabitants of the island know little about all this.

Today we will talk about how the Arab world is connected with Cyprus, and using the example of Larnaca, we will look at several important milestones in the life of this Semitic nation in our city.

Part one. First Arabs in Cyprus

When we think about the Arab influence on Cyprus, the first thing we remember is the Arab invasions preserved in the Cypriot folk tales, we remember the hundreds of mosques built up throughout the island on both sides of the Green Line. However, this is only a superficial and not entirely correct idea of the Arab history of the island. The invasions were only a small period in the multi-thousand-year history of the interaction of nations, and mosques in Cyprus have no direct relation to the Arab world.

It is difficult for us to judge when the first Arab Cypriots appeared (as well as the first Jews in Cyprus). But we know for sure that it was long before the birth of Muhammad or Christ. The Arabs were relatively well known in the ancient world. They participated in military battles hundreds of kilometers from Cyprus in the middle of the 9th century BC.

Thanks to the development of the Mediterranean civilization and the increase in contacts between peoples, the Arabs have become part of a united world. After Alexander's campaigns, a small part of the Arabs began to speak Late Ancient Greek (koine), and at the beginning of the first millennium of the new era, the Arabs became among the first Christians.

200 years after the birth of Christ, the Arabs founded the Ghassanid Kingdom right next to Cyprus.

The elite of the kingdom were Hellenized (i.e. Greek-speaking) Christian refugees from Yemen. Christian Arabs controlled the buffer lands between Greeks and pagan Arabs for four centuries. Of course, all this time the Arabs must have contacted our island, someone obviously moved to Cyprus and became Arabic-speaking Cypriots.

However, the Arab influence was so small that no information has survived to us. At that moment, the Arab civilization was only absorbing the achievements and culture of neighboring peoples. But soon they would start sharing it.

Part two. Cyprus under Arab power

In the 30s of the 7th century AD, Muslim Arab campaigns began. First, troops of Christian Arabs were defeated, then the cities of the Byzantine Empire began to capitulate. The Greeks lost Egypt, the Middle East, the last areas of North Africa. Twenty years later, the Arab conquerors entered the Cypriot land.

Together with the Arab soldiers, Umm Haram bint Milhan (أم حرام بنت ملحان‎) also arrived in Cyprus. She was one of the first Arab women to convert to Islam. She was a faithful Muslim, and her second husband, Ubada ibn as-Samit (عبادة بن الصامت), commanded the army of Muslim Arabs during the Egyptian campaigns and defeated the Christian army.

The journey to a distant island ended in tragedy. According to legend, Umm Haram, being no longer young, fell from a mule and died near the Larnaca Salt Lake. She was buried there. We will return to Umm Haram a little later, in a thousand years.

Despite numerous invasions, the Arabs failed to conquer the island by force. For many hundreds of years, Cyprus became a condominium of the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate. Since those times, began the long arabization of Cyprus. And now we will give some vivid examples.

If you come to a store, you will see that the watermelon is called καρπούζι in Greek. This is a Persian word that got into Greece and (for example) into Medieval Russia through Turkish language (Russian and Polish 'arbuz' and καρπούζι came from a Persian word خربزه). However, the Cypriots, especially those who live away from Nicosia and other cities, call this sweet fruit παττίχα.

There's nothing strange. Labels in stores are written more often in Attic Greek, which can be different from the island's dialect. But let's go back to παττίχα, this is Arabic بطیخ, Arabic watermelon.

And where is the original ancient Greek word (μηλοπέπων)?— you may ask.

It is fragmentary preserved in the English watermelon (or just melon)! Another example is the traditional Cypriot halloumi cheese. This term (and therefore the method of cooking in general) came from the Egyptian dialect of Arabic (حلوم). In addition to the halloumi, koupes (κούπες), mahallepin (μαχαλλεπίν) and others came from the Arab world.

Part three. Cyprus speaks Arabic

Despite the fact that the Caliphate together with Byzantium controlled Cyprus for several centuries, the Muslim Arabs did not move to the island en masse. But... Christian Arabs fled here instead. Let us recall that even before the first campaigns of the first followers of Mohamed, we had an entire Arab Christian state nearby Cyprus.

What's happened to its inhabitants? Some died, some converted to Islam, some retained Christianity and began paying taxes to the Muslim authorities, and some fled to lands still controlled by Christian armies.

Thus began the centuries-old migration of Christian peoples from the Middle East. Everything was not so simple. The transition of the population from one religion to another and back, the Arabization of the Middle East, the attempts of Christians to recapture our Middle East from the Muslim Arabs (the attempts of not only the Byzantines, but also the Western European knights) only added new colors to population of the region. As a result, a large religious and ethnic group was formed - Arabs by language and Maronite Christians by faith (it was a Christian Middle Eastern rite).

And since the 7th century to... the present day, Maronite Arabs have been moving to Cyprus. Massively it was in the Middle Ages, when the cities of the Crusaders fell and Christians had to flee somewhere. And the closest (and safest) was to take a boat and sail to Cyprus. Thus the number of Arabic-speaking Maronites began to grow exponentially.

The situation was extremely favorable for them — the Maronite Church was in union with the Holy See, and Cyprus was ruled by Western European knights at that time. It turned out that the Arab speaking population of the island became part of the feudal medieval system. In other words, the Arab Cypriots were not only Christians, but were in a much more privileged position than the Greek Cypriots.

In the following centuries (14 - 15th centuries), Arabic was widely spoken on the island. Of course, later it also changed a lot, it was a bit hellenized. And yes, it has survived to our times as a Cypriot dialect of Arabic and, together with Greek, Turkish and Western Armenian, is the indigenous language of Cyprus. However, it is almost extinct. Why?

Part four. Cyprus without Arabs, but with an Arab influence

In the 15th century, the life of the Arab Cypriots began to change. The new authorities came — the Venetians, who were no longer much bothered by the old feudal orders. They regarded the Arabs as Catholics, so the huge Arab diaspora (and then there were several tens of thousands of Arabs — a huge number for Cyprus at that time) began to merge with the mixed Catholic population, switching to Italian or French.

In 1571, the Turks captured Cyprus. It was an extremely sophisticated date in the history of Arab influence on the island. On the one hand, the number of Arab Cypriots began to decline sharply and then almost approached zero. On the other hand, the influence of Arab Islamic culture has increased as never before. Here are two examples to show the whole historical paradox.

The new rulers of Cyprus, the Ottoman Turks, having seized the island, decided to make the Cypriot lower classes the mainstay of their power. The Turks were very afraid of the return of the island to Western European powers, so they weakened as much as possible those forces that would have gone over to the enemy's side at the first opportunity. They infringed primarily on the Catholic elite of Cyprus, which partly consisted of the Arabic-speaking population.

Catholics became Orthodox, and Cypriots who spoke Arabic, Italian or French began to switch to Greek. Thus the island again became more homogeneous, Greek. But it's all on the one hand.

On the other hand, with the arrival of the Turks, the Islamization of the island began. So massively, which has never been, even when the Arab Caliphate controlled the island together with the Byzantines. For example, mosques have been actively built on the island, the most famous of which is the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca.

Let's remember the close companion of Muhammad, Umm Haram. How she tragically died near Larnaca. More than a thousand years later, in the 80s of the 18th century, under Abdul Hamid I, a mosque was founded in honor of this righteous Muslim woman. But this is just the beginning of the story.

The fact is that at that time Turkey was going through a special religious period. The society was still very religious and conservative, but at the same time their religion lacked Turkish motives. After all, Islam is an Arab religion by origin, and the main places of worship of the Islamic world are Arabic speaking cities. The Turks needed something of their own, native, Turkish.

Then the Ottomans began to revere Umm Haram not only as a companion of Mohamed, but also as the aunt of the prophet (the surprise for the Arabs). And the mosque in Larnaca (then the city center was largely Turkish-speaking) became the fourth (or fifth, or third) shrine of the Islamic Turkish world. By the way, there is nothing strange either, exactly the same processes of "nationalization of Islam" took place around this time in the Muslim regions of the Russian Empire.

It turned out to be such a paradox. The Arab world has come to the island again, destroying the Arabs themselves as a nation. Human history is never simple.

Part five. Arabs in modern Cyprus

The ties of the Arab world with Cyprus were restored after the Second World War, when Arab countries gained independence. Instantly, relations between the countries became positive and productive. Cyprus tried to help Middle Eastern countries in resolving military conflicts, although once, by a stupid coincidence, Cyprus entered into a small military incident with Egypt (1978).

The Arab countries took the side of the official Nicosia after the Cyprus tragedy of 1974, and after the TRNC declared its independence, and this despite the fact that the TRNC and the vast majority of Arab countries profess the same religion.

Arabs began to arrive in Cyprus again, both as tourists and permanent residents. Larnaca began to experience the most Arab influence — here immigrants from Arab countries settle today, and it does not matter whether they are Muslims from Egypt or Maronites from Lebanon. That is why new Arab developers have appeared in Larnaca over the past 10 years.

Today there are two new construction companies operating in Larnaca, which originally appeared in the Arab world. Both companies are from Lebanon — this Arab country is historically the most connected with our island. These are Plus Properties and Elite Island Properties. We have already written about the second company, its history in Cyprus. Our story about the first company will be a bit later.

The first clients of both companies were, as can be assumed, new Arab Cypriots. Those who came from Lebanon in recent decades. Unfortunately, the Switzerland of the Middle East is going through not the best of times, so there is an outflow of population from Beirut and other cities. And new waves of migrants from the Middle East are moving to Cyprus, just like a thousand years ago.

However, the Arab ability to build high-quality houses quickly led to the fact that first other foreigners, and then the Cypriots, became buyers of real estate of Arab developers. We will see how the Arab business in Cyprus will continue to develop, and what the Arab world will bring to the island.

Decided to buy an apartment or a house in Cyprus? Contact DOM! The website has a huge selection of real estate - residential and commercial. Experienced agency specialists will be happy to help you make the right choice.

See also:

  1. Three Types of Ayia Napa: City, Church and Monastery
  2. Amazing Mathematics: Earning With Rental Properties
  3. Apartments with perspective: TOP-6 most profitable investment options in Cyprus
  4. TOP 10 Abandoned Villages in Cyprus
  5. Top 10 abandoned buildings in Europe
  6. What is the best investment in 2021?
Source: DOM
Photos: pixabay.com, DOM
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