Reconciliation in Cyprus
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
Many of the conflicts that I have described in these articles on reconciliation have not been helped by colonisation. In 1878, Britain was granted control of Cyprus in exchange for giving military support to the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The first British High Commissioner was Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley. The indigenous Greeks of the island, who in the 1881 census formed 73.9% of the population, desired enosis, to unite with Greece.
Cypriots initially believed British rule would bring prosperity, democracy and national liberation. However, the British levied severe taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan. All powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London, thwarting hopes of participatory democracy for Cypriots.
The First World War ended protectorate status and Cyprus was annexed to the British Empire. Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfil treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined. Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 the new Turkish government formally recognised Britain’s sovereignty over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots continued to demand enosis ,which had been achieved by many of the Aegean and Ionian islands following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The British opposed enosis and unrest developed rapidly during the 1930s. There were riots in Nicosia in 1931 during which Government House was burnt down.
The Governor, Sir Richmond Palmer, took a number of suppressive measures against the Greek population and prohibited trade unions and limited freedom of association. In spite of this more than thirty thousand Cypriots joined the British armed forces during the Second World War.
After the war, there was increasing international pressure for enosis and a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a more liberal constitution and a ten-year programme of social and economic development.
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas created and directed an effective campaign beginning in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1. Attacks on police stations started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed a State of Emergency on 26 November.
For the next four years EOKA attacked British targets and those Cypriots it accused of collaboration. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen, more than have died in Afghanistan.
Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the demand for enosis by calling for taksim, partition. Taksim became the slogan which was used by the increasingly militant Turkish Cypriots to counter the Greek cry of ‘enosis’. In 1957 Fazıl Küçük, who represented Turkish Cypriots and later became vice-president of independent Cyprus, declared during a visit to Ankara that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.
The British were forced to take a different attitude after the Suez fiasco demonstrated that they were no longer a convincing imperial power. Britain decided that independence was acceptable if military bases in Cyprus could be an alternative to Cyprus as a base. However, Governor Sir Hugh Foot’s plan for unitary self-government alarmed the Turkish community and violence between the two communities became a new and deadly feature of the situation.
On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from Britain. Archbishop Makarios was elected the first president. In 1961 Cyprus became the 99th member of the UN. Independence did not bring reconciliation. Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government and tried to exclude Turkish politicians. Both sides continued the violence. Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased on December 23, 1963, when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers, including the Turkish Vice-President Dr Fazıl Küçük, were out of the government. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964, effectively recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. UK PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home said international intervention was essential: “There would probably have been a massacre of Turkish Cypriots” which were confined in enclaves totaling little more than 3% of the island.
In July 1974, Makarios was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard which supported the military dictators who had seized power in Athens. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20 and took control of 38% of the island. 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the northern areas and 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to northern occupied areas by the UN. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part occupied under a Turkish administration and the Turkish army. Turkey relocated 40,000 Turkish civilians to the occupied part of the island through coercive measures, meaning that now only 45% of the Turkish population were actually born on Cyprus.
Many have accused Britain of its customary divide and rule tactics. Nicos Koshis, a former justice minister, said: “It is my feeling they wanted to have fighting between the two sides. They didn’t want us to get together. If the communities come together maybe in the future we say no bases in Cyprus.” Martin Packard, a naval intelligence officer, told Jolyon Jenkins of the BBC that in 1964 he had to take US acting secretary of state George Ball, around the island. Arriving back in Nicosia, says Packard, “Ball patted me on the back, as though I were sadly deluded and he said: That was a fantastic show son, but you’ve got it all wrong, hasn’t anyone told you that our plan here is for partition?”
Historians such as Brendan O’Malley, Ian Craig, Lawrence Stern and William Mallinson have argued that the U.S. had a continuous, decade-long plan to partition Cyprus through external military intervention and that this plan was based on the strategic value of Cyprus as a military base and source of intelligence. Caroline Wenzke and Dan Lindley disagree: “While the U.S.’s rationale was not always commendable or favourable to the Cypriot people and at times the State Department’s
decisions may merit criticism, the U.S. did not orchestrate a decade-long conspiracy to protect its own interests on the island.”
When Cyprus applied to join the EU in May 2004, members of both communities (and citizens of EU) have been able to cross the buffer zone. A UN-sponsored referendum on reunification was held on 21 April 2004. Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the UN plan as stated in the referendum, but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a large majority.
The first elections to take place after Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the failed referendum, were in 2008. Dimitris Christofias of the communist party became president and started talks with on the reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal federal state. His hopes for Greek Cypriot approval of such a plan were thwarted by the nationalists’ victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Turkey’s own bid for EU membership has constantly been thwarted and they may now have given up. EU membership was a strong factor in reconciliation for the island of Ireland but that avenue seems to have closed for Cyprus.
Although Northern Cyprus has been a de jure member of the EU since 2004, EU law is “suspended” there. Cyprus currently holds the EU presidency for the first time. President Christofias has stressed that the Cyprus Presidency will be a European Presidency, that it would only promote the EU’s interests as a whole, working as an honest broker. Cyprus is the fifth state to ask for a EU bailout. Standard and Poors estimate 15 billion euro will be needed. There is growing fear that the main victim of the Cyprus EU Presidency will be the ongoing re-unification talks.
On July 19 2012, Christofias welcomed an agreement which will continue the identification process of exhumed remains, believed to belong to missing persons in Cyprus. The President announced that soon the first 280 samples of remains, believed to belong to about 70 missing persons, will be delivered to the International Commission on Missing Persons. He also said that the remains of 330 missing persons have been identified, 66 of whom are Turkish Cypriots and the rest Greek Cypriots. He stressed that the healing process for the families of missing persons will only end when the remains of the last of those victims are identified, on the basis of international law. The European Court of Human Rights established that there had been continuing violations by Turkey of Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the Convention concerning the right to life, liberty and security and prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Turkey was found to have failed to conduct an effective investigation into the fate of the Greek Cypriot missing persons who disappeared in life-threatening circumstances or were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance.
Mehmet Ali Talat, a leftist like Christofias, was president until 2010 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He said he wanted a Cypriot federation with a central government and a shared flag but “the Greek Cypriots aren’t cooperating.” The north has increasingly attracted undesirable elements. Turkish Cyprus attracts fugitives seeking sanctuary in a territory without extradition arrangements, smugglers, human traffickers and gamblers. Electricians, plumbers and bricklayers cross the border to work in EU territory. Some 80,000 Turkish Cypriots, or about one-third of the population in the north, now have EU passports. They can obtain health insurance and medical treatment in the south, and board direct flights to other countries.
Nicosia is internationally recognised as the capital of Cyprus but buffer zone runs through Ledra Street dividing Greeks and Turks, although the street was re-opened on 3 April 2008.
Eleni Mavrou, a Greek Cypriot MP said in 2005: “Reconciliation means facing our past. It involves accepting the mistakes of the other side and accepting that both sides have suffered in one way or another and through this process facing the future. It means understanding that we cannot continue living in the past so we should concentrate on the possibility, the capability of creating something together for the future. In the political realm, it means a dialogue that should lead to an agreement on the future constitutional, territorial, settlement of the Cyprus problem.
a good tour, pc. i’d like to see your record of the dictatorship of the colonels, when time hangs heavy.
Thanks Al. That would be an interesting subject. I have taken an interest in it since I saw the Costa-Gavras movie “Z”.
I recall how the Cyprus crisis dominated news headlines in Britain for a period during the early-mid 1950s when I was a young boy. According to those headlines and the accompanying texts, the Cypriot freedom fighters were “terrorists”, and Archbishop Makarios was a figure of hate and fear. I asked the obvious questions – why was this happening, etc. – but never received answers. Not until I read this article did I realise that the whole sorry mess, yet to be resolved, had its roots in our foreign policy during Gladstone’s administration.
Thank you. I too recall those news reports from my childhood. The emphasis was of course on how “our brave boys” were suffering. Unfortunately the licentious soldiery have continued to cause problems in Cyprus long after independence.