This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 22 July 2012
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 to Cyprus was Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley. The indigenous Greeks of the island in the 1881 census formed 73.9% of the population desired enosis to unite with Greece.
Cypriots believed British rule would bring prosperity, democracy and national liberation. However, the British levied severe taxes to cover the compensation they were paying to the Sultan. All powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London thwarting hopes of 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 achieved by many of the Aegean and Ionian islands following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The British opposed enosis and unrest developed during the 1930s. The 1931 riots in Nicosia burnt down Government House.
The Governor Sir Richmond Palmer took suppressive measures against the Greeks and prohibited trade unions and limited freedom of association. Yet more than 30,000 Cypriots joined the British during World War II. After the war, there was international pressure for enosis and a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a liberal constitution and a 10-year development programme.
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader Colonel George Grivas created and directed a campaign in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1. Attacks on police started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed emergency on November 26.
For the next four years EOKA attacked British targets and British collaborative Cypriots. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders exiled. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen – more than died in Afghanistan.
Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the demand for enosis by calling for taksim partition. Taksim became the slogan used by the militant Turkish Cypriots to counter ‘enosis’. In 1957 Fazıl Küçük who represented Turkish Cypriots and later became vice-president of independent Cyprus, declared that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.
The British were forced to take a different attitude after the Suez fiasco. 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 self-government alarmed the Turkish community and violence between the two communities increased.
On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained 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 Cypriots’ 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 recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. UK PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home said international intervention was essential.
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. Greek Cypriots numbering 200,000 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.
Historians such as Brendan O’Malley, Ian Craig, Lawrence Stern and William Mallinson have argued that the US had a 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 a source of intelligence.
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. An UN-sponsored referendum on reunification was held on April 21, 2004. Turkish Cypriots voted for UN plan as stated in the referendum but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a large majority.
The first election was held in 2008 after Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the failed referendum. 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 elections. Turkey’s own bid for EU membership has been thwarted and they may now have given up. EU membership was a strong factor in reconciliation 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 would be a European Presidency and 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 an EU bailout. According to Standard and Poors 15 billion euros would be needed. There is 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 to identify missing persons who were believed to have been exhumed. The President announced that soon the first 280 samples of remains believed to belong to about 70 missing persons would be delivered to the International Commission on Missing Persons. He also said that the remains of 330 missing persons had been identified, 66 of whom were Turkish Cypriots and the rest Greek Cypriots. He stressed that the healing process for the families of missing persons would only end when the remains of the last victims was 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 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 crossed 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.