Speaking last weekend at the unveiling of a monument to the Cypriot uprising against British colonial rule in October 1931 – in which the Governor’s residence in Nicosia was burned down, Greek flags were raised across the island and 17 demonstrators killed – President Tassos Papadopoulos suggested that Britain’s recent Strategic Partnership Agreement with Turkey was an act of ‘revenge’ against Greek Cypriots; revenge for the 1931 uprising and the EOKA struggle for union with Greece, 1955-1959.
Papadopoulos’ observation is interesting, though on reflection probably not correct. Revenge rarely plays a role in diplomacy, international relations or the initiation of wars. Not that base motives aren’t involved; avarice – the guiding principle of British imperialism – the brazen addiction to and extension of power, the natural instinct of the strong to exploit and lord it over the weak, fear, paranoia, stupidity, the ambitions of madmen and charlatans – must always prevail in any assessment of what shapes relations and determines conflicts between states.
If international relations, diplomacy and the pursuit of war nearly always concern self-aggrandisement, self-interest and the will to power with revenge rarely a factor – Alexander the Great made a big deal of saying he was attacking the Persian empire to avenge the Persian invasions of Greece 150 years earlier, but in reality avenging Hellas was the last thing on Alexander’s mind – then this is because the thirst for revenge is a form of psychosis in which, as Thucydides says, ‘self-preservation is of no account’ and, normally, states do not go mad and engage in actions likely to endanger their existence.
Revenge, however, can be a factor in non-state social, political and ethnic conflicts; and terrorist/guerrilla campaigns nearly always contain an internal logic that justifies retribution and disregard for self-preservation – dressed up as self-sacrifice.
Thus the IRA often legitimised its campaign of bombings and shootings by referring to 800 years of English/British oppression in Ireland; ASALA killed Turkish diplomats in Europe and the Middle East to avenge the victims of the Armenian holocaust; and, of course, revenge is the raison d’etre of Al-Qaeda – revenge against the West for simply being the West.
Revenge can also take place in periods of stasis – a Thucydidean concept, indicating civil strife, internal disorder or collapse, the worst possible affliction for a state, even worse than war – during which everything becomes possible and all the primitive, irrational and grotesque desires which constitute the dark underbelly of human behaviour are unleashed.
In such circumstances, where resentment and jealousy may have festered for years, decades, even centuries, revenge reveals itself with ferocity and we have the Hutus slaughtering the Tutsis, the Germans annihilating the Jews, the Turks massacring the Armenians and, on a different scale, the Turkish Cypriots turning on the Greek Cypriots in 1974.
Anyway, here’s an article regarding the details of the Octovriana – the 1931 anti-colonial uprising in Cyprus – a rather forgotten episode in British colonial and Greek history.