Saturday, 26 July 2008

New Cyprus talks set for September

President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed yesterday to start on 3 September full-fledged negotiations aimed at a 'solution' to the Cyprus problem. Unlike the 2004 process, this time round there won't be any strict timetables or a UN 'referee' to impose a plan that he believes satisfactory regardless of the objections of the interested parties and which, in 2004, under US and particularly UK influence, resulted in the disgraceful Annan plan.

Christofias had said he would only begin full-fledged negotiations with Talat if there were a sufficient coalescence of views by the two sides on the basis of a Cyprus solution. Specifically, Christofias wanted the Turks to commit to the idea that the Republic of Cyprus would be transformed into a bizonal, bicommunal federation with one citizenship, sovereignty and international personality.

Yet, despite some vague hints by Talat that he accepted Christofias' terms, the truth is that the Turks have not come round to Christofias' way of thinking and, as was made clear last Saturday by Turk PM Recip Tayip Erdogan, during events in occupied Nicosia to commemorate the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Turks expect a Cyprus solution to be based on 'two equal states and an equal partnership based on the realities in the island'; a 'new partnership in which Turkish Cypriots participate equally and as a founder state.'

(Christofias has fudged the issue by claiming that when the Turks talk about having their own state, this will mean their own politeia and not their own kratos).

The other criterion Christofias set before he would agree to full-fledged negotiations with Talat was that sufficient progress should have been made in the technical committees and working groups established in March to look at all aspects of the Cyprus problem, from the significant issues of territory, constitution, property, settlers and so on, to the less controversial issues concerning environment, crime, cultural heritage and so on.

Again, here, while there has been some agreement on the less controversial issues, there has been no progress on the significant issues and even on the less controversial issues, there has been no progress on those which might contribute to meaningful reunification of the island; for example, on opening more crossing points between the free and occupied areas.

(It was expected that the opening of a crossing point at Limnitis in north-western Cyprus would be announced yesterday, but this was vetoed by the Turkish occupation army; while this report makes clear that the destruction of Greek cultural monuments in the occupied areas, despite this so-called peace process, continues unabated).

So why has Christofias agreed to new negotiations, especially when he understands that beginning full-fledged talks without sufficient preparation and agreement on the basic parameters of a solution will risk the process promptly collapsing and allow the Turks to claim that this was the last chance for reunifying the island and now other solutions, like that applied to Kosovo, should be considered?

Here are some suggestions as to what Christofias may have been thinking:

1. If Christofias stalled on agreeing to full-fledged negotiations he risked incurring the displeasure of the international community, which might then pursue recognition of the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.'

2. Having successfully convinced the international community that he is committed to a Cyprus solution, Christofias is hoping that even if so far he has not been able to persuade the Turkish side to abandon its unacceptable positions, his credit with the relevant centres of power is sufficiently good as to persuade them to apply pressure on the Turks to be more flexible.

3. Christofias has accepted the argument that political uncertainty in Turkey, with the Kemalists and Islamists at loggerheads, could undermine Turkey's EU aspirations – Turkey's EU aspirations is the only reason Turkey is contemplating a Cyprus solution – and work against a Cyprus solution in the medium and long term. In Cyprus too, Turkish Cypriot nationalists and the increasing numbers of Turkish settlers are also exerting pressure on Talat – claiming he is being too conciliatory and abandoning the 'TRNC' – prompting Christofias to figure that Talat and pro-solution Turkish Cypriots might not be around much longer.

4. The alternative to full-fledged negotiations would be a continuation of the working groups and technical committees; but Christofias has accepted the argument that there is a limit to what advisers and civil servants can agree and that the significant issues can only be settled by the leaders of the two communities and, when it comes to issues to do with security and guarantees, by Nicosia, Athens and Ankara.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus

The Turks had been straining at the leash since Cyprus’ independence (1960) to invade the island and came close to doing so in 1963 and 1967, only to find themselves isolated diplomatically and politically. In 1974, however, they found the support they had been previously lacking and that support came from the USA, which not only approved the Turkish invasion but also encouraged it.

Indeed, the more one reads and thinks about the 1974 Cyprus events, the more one is driven to the conclusion that it is wrong to refer to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus; a more accurate description would be the US-Turkish invasion of Cyprus. (This view is different to that expressed by Perry Anderson in his essay The Divisions of Cyprus, which apportions greater responsibility for the attack on Cyprus to British designs and malevolence).

In any case, it’s worth pointing out that the 20 July landings were only the first part of the Turkish invasion, with the aim of securing a bridgehead at Kyrenia, and that the more devastating Turkish action didn’t occur until 14 August.

Both the junta in Athens and their stooge in Nicosia, Nikos Sampson, were caught by surprise by the Turkish assault on 20 July. Junta leader Dimitrios Ioannidis believed the CIA when it told him there would be no Turkish invasion in response to the 15 July coup against Makarios and he passed this on to Sampson who, rather than use the time he had since seizing power in Cyprus to prepare for a probable Turkish attack, chose instead to settle political scores and put down the resistance to the coup of Cypriot leftists and Makarios’ supporters.

When Ioannidis realised the American betrayal, he determined to attack Turkey across Thrace; but his senior commanders, fearing disaster, rebelled and on 23 July Ioannidis and then Sampson fell from power.

In Nicosia, Glafkos Clerides assumed the presidency and constitutional order was restored; ostensibly removing the pretext the Turks gave for the invasion, though the Turks having come this far were now committed to implementing their long-held plan to partition and effectively annex northern Cyprus. The Turks used a period of sham negotiations – during which Turkey enjoyed American moral, intelligence and diplomatic support – to reinforce their Kyrenia bridgehead and prepare for the second phase of Operation Attila, which began on 14 August and resulted in the seizure of Morphou, Karpasia, Famagusta and the Mesaoria.

In the clip above from Attila ’74: the Rape of Cyprus (watch film in its entirety here), Michalis Cacoyiannis describes the first and second phases of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and its aftermath of refugees, prisoners, enclaved and missing persons and shows the beginning of the occupation.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The coup against Makarios

In the above clip from Michalis Cacoyiannis' definitive film Attila '74: The Rape of Cyprus (see right, in menu bar, to watch film in its entirety), the events leading up to the Greek junta's coup against President Makarios on 15 July, 1974 are described, particularly the letter Makarios sent to the Athens government complaining about the activities on the island of the National Guard, led by Greek officers loyal to the junta, and the gangster EOKA B outfit – established by Grivas in 1971, at the instigation and with the support of the junta and the CIA – whose raison d'être was the overthrow of the democratically elected Cypriot government.

The junta's response to Makarios' letter of 2 July was the coup. The coup's main objective was the murder of Makarios and the installation of a regime that would implement the long-established US-inspired Acheson plan to partition Cyprus between Greece and Turkey, who would then turn the island into an anti-communist NATO protectorate.

Of course, what happened was that Makarios survived the coup, Greek Cypriots resisted the junta and the Americans double-crossed their lackeys in Athens, having reassured them initially that any coup against Makarios would not be countered by an invasion from the Turks – who, the junta was led to believe by the Americans, understood that the coup was an internal Greek matter and were content that the junta would soon satisfy their demands for some form of partition of Cyprus, with maybe Kastelorizo thrown in for good measure.

The junta, having failed to deliver its end of the bargain to the Americans – i.e. Makarios' head and a Cypriot puppet leader with some legitimacy on the island and internationally (someone like Glafkos Clerides and not the man the junta eventually plumped for, the notorious EOKA B gangster Nikos Sampson, who the Americans, nevertheless, began the process of recognising as Cyprus' legitimate head of state) – quickly found itself abandoned by its Washington sponsors, who turned to backing the Turkish horse; the Turks having found themselves quite unexpectedly in a position to impose partition on Cyprus on their own terms.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The mortality of Alexander the Great

Above is a mural from the Varlaam Monastery at Meteora in central Greece depicting St Sisois meditating before the tomb of Alexander the Great. The inscription, in English, reads:

‘The great ascetic Sisois before the grave of the Hellene, Alexander, who in olden times shone with glory, is horrified, and feeling sorrow over the inconsistency of time and the temporary nature of glory, cries: “Seeing thee, O grave, I shed a heartfelt tear. I remember the common debt. How shall I go through such an end? O death who can escape thee?”’

Mortality and how even someone seemingly superhuman like Alexander the Great cannot escape it, is also part of Hamlet’s famous graveyard speech, in which the depressive Prince of Denmark, after reflecting on the skull of the court jester, Yorick, considers too the fate of Alexander:

‘Dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this fashion i’ the earth?… And smelt so? pah!… To what base uses we may return…! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bung-hole? [For] Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?’


Unfortunately, in the Olivier film version of Hamlet, the graveyard scene is cut before the references to Alexander; though in Grigori Kozintzev's excellent Soviet version of Shakespeare’s play, the scene (below, in Russian with Italian subtitles) is complete.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

‘Death is overcome when it is made welcome instead of merely being experienced, and when it makes life a perpetual gamble and endows it with exemplary value so that men will praise it as a model of “imperishable glory.” When the hero gives up a long life in favor of an early death, whatever he loses in honors paid to his living person he more than regains a hundredfold with the glory that will suffuse his memory for all time to come. Archaic Greek culture is one in which everyone lives in terms of others, under the eyes and in the esteem of others, where the basis of a personality is confirmed by the extent to which its reputation is known; in such a context, real death lies in amnesia, silence, demeaning obscurity, the absence of fame. By contrast, real existence – for the living or the dead – comes from being recognized, valued, and honored. Above all, it comes from being glorified as the central figure in a song of praise, a story that endlessly tells and retells of a destiny admired by all.’ (Jean-Pierre Vernant: A “Beautiful Death” and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic).

Legein's discussion of High Noon and tragedy prompted me to watch again one of my favourite Westerns, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid I have this to say:

If there's a more beautiful, poetic and Homeric American film than Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, a more relentless and uncompromising statement in American film of the tragic vision, in which life is brief, brutal and absurd, an American film more obsessed and haunted by mortality, in which death is portrayed as remorseless, beyond mediation or amelioration and from which there is definitely no return and that the only way to cope with death, let alone overcome it, is to embrace it, in which the nature of the kalos thanatos (beautiful death), as reserved for Billy the Kid, is demonstrated, then I haven't seen this film.

The above clip is of Slim Pickens (as Sheriff Baker) dying a Homeric death as Bob Dylan, who has a cameo role in the film as the knife-wielding Alias, sings Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Mama, take this badge off of me, I can't use it anymore. It's gettin' dark, too dark for me to see. I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door. Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can't shoot them anymore. That long black cloud is comin' down. I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

It doesn't get much better than this in American film.

I've made available in Radio Akritas, for anyone interested, Knockin' on Heaven's Door and Billy's Theme, in which Dylan sings of the exploits, virtues and destiny of the eponymous 'hero'. I can’t say I’m a massive Dylan fan, though, curiously, his paternal grandfather and grandmother were (Jews) from Constantinople and Trapezounta respectively.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Kojak: Birthday Party

I've been watching series four of the classic US TV show Kojak, with the inimitable Telly Savalas as the lonely, crusading, eunuch cop, Lt. Theo Kojak.

Kojak is impressively dark and downbeat, depicting 1970s New York as a cesspit full of the most depraved and deranged people it is possible to imagine, serial killers, child rapists, homicidal depressives – or, as one of Kojak's cop colleagues puts it, 'streets [that] are filled with dirt that walks'.

Anyway, one of the (weaker) episodes, Birthday Party (video above) is a piece of Greek Americana, in which cop-killer Tony Pappas, to get himself released from custody arranges for his brother and girlfriend to kidnap Kojak's little niece, Elena.

Two lines spoken by Kojak in Birthday Party struck me. One is when he refers to Pappas as 'Mediterranean fungus', even though Pappas is more Manhattan than Mediterranean; and, second, when Kojak reassures his sister about her kidnapped daughter, by telling her that: 'This isn't the old country. We're gonna find her in time. We've got ways,' i.e. there is law and justice in the new country, not like in the old country where there is injustice and incompetence.

These two lines encapsulate the ideology America feeds its immigrants and the predicament it poses to them. The slimeball murderer, Tony Pappas, represents the old country; the upstanding upholder of the law and decency, Theo Kojak, the new. Whose side are you on?