Saturday, 30 May 2009

Turks warn US over Cyprus oil search

Below is a report from yesterday's eKathimerini on the Turks getting their knickers in a twist over oil exploration off the Cypriot coast. In a smart move, the Cyprus government is getting the Americans involved in the search for gas and oil deposits in our territorial waters; deposits that are thought to be worth up to $400bn. The Turks have responded in their usual belligerent fashion, though, of course, it is harder for the Turks to intimidate the Americans than the Norwegians, Dutch or British, all of whom have companies interested in Cypriot oil and gas.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the Turks exploit the 'special relationship' Obama is keen to develop with them to pressure Washington to lean on US oil exploration companies to pull out of Cyprus. And just to follow on what I was saying in my previous post on the Greek Greens and their lack of patriotism compared to their Cypriot counterparts; I noticed on last night's RIK news that the Cypriot Greens have urged the Christofias' government to respond to the Turkish threats to prevent exploration by asking Athens to send the Hellenic navy to defend Cyprus' territorial waters. A good call, but I can't see it happening.

For more details on story, read this article in Greek.

For most up-to-date details on Cyprus’ exploration for natural resources, go here.

US bid for Cyprus oil irks Turks
The announcement by the US ambassador in Nicosia this week regarding the launch of oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus by an American firm has sparked an angry response from Turkish officials and, in turn, stern words from authorities in Nicosia.

Responding to comments by Ambassador to Cyprus Frank Urbancic on Tuesday, Turkish officials were quoted in Turkey’s daily Hurriyet yesterday as saying, 'Our fleet is there – we cannot allow this to happen even if it is a US company.' The comments came after Urbancic revealed that an American company was preparing to prospect for oil off the divided island. 'US investments in Cyprus amount to more than $379 million. This figure will soon increase substantially as an American energy firm begins exploring for oil and gas off Cyprus’s southwest coast,' Urbancic was quoted as saying in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper. The company was not named but is believed to be a big player in the oil and gas market to be trying to access oil deposits at a depth of more than 2,500 meters below sea level.

Officials in Nicosia yesterday sought to put the Turks in their place. 'The mineral wealth belongs to the Republic of Cyprus and no one else,' said Cypriot Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Paschalidis. 'If the Cyprus problem was solved tomorrow, the Turkish Cypriots would also be in a position to benefit,' Paschalidis added.

Meanwhile, diplomats in Athens noted that any attempt by Turkey to obstruct the scheduled exploration by the US firm would provoke a face-off with Washington and would create problems for the launch of talks between officials in Brussels and European Union candidate Turkey on the energy sector.

Turkey has actively opposed oil exploration off Cyprus since authorities in Nicosia expressed their intention to exploit the island’s underwater mineral wealth two years ago. In December, Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said that a dispute over offshore oil exploration was damaging Turkey’s efforts to join the EU. Nicosia has accused Turkey of harassing hydrocarbon research vessels four times since November 13.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Classical scholars urge end to Skopjan 'silliness'

Just in case anyone missed it, below is the recent letter signed by hundreds of classical scholars and sent to President Obama regarding Macedonia and demanding he 'clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous US administration', which recognised Skopje as 'Macedonia' and bolstered Skopje's 'silliness' and 'subversion of history'.

More details on this campaign are available here.

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned scholars of Graeco-Roman antiquity, respectfully request that you intervene to clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous U.S. administration.

On November 4, 2004, two days after the re-election of President George W. Bush, his administration unilaterally recognized the 'Republic of Macedonia.' This action not only abrogated geographic and historic fact, but it also has unleashed a dangerous epidemic of historical revisionism, of which the most obvious symptom is the misappropriation by the government in Skopje of the most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great.

We believe that this silliness has gone too far, and that the USA has no business in supporting the subversion of history. Let us review facts.

The land in question, with its modern capital at Skopje, was called Paionia in antiquity. Mts. Barnous and Orbelos (which form today the northern limits of Greece) provide a natural barrier that separated, and separates, Macedonia from its northern neighbor. The only real connection is along the Axios/Vardar River and even this valley 'does not form a line of communication because it is divided by gorges'.

While it is true that the Paionians were subdued by Philip II, father of Alexander, in 358 B.C. they were not Macedonians and did not live in Macedonia. Likewise, for example, the Egyptians, who were subdued by Alexander, may have been ruled by Macedonians, including the famous Cleopatra, but they were never Macedonians themselves, and Egypt was never called Macedonia.

Rather, Macedonia and Macedonian Greeks have been located for at least 2,500 years just where the modern Greek province of Macedonia is. Exactly this same relationship is true for Attica and Athenian Greeks, Argos and Argive Greeks, Corinth and Corinthian Greeks, etc.

We do not understand how the modern inhabitants of ancient Paionia, who speak Slavic – a language introduced into the Balkans about a millennium after the death of Alexander – can claim him as their national hero. Alexander the Great was thoroughly and indisputably Greek. His great-great-great grandfather, Alexander I, competed in the Olympic Games where participation was limited to Greeks.

Even before Alexander I, the Macedonians traced their ancestry to Argos, and many of their kings used the head of Herakles – the quintessential Greek hero – on their coins.

Euripides – who died and was buried in Macedonia – wrote his play Archelaos in honor of the great-uncle of Alexander, and in Greek. While in Macedonia, Euripides also wrote the Bacchai, again in Greek. Presumably the Macedonian audience could understand what he wrote and what they heard.

Alexander’s father, Philip, won several equestrian victories at Olympia and Delphi, the two most Hellenic of all the sanctuaries in ancient Greece where non-Greeks were not allowed to compete. Even more significantly, Philip was appointed to conduct the Pythian Games at Delphi in 346 B.C. In other words, Alexander the Great’s father and his ancestors were thoroughly Greek.

Greek was the language used by Demosthenes and his delegation from Athens when they paid visits to Philip, also in 346 B.C. Another northern Greek, Aristotle, went off to study for nearly 20 years in the Academy of Plato. Aristotle subsequently returned to Macedonia and became the tutor of Alexander III. They used Greek in their classroom which can still be seen near Naoussa in Macedonia.

Alexander carried with him throughout his conquests Aristotle’s edition of Homer’s Iliad. Alexander also spread Greek language and culture throughout his empire, founding cities and establishing centers of learning. Hence inscriptions concerning such typical Greek institutions as the gymnasium are found as far away as Afghanistan. They are all written in Greek.

The questions follow: Why was Greek the lingua franca all over Alexander’s empire if he was a 'Macedonian'? Why was the New Testament, for example, written in Greek?

The answers are clear: Alexander the Great was Greek, not Slavic, and Slavs and their language were nowhere near Alexander or his homeland until 1000 years later. This brings us back to the geographic area known in antiquity as Paionia. Why would the people who live there now call themselves Macedonians and their land Macedonia? Why would they abduct a completely Greek figure and make him their national hero?

The ancient Paionians may or may not have been Greek, but they certainly became Greekish, and they were never Slavs. They were also not Macedonians. Ancient Paionia was a part of the Macedonian Empire. So were Ionia and Syria and Palestine and Egypt and Mesopotamia and Babylonia and Bactria and many more. They may thus have become 'Macedonian' temporarily, but none was ever 'Macedonia'. The theft of Philip and Alexander by a land that was never Macedonia cannot be justified.

The traditions of ancient Paionia could be adopted by the current residents of that geographical area with considerable justification. But the extension of the geographic term 'Macedonia' to cover southern Yugoslavia cannot. Even in the late 19th century, this misuse implied unhealthy territorial aspirations.

The same motivation is to be seen in school maps that show the pseudo-greater Macedonia, stretching from Skopje to Mt. Olympus and labeled in Slavic. The same map and its claims are in calendars, bumper stickers, bank notes, etc., that have been circulating in the new state ever since it declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Why would a poor land-locked new state attempt such historical nonsense? Why would it brazenly mock and provoke its neighbor?

However one might like to characterize such behavior, it is clearly not a force for historical accuracy, nor for stability in the Balkans. It is sad that the United States of America has abetted and encouraged such behavior.

We call upon you, Mr. President, to help – in whatever ways you deem appropriate – the government in Skopje to understand that it cannot build a national identity at the expense of historic truth. Our common international society cannot survive when history is ignored, much less when history is fabricated.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

What to make of the rise of the Greek Greens

A pot of basil may symbolise the soul of a people better than a drama of Aeschylus. (Ion Dragoumis)

The idea that the sole goal of life is to produce and to consume more – an idea that is both absurd and degrading – must be abandoned; the capitalist imaginary of pseudorational pseudomastery, of unlimited expansion, must be abandoned. (Cornelius Castoriadis)

Greece has suffered in the last few decades from a contempt for the environment and a sordid and crude effort at development and modernity, which stresses consumerism, materialism and an hubristic economic model. The consequences of this greed and disdain for nature are present everywhere in Greece and have affected not only the ecosystem, but the quality of everyday living and the social and political fabric.

So, it might have appeared a welcome development that in opinion polls for next week's European Parliament elections in Greece, from nowhere, the Greens are predicted to attract some eight percent of the vote and finish third, ahead of the Greek communist party, leftist SYRIZA and right-wing LA.OS. But why am I less than enthusiastic about the rise of the Greek Greens? The video above reveals why. In it, Greek Greens leader Michalis Tremopoulos is forced to defend in front of angry Pontian protesters in Komotini his suggestions that Pontian refugees from the USSR should never have been allowed to settle in Thrace; and that in Thessaloniki a road should be named after that famous 'child of the city' Mustafa Kemal – father of the Turks and slaughterer of Pontian Hellenism.

It's worth pointing out that while in Greece, the Greens appear to have fully embraced the pacifist, anti-national, multiculturalist, pro-Muslim, pro-Turk, human rights outlook of the broader European Green movement; in Cyprus, the Greens – with one MP and two percent of the vote – haven't donned the unnecessary accoutrements associated with being a Green and are one of the most vociferous anti-occupation parties, which in last year's presidential elections strongly supported Tassos Papadopoulos. A pity that the Greens in Greece are not more like the Greens in Cyprus.

For more on Michalis Tremopoulos, go here, here and here (all in Greek).

And for Castoriadis' essay The Revolutionary Force of Ecology, go here, pp109-124.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Pontian Genocide

Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the Pontian Genocide in which up to 500,000 Greeks were slaughtered by Turks and Kurds as the Ottoman empire collapsed and modern Turkey was created. For details on the genocide read this at My Greek Odyssey:

And for commemoration events that took place yesterday in New York organised by the Hellenic League of America, go

For more on Pontos, go to this excellent resource:
Pontos World.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Cyprus questions

I switched on to watch Michael Martin resigning as Speaker of the House of Commons over the expenses scandal that has been gripping Britain, and unexpectedly stumbled across Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions, the first part of which was devoted to Cyprus (see video above). Questions and answers reveal Britain's usual lies and hypocrisy, patronisingly asserting itself as a disinterested observer of the 'ancient conflict' in Cyprus and good-faith facilitator of reconciliation, when the truth is that Britain created the Cyprus problem and continues to shape it with its consistent backing for Turkey and its ambitions on the island, not least in coming up with the Annan plan.

A little background on Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative MP and foreign secretary from 1995 to 1997, who asserts in his question to foreign secretary David Miliband that Cyprus should never have been allowed to join the EU, echoing the Turkish government's position: he is Jewish.

Another British Jewish politician hostile to Cyprus is Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford. She has been a consistent supporter of Turkey's occupation of Cyprus, frequently calling for the 'lifting of the isolation' of the Turkish Cypriots – which is code for recognition of the pseudo-state in occupied Cyprus.

Recently, Ludford spoke out against the Orams ruling: 'The technical legal correctness of this ruling may be unquestionable, based on EU measures providing for "mutual recognition" of judgments between two EU countries, in this case the Republic of Cyprus and the UK. It is also understandable that Mr Apostolides and other Greek Cypriot owners will feel that it represents justice. We must not forget however that there are many Turkish Cypriots who have been unable to reclaim property in the South [sic]. In any case it will strike many as strange that while EU law is suspended in north[ern] Cyprus due to the division of the island – so the judgment cannot be enforced there – the same EU law can be used for a backdoor enforcement of the claim in UK courts.

'The decision risks reinforcing the sense of bewilderment felt by Turkish Cypriots. They voted by 2 to 1 five years ago to accept the UN plan for reunification, a plan the Greek Cypriots rejected by 3 to 1, and they were then given an EU promise of an end to isolation. Little has been delivered to make that a reality…'

Ludford is a Member of the European Parliament, elections to which are on 4 June. She is first on the Liberal Democrat list for London and likely to get re-elected. Third on the Conservative party list in London for the European Parliament – and with a good chance of being elected – is Marina Yannakoudakis, a London-born Cypriot. Apparently, we're supposed to vote for her because she has a Cypriot background; but the truth is if she really had a Cypriot consciousness she would have nothing to do with the Conservative party, which is stuffed full of Turkophiles who have never forgiven Cyprus for humiliating the British empire in the 1950s.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Seferis, Hellenism and justice

Below is the acceptance speech Giorgos Seferis gave in Stockholm on 10 December 1963 on receiving the Nobel Prize for poetry. As well as a powerful statement of Seferis’ belief in the importance of poetry, it is also a compelling definition of Hellenism as an insistence on the human, justice and self-limitation. The ‘master’ Seferis refers to in the third paragraph, who wrote 'We are lost because we have been unjust', is the hero of the Greek war of independence, General Makriyiannis.

I feel at this moment that I am a living contradiction. The Swedish Academy has decided that my efforts in a language famous through the centuries but not widespread in its present form are worthy of this high distinction. It is paying homage to my language – and in return I express my gratitude in a foreign language. I hope you will accept the excuses I am making to myself.

I belong to a small country. A rocky promontory in the Mediterranean, it has nothing to distinguish it but the efforts of its people, the sea, and the light of the sun. It is a small country, but its tradition is immense and has been handed down through the centuries without interruption. The Greek language has never ceased to be spoken. It has undergone the changes that all living things experience, but there has never been a gap. This tradition is characterized by love of the human; justice is its norm. In the tightly organized classical tragedies the Erinyes punish the man who exceeds his measure. And this norm of justice holds even in the realm of nature.

'Helios will not overstep his measure'; says Heraclitus, 'otherwise the Erinyes, the ministers of Justice, will find him out'. A modern scientist might profit by pondering this aphorism of the Ionian philosopher. I am moved by the realization that the sense of justice penetrated the Greek mind to such an extent that it became a law of the physical world. One of my masters exclaimed at the beginning of the last century: 'We are lost because we have been unjust.' He was an unlettered man, who did not learn to write until the age of thirty-five. But in the Greece of our day the oral tradition goes back as far as the written tradition, and so does poetry. I find it significant that Sweden wishes to honour not only this poetry, but poetry in general, even when it originates in a small people. For I think that poetry is necessary to this modern world in which we are afflicted by fear and disquiet. Poetry has its roots in human breath – and what would we be if our breath were diminished? Poetry is an act of confidence – and who knows whether our unease is not due to a lack of confidence?

Last year, around this table, it was said that there is an enormous difference between the discoveries of modern science and those of literature, but little difference between modern and Greek dramas. Indeed, the behaviour of human beings does not seem to have changed. And I should add that today we need to listen to that human voice which we call poetry, that voice which is constantly in danger of being extinguished through lack of love, but is always reborn. Threatened, it has always found a refuge; denied, it has always instinctively taken root again in unexpected places. It recognizes no small nor large parts of the world; its place is in the hearts of men the world over. It has the charm of escaping from the vicious circle of custom. I owe gratitude to the Swedish Academy for being aware of these facts; for being aware that languages which are said to have restricted circulation should not become barriers which might stifle the beating of the human heart; and for being a true Areopagus, able 'to judge with solemn truth life's ill-appointed lot', to quote Shelley, who, it is said, inspired Alfred Nobel, whose grandeur of heart redeems inevitable violence.

In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him. When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: 'Man'. That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Beware Turks having visions

I've translated into English below an article from the Greek National Pride website regarding a lecture given by Rauf Denktash – the butcher of Cyprus, who for four decades was leader of the Turk minority on the island – on the European Court of Justice ruling in the Orams case. (See here and here, for background). Denktash – who reflects the ultranationalist views of the Turkish deep state, in which he is significantly implicated – argues four things.

1. That the British government should seek to prevent the UK Court of Appeal from implementing the ECJ ruling on the grounds that it is against public policy, i.e. the ruling torpedoes the current Talat-Christofias negotiations, which Britain supports.

2. That Talat should suspend talks with Christofias, until the Greek Cypriot side agrees to a settlement on the property issue based on compulsory compensation and exchange.

3. That now EU citizens will be discouraged from buying property in occupied Cyprus, Turks from Turkey should be persuaded to take their place. This would also have the advantage, in Denktash's words, of 'making Cyprus more Turkish'.

4. Turkey should stop making concessions on Cyprus in the vain expectation that the EU will let it join its ranks and, instead, reinvigorate its policy of seeking recognition of the occupation regime and a settlement based on two sovereign states.

Now, as I've stated previously, I think it extremely unlikely that the British government will interfere with the judicial process in this country at the behest of Turkey, so Denktash's hope of overturning the Orams ruling in this way will probably be in vain.

As for the rest of Denktash's arguments – which amount to Turkey abandoning not only the Cyprus negotiations but also its EU ambitions – they are also unlikely to be heeded by the current Turkish government. Denktash's minority view is interesting, however, inasmuch as it reflects the deep state's alternative foreign policy to that currently being pursued by the AK party.

And, parenthetically, regarding the AK party's foreign policy, I read this today from Turk president Abdullah Gul: 'Our vision is this: when the Cyprus problem is solved, we have very good intentions for the creation of a separate union within the EU, consisting of the Eastern Mediterranean, the entire Cyprus, Turkey and Greece.'

What? It's not the first time I've read Gul express this (nightmare) 'vision' of a union between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, but I've not been able to find any detailed references to it. I certainly don't recall any Greek mention of this union. Whose vision is this union, then? Is it Turkey's alone? Is it something that has been discussed with the Greek side? At what level? With whom? Is it something Greece is cooking up with the Turks behind Cyprus' back – again? What does it all entail, and so on and so on?

Rauf Denktash, Cyprus' bad demon
Speaking at the so-called Near East University in occupied Nicosia regarding the decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of Apostolides vs. The Orams, the former leader of the Turkish Cypriots Rauf Denktash stressed that the Turkish Cypriot side has the chance to change the ruling to its advantage.

Denktash said that although EU legislation stipulates that the ruling must be applied in all EU countries, this can be overridden if the ruling does not comply with the public policy interests of a specific country. Thus, Britain, according to Denktash, has a policy of supporting negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and could argue that the Orams ruling wrecks this policy.

Denktash also said that he has written to the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and stressed to him that he should halt the negotiations and call on Christofias to discuss the property issue on the basis of exchange and compensation.

Denktash also proposed that Turks should buy property in the occupied areas 'in order to make Cyprus more Turkish'.

Referring to Turkey-EU relations, Denktash said that the EU will never open its doors to Turkey, even if Turkey sacrifices Cyprus. Denktash said that Turkey's right to station troops in Cyprus is based on the 1960 Cyprus constitution and that this right cannot be bargained away.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A little farther

I’ve made available in Radio Akritas three more songs by Yiannis Markopoulos based on poems by Giorgos Seferis. The poem, A little farther, was also set to music by Mikis Theodorakis and the video above is of Theodorakis performing his version in his inimitable style.

A little farther
A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves

a little farther,
let us rise a little higher.

Λίγο ακόμα

Λίγο ακόμα

θα ιδούμε τις αμυγδαλιές ν’ ανθίζουν

τα μάρμαρα να λάμπουν στον ήλιο

τη θάλασσα να κυματίζει

λίγο ακόμα,

να σηκωθούμε λίγο ψηλότερα.

Folk song
The monocotyledonous
and the dicotyledonous
were blooming in the meadow

they'd told you in the klidonas
and we locked lips lasciviously, Malamo!

Δημοτικό τραγούδι
Τα μονοκοτυλήδονα
και τα δικοτυλήδονα
ανθίζανε στον κάμπο

σου το 'χαν πει στον κλήδονα
και σμίξαμε φιλήδονα
τα χείλια μας, Μαλάμω!

Between two bitter moments
Between two bitter moments you don’t have time even to breathe
between your face and your face
the tender form of a child takes shape and vanishes.

Ανάμεσα σε δυο πικρές στιγμές
Ανάμεσα σε δυο πικρές στιγμές δεν έχεις καιρό μήτε ν'ανασάνεις
ανάμεσα στο πρόσωπό σου και στο πρόσωπό σου
μια τρυφερή μορφή παιδιού γράφεται και σβήνει.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Our country is closed in

Below is Giorgios Seferis’ poem Our country is closed in. It was set to music by Yiannis Markopoulos in 1973 and I’ve made available the original recording in Radio Akritas. The video above is a version performed by the Greek-American singer Elli Paspala.

Our country is closed in
Our country is closed in, all mountains
that day and night have the low sky as their roof
We have no rivers, we have no wells, we have no springs,
only a few cisterns – and these empty – that echo, and that
we worship.

A stagnant hollow sound, the same as our loneliness
the same as our love, the same as our bodies.
We find it strange that once we were able to build
our houses, huts and sheepfolds.
And our marriages, the cool coronals and the fingers,
become enigmas inexplicable to our souls.
How were our children born, how did they grow strong?

Our country is closed in. Two black Symplegades
close it in. When we go down
to the harbours on Sunday to breathe
we see, lit in the sunset,
the broken planks from voyages that never ended,
bodies that no longer know how to love.

Ο τόπος μας είναι κλειστός
Ο τόπος μας είναι κλειστός, όλο βουνά
που έχουν σκεπή το χαμηλό ουρανό μέρα και νύχτα.
Δεν έχουμε ποτάμια, δεν έχουμε πηγάδια, δεν έχουμε πηγές.
μονάχα λίγες στέρνες, άδειες κι αυτές, που ηχούν και που
τις προσκυνούμε.

Ήχος στεκάμενος, κούφιος, ίδιος με τη μοναξιά μας,
ίδιος με την αγάπη μας, ίδιος με τα σώματά μας.
Μας φαίνεται παράξενο που κάποτε μπορέσαμε να χτίσουμε
τα σπίτια, τα καλύβια και τις στάνες μας.
Και οι γάμοι μας, τα δροσερά στεφάνια και τα δάχτυλα,
γίνουνται αινίγματα ανεξήγητα για την ψυχή μας.
Πώς γεννήθηκαν, πώς δυναμώσανε τα παιδιά μας;

Ο τόπος μας είναι κλειστός. Τον κλείνουν
οι δυο μαύρες Συμπληγάδες. Στα λιμάνια
την Κυριακή σαν κατεβούμε ν' ανασάνουμε,
βλέπουμε να φωτίζουνται στο ηλιόγερμα
σπασμένα ξύλα, από ταξίδια που δεν τέλειωσαν
σώματα που δεν ξέρουν πια πώς ν' αγαπήσουν.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Cyprus: my addiction

The piece below is an editorial from the excellent Ardin-Rixi site, which I've translated into English. It makes two very important points regarding Greece and Cyprus. Firstly, that Cyprus and the broader interests of Hellenism have been betrayed for decades by a Greek political elite that has believed in maintaining, above all else, good relations with foreign sponsors; and, secondly, if Greece seriously wants to establish itself as a power in the Eastern Mediterranean then it has to assert itself in Cyprus. See article in Greek here.

Greece's elite, satisfied with a circumscribed Hellenism, regard Cyprus as a 'weight' around Greece's neck, which harms relations with the big powers. This is why, as the songwriter Dionysis Savopoulos wrote, 'the wheeler-dealers hate Cyprus'. Because Cyprus and its incorporation into Hellenism's geopolitical considerations would transform Greece into a decisive actor in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Hellenism without Cyprus is impoverished; but the Greek elite don't care about this. Its main concern is not to be at odds with the big powers, which have always opposed a greater geopolitical role for Greece. This is why the Anglo-Americans, and then the Turks, vigorously opposed the union of Cyprus with Greece. And this is why, even today, they do what they can to weaken the unity and ties between Greece and Cyprus.

And it is no coincidence that, today, as a new Annan plan is being prepared for Cyprus, ties between Greece and Cyprus have reached a nadir and the Cyprus Republic is being led, for the first time, by a party – communist AKEL – that did not participate in the national liberation struggle, between 1955 and 1959.

All of those Greeks now 'tired' of the Cyprus problem – some of whom may have even, at one time, been well-disposed to Cyprus – would do well to reflect how, after the invasion of Cyprus, Turkey intensified its claims in the Aegean and in Thrace.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Seferis among the barbarians in Hyperborea

When the poet Giorgios Seferis was secretary at the Greek consulate in London in 1931, he lived in a two-room furnished flat at 8 Antrim Grove in Belsize Park, a pleasant-enough part of North London, squeezed in between even more salubrious Hampstead and Primrose Hill. Not that Seferis was happy in London. He found the city grimy, gloomy and depressing and yearned for the Greek climate and landscape. The only things that appealed to Seferis about England were the optical illusions the flames of an English fireside created, and the Thames, with its docks and ocean-bound ships. In his biography of Seferis, Waiting for the Angel, Roderick Beaton describes 8 Antrim Grove thus:

'The house belonged to an elderly widow and her daughter; [Seferis'] rooms were cleaned by a maid, who carried with her an aroma of beer and bacon… The other side of Antrim Grove has been rebuilt since the 1960s; Number 8 looks much as it must have done then; a demure, semi-detached house with bow windows to the front and a tiny front garden, almost hidden behind the traditional English privet hedges. George's rooms were probably on the attic floor.'

I passed by Antrim Grove recently and took these photos. The street and houses are well-heeled; yet Number 8, for some reason, is dilapidated.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A struggle for 'roots, memory and culture'

Usually, Helena Smith writes ignorant, facetious rubbish about Greece for The Guardian. However, she has done a good piece on the fight of Greek Cypriot refugees to reclaim the homes they were expelled from as a result of the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.

The article contains annoying comments from Cyprus' former president, Giorgios Vasiliou, and better remarks from Meletios Apostolides, who this week won an important victory against British usurpers and the Turkish occupation authorities regarding his land in Lapithos. (See here and here). Apostolides aptly describes the struggle of Cypriot refugees to return to their homes as a struggle for 'roots, memory and culture.' Read Smith's article in full below.

Another point worth making relates to the 40,000 Turkish Cypriots who left the free areas in 1974 for Turkish-occupied Cyprus. These 40,000 are often referred to in the same breath as the 200,000 Greek Cypriots forced out of northern Cyprus by the Turkish occupation authorities, as if the Turkish Cypriots were forced out by Greek Cypriots. This is not true.

The fact is that the Turkish Cypriots who remained in the free areas after the Turkish invasion were transferred to the occupied areas by Britain – in the case of the 10,000 Turkish Cypriots who had taken refuge at the British base at Akrotiri; or at the instigation of the Turkish-occupation authorities, which insisted to the Cypriot government that if the Turkish Cypriots were not transferred to the north, then the 11,000 Greek Cypriots who were still living in the Turkish-occupied Karpasia peninsular – mainly in the villages of Yialousa, Agia Triada and Rizokarpaso – would be expelled.

The Turkish Cypriots, mainly from Paphos, were transferred – and as soon as this process was complete, the Turks, breaking their pledge to leave unmolested the Karpasia Greeks, expelled them anyway.

It should be stressed that most Turkish Cypriots in Akrotiri and Paphos had no desire to go to the occupied areas, and abandoned their homes, according to a contemporaneous Washington Post report, amid great 'sobbing and wailing', handing over keys to their homes to Greek Cypriot neighbours and urging them to 'look after them well'; victims of British malice, Cypriot naivety and the Turkish ambition to create an ethnically homogeneous entity in northern Cyprus.

Scent of victory among the lemon trees as displaced Cypriots win claim on ancestral land
Like so many Cypriots, Meletis Apostolides has long been haunted by memories of a lost past.

All his adult life he has yearned to return to his boyhood home – and this week, nearly 35 years after war left what should be an idlyllic corner of the Levant brutally divided, the European court of justice brought him one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

Even now, in late middle age, the architect can still recall the scent of the lemon trees, the smell of the sea, the dappled light that filtered through the citrus orchards of Lapithos, the village in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus where he and his ancestors were born.

"It's never gone," he says, homing in, with Google Earth, on the property his family was forced to flee when Turkey, in the name of protecting its minority on the island, invaded in 1974.

The Apostolides family – like 170,000 other Greek Cypriots forcibly displaced at the time – always thought they'd be back. Instead, with only minutes to gather their possessions, and with the Turkish military entrenching its positions in response to a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, they found themselves turned into refugees, and robbed of their past overnight.

"The only thing my mother, Andriani, managed to take were her threads and embroideries," says Apostolides, 24 at the time. "We left photo albums, everything. People think that [my legal battle] has been all about money, when actually it is about roots, memory and culture. My family had lived in that part of the island since 1860."

In Cyprus' supercharged politics few issues excite more passion than that of properties lost during the conflict. In the war's wake peace talks aimed at resolving the west's longest-running diplomatic dispute have repeatedly collapsed on the matter of refugees' rights and land exchange. Enraged by the European court's decision to back Apostolides's claim to property – since bought by a retired British couple – Turkish Cypriot politicians have threatened to walk out of reunification talks.

"Cypriots are very attached to their land. In England you had an industrial revolution, here we did not," said Cyprus's former president George Vasiliou. "Until fairly recently people lived from their land so it meant a lot to them, and before the invasion northern Cyprus was almost exclusively Greek. Then there is memory. That plays a role too."

Like many on either side of the ethnic divide, Apostolides returned with his mother – and their title deeds – to see his home in 2003, the year that Turkish Cypriot authorities lifted restrictions on intercommunal travel. "It was the first, and only time, that my mother would see it after the war," he recalls.

But it was a previous visit – one by a Turkish Cypriot colleague who had once lived in the island's Greek-run south – that spurred the silver-haired architect into action. As an early proponent of interethnic contact in the 90s, Apostolides participated in an organised tour by Turkish Cypriot architects around the south. "One of them, who would go on to become a great friend, was desperate to revisit his family home in Limassol," he said. "When the Greek Cypriots living in the house opened the door, he produced a framed picture from his rucksack and said 'finally I have fulfilled my parents' wish to return home'. The Greek Cypriots immediately put it on the mantelpiece. At that moment I identified with him so much. It was such a powerful thing."

When Apostolides pressed charges against Linda and David Orams, the East Sussex couple who built their dream home on his land in 2002, he never envisaged the case would cause such a furore. "I decided to take legal action after a chance meeting with Mrs Orams on the plot in 2003," he says. "She was out watering the plants and when I asked her who she was, she said 'I am the owner of this villa'. I said 'I am the owner of the land' and she responded by saying 'well that was a long time ago'."

Five days after the European court pronounced that the UK judiciary should enforce the decision of a Nicosia court to return the property to its original owner, and demolish the villa to boot, the affair looks set to run and run – not least among the estimated 6,000 Britons who have also picked up properties at bargain prices in the territory that is only recognised by Ankara.

Yesterday despondent rosy-cheeked expats, living in the scenic villages above the picturesque port of Kyrenia, refused to comment, with one denouncing the case "as Greek Cypriot lies and bullshit".

But, says Vasiliou: "Greek Cypriots may feel justice has been rendered, that property is sacrosanct. However, serious people on this island also know that the best way to solve this issue is through speeding up negotiations and reaching a settlement, not taking individual cases to court."

Apostolides, the man of the moment, would agree. While his is a victory, he says, it springs from a lost past.