Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What caused Cyprus’ downfall: Nato imperialism or Turkish nationalism?

Above is a documentary – The Green Line – about the partition of Cyprus made for British TV back in 1985. The first part looks at events from 1920-1974 and argues that Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived in relative harmony until British colonial authorities in order to justify and retain their influence on the island initiated a cynical ‘divide and rule’ policy. The documentary then argues that having reluctantly conceded independence to Cyprus, Britain and, increasingly, America, concerned by the non-aligned policies of President Makarios, which they believed exposed Cyprus to Soviet penetration, devised a scheme to partition Cyprus between Nato stalwarts Greece and Turkey. This was done by urging Turkey to take an aggressive interest in Cyprus; influencing the Greek military junta to do the same; and by encouraging EOKA B to undermine Makarios from within the Greek Cypriot community. The programme interviews ordinary Greek and Turkish Cypriots caught up in the politics of the island as well as prominent British figures who shaped and witnessed Cypriot events.

It’s a fairly good documentary and while an analysis emphasising Cold War politics as a pre-eminent cause of the invasion and partition of Cyprus has many merits, I’ve never been fully convinced by it. This is because the ‘Anglo-American-machinations’ narrative – especially in the way it has been adopted by the left, such as AKEL (whose representatives are over-represented in the documentary), which embellishes it by accusing the USA and UK of manipulating ‘chauvinist’ or ‘nationalist’ elements on the island – fails to recognise Turkey’s calculated actions to dismember Cyprus.

Thus even if it’s true that it was the British in the 1950s that first suggested to the Turks that partition of Cyprus was a more realistic and beneficial choice for Turkey than its original policy option of wanting to take over the whole of the island, Turkey had its own reasons for the vigorous pursuit of such a policy regardless of whether it suited British colonial or Nato interests.

Indeed, this failure to factor in Turkey’s attitudes towards Cyprus is not just a historical and analytical oversight, it is a deliberate political omission. This is because to stress the role Turkish nationalism played in the downfall of Cyprus also points to a truth that the advocates of the ‘Nato-imperialism’ narrative cannot bear to hear and that is that the preponderance of Turkish Cypriots were genuinely consumed by Turkish national ideology; they were its willing agents; ardently wished to be separated politically and geographically from Greek Cypriots; and zealously worked for the extension of Turkey into Cyprus. Asserting the abject role of Cyprus’ Turkish minority in ruining the island makes it hard for proponents of the ‘Anglo-American conspiracy’ narrative to portray the Turkish Cypriots as ‘brothers-in-arms’ with Greek Cypriots in the fight for an independent and reunified Cyprus.

In summary, Turkish nationalism and Turkey’s warped perception of its interests is the predominant factor in explaining the invasion and occupation of Cyprus and the more appropriate historical context is not the Cold War but 1071, the Eastern Question and the genocidal foundations of the modern Turkish republic and Turkish national ideology. Asserting this is not just important for an understanding of the political history of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus, but it also points us in the direction of what can and needs to be done to liberate (or, more likely, protect) the island from Turkey.

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