Friday, 31 January 2014

The collapse of neo-Ottomanism

Above is a good talk given earlier this month at a conference in Cyprus by Israeli academic Anat Lapidot on the origins and collapse of Turkey’s geopolitical strategy – more correctly the AKP government’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy. 

Lapidot argues that Russia and Iran have scuppered Turkey’s ambitions in the Caucuses and Central Asia, the EU has subverted neo-Ottomanism in the Balkans, while the repercussions of the so-called Arab Spring have undermined Turkey’s hopes in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Lapidot doesn’t say this explicitly but she implies that Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus is one of the last cards it holds to help it project its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The conference at which Lapidot spoke was organised by the Citizens’ Alliance party and you can watch the talk of its leader, Giorgos Lillikas, who was foreign minister during Tassos Papadopoulos’ presidency, (in Greek) here. Lillikas is glib, but he makes a good point about it being in Israel’s interests to shore up Hellenism in Cyprus and avoid a Cyprus solution, like the one envisaged by the Annan plan, which would decisively put the island in Turkey’s sphere of influence and result in Israel being completely surrounded by hostile countries.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Why Britain won’t return the Parthenon Marbles

I referred a little while ago (in this post) to Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC drama documentary on the Parthenon Marbles and the controversy over whether the British Museum should keep them or return them to Greece. The film, which is above in full, was made in 2004, so it’s somewhat out of date, particularly since, in 2009, the Acropolis Museum opened, to much acclaim, and overcame the argument the British Museum has made about Greece not having a suitable space to display the sculptures should they be repatriated.

I have to admit I can’t get that worked up about the Parthenon Marbles controversy, but I do know a shabby and deceitful case when I see one, and shabbiness and deceit is precisely what characterises the case of those who support the retention of the Marbles in London.

In the film, apart from the now defunct argument that Greece has nowhere suitable to house the Parthenon Marbles, the gist of the case for keeping them at the British Museum consists of the following: the Marbles don’t have a national identity and are not just part of Greek culture, they’re a part of world culture, while Greek attachment to the Marbles is contrived, a product of Hellenic jingoism.

Indeed, Graham-Dixon suggests at one point that Greece’s desire to have the Marbles returned reflects an unhealthy nationalistic obsession with the fifth century BC.

‘There is a danger,’ Graham-Dixon says, ‘of plucking this one moment, this fifth century BC moment, out of the vast multicultural continuum of the history of the Greek lands and elevating it to canonical status. By wiping out the intervening two thousand years of history, there is a risk of disenfranchising all sorts of modern Greek citizens – Jews, Muslims – whose cultures have also made a contribution to the history of modern Greece.’

All of this is complete nonsense and disguises the real reasons the British authorities won’t return the Marbles to Greece and these are mainly:

1. Returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece would diminish the status of the British Museum. Visitor numbers would decline and the British Museum would suffer financially.

2. The UK doesn’t want to be seen giving in to a country that it regards as beneath it. As one contributor suggests in the film, can we really imagine Britain refusing to return the sculptures if they belonged to France? Of course not. Simply, Britain doesn’t regard Greece as its equal and won’t accept being outdone by it.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Melina Mercouri’s Cyprus, a year after the Turkish invasion

I’ve never been a fan of Melina Mercouri, neither as an actress or public personality, but I did for the most part like the film (above) she made about Cyprus in 1975, one year after the Turkish invasion of the island, and which has only recently surfaced from Greek state television archives.

The last 20 minutes of the film – involving an interview with President Makarios – are especially interesting. During the interview, Makarios says his biggest mistake as Cyprus’s leader was to allow the meddling of successive Greek governments, particularly during the junta years, 1967-74, in Cypriot affairs. The archbishop also says he can only explain the decision by the Athens junta to overthrow him by supposing that the coup was plotted in collusion with Turkey. It is impossible to believe, Makarios says, that the junta carried out the coup without knowing that Turkey would respond to it by invading the island. Thus, Makarios says, either the junta was indifferent to the prospect of a Turkish invasion or was content to see it proceed, as part of a plan for Double Enosis – partition of the island between Greece and Turkey. Makarios continues that the junta’s plan for Double Enosis was thwarted because the coup against him failed once its main objective – his murder – had been averted.

Makarios also asserts that the junta’s desire to kill him was motivated by its fear that Cyprus, as a fully-functioning democratic Greek state, and Makarios, as a democratically elected Greek leader, had become a symbol and beacon to those, like Mercouri, striving for the restoration of democracy in Greece. In this scenario, it becomes clear that the coup against Makarios was less an effort aimed at uniting (part of) Cyprus to Greece and was more a desperate and incoherent attempt by the junta to cling to power in Athens.

Finally, it should be noted that throughout Mercouri’s interview with Makarios, she appears to be genuinely in awe of the president, who comes across as brilliant and charismatic. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Epiphany celebrations in Agia Triada and Yialousa

Above is a RIK news report on yesterday’s Epiphany celebrations that took place for the first time since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in Agia Triada and Yialousa in the Turkish-occupied Karpasia peninsular of the island.

Agia Triada, as I’ve written before, is a satellite village or suburb of Yialousa, and is home to some 100 Greek Cypriots who’ve been enclaved since the Turkish invasion, while Yialousa has been ethnically cleansed of its 3000 Greek Cypriot inhabitants and replaced by Turkish Cypriots from the Tylliria area of western Cyprus.

As far as I’m aware the Turkish occupation regime did not allow any other Epiphany celebrations in the areas it controls and the permission granted for the services held at Yialousa/Agia Triada should not be seen as a goodwill gesture from the Turkish side. Rather, it is an attempt to assert Turkish Cypriot ‘sovereignty’ in occupied Cyprus; turn Greek Cypriots forced from occupied Cyprus in 1974 into tourists; and kid the international community into believing that Turkey respects religious and cultural freedoms. (A similar game is played with Pontian Greeks who are allowed to hold a religious service once a year at the Monastery of Panayias Sumela, near Trapezounta). Nevertheless, despite being aware of the tactics of the Turkish occupation authorities, many Greek Cypriots insist on taking part in these pilgrimages as a means to show the Turkish side that they have not forgotten the homes, villages and churches they were forced to abandon in 1974 and, even after four decades, they still expect to return to them on a permanent basis.