Sunday, 1 August 2021

The opening of Varosha, the absence of countermeasures and Britain as scapegoat

On the anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan found himself in the occupied areas of the island to declare that the Turkish Cypriots needed a spanking new ‘presidential’ palace for Turkey’s selected puppet to dwell in, befitting the ‘state’ the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ purports to be.

He also reiterated that from now on Turkey would only discuss a Cyprus solution that involved the creation of two, independent states on the island. The long-touted bizonal, bicommunal federation formula was no longer acceptable to Ankara, even if by two independent states what Turkey means is a confederation, so that the Turkish minority would be independent in the north and have a controlling say in the running of central government.

Finally, Erdogan confirmed the 'opening' under Turkey's auspices of the large Greek Cypriot town of Varosha – a suburb of the city of Famagusta – from which, in 1974, its population either fled or was expelled and has, ever since, been prevented from returning by the Turkish military because, as everyone knows, Varosha has been regarded by the Turkish side as a bargaining chip that will be traded away to extract concessions from the Cypriot side in any settlement.

Declaring that it now considers Varosha as part of the territory of its puppet ‘state’, Turkey’s move is rightly being interpreted as indicating that it is no longer pursuing a mutually acceptable Cyprus solution and that its occupation of 37 percent of the island will now exist in perpetuity.

So, what has the response to such serious developments been from the government of the Republic of Cyprus? What countermeasures has it taken? How does it intend to make Turkey and, more specifically, its subordinate administration, the flunkies who front it, pay for the extension and cementing of the occupation?

The answer is not much. The government secured a presidential statement from the UN Security Council condemning Turkey’s moves – which are contrary to Security Council Resolution 550 that insists Varosha be handed over to the UN to administer in preparation for the return of its lawful inhabitants; while the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, issued a statement condemning ‘Turkey’s unilateral steps and the unacceptable announcements’.

Predictably, Turkey dismissed both the UN and EU positions – berating them for not understanding the facts on the ground and falling for black Greek propaganda. Turkey vowed to continue with its plans to open Varosha.

The decision by Turkey and the occupation regime in Cyprus to open Varosha was first announced by Kudrut Ozersay in August 2019. In other words, Turkey’s statements on Varosha on 20 July weren’t sudden nor could they be described as catching the Cypriot side by surprise. They had been foretold and entirely expected.

In these circumstances, you would’ve anticipated that the Cypriot government had a package of countermeasures ready to announce against the occupation regime, having been given nearly two years to come up with them.

However, there has been no announcement of any such measures. Rather, all there has been is a vague threat to deprive occupation regime lackeys of their Republic of Cyprus passports and an even vaguer pledge to examine the possibility of closing, for limited time periods, the crossing points between the free and occupied areas of Cyprus, particularly those – at Ledra and Deryneia – which are most beneficial to the occupation regime economy. (Presumably, the Cyprus government is aware that unless the crossing point regulations are changed, it will be in the absurd and unsustainable position of waving through tourists from the free areas to Varosha to enjoy the usurped properties and land of ethnically cleansed Greek Cypriots).

What was absent from the Cyprus government was any consideration of criminal prosecutions against occupation regime flunkies who will be in violation of any number of Republic of Cyprus laws – as if they haven’t been since 1963 – by collaborating with Turkey to steal, trespass on and loot the land and properties of the government and citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.

Instead of announcing effective countermeasures against the occupation regime, the Cyprus government, via the statements of President Nikos Anastasiades, took aim at the UK government, for, apparently, attempting to water down the UN Security Council presidential declaration, accusing London of ‘fuelling’ Turkish audacity.

A tiresome scapegoating tactic, as if Britain was responsible for Turkish triumphalist and expansionist ideology, which Erdogan and his Turkish Cypriot nationalist gofers are wedded to and is behind the opening of Varosha; and as if it’s Britain preventing the Cypriot government from taking measures that would have personal cost to those in the occupation regime carrying out the Varosha usurpation.

As for why the Cypriot government won’t go down the route of asserting the rule of law in Cyprus, of casting the occupation regime lackeys as the criminals that they are, this is presumably because, in an extraordinary display of self-delusion, it believes international pressure will reverse Turkey’s course and bring it and the Turkish Cypriot leadership back to the negotiating table where they will agree to a settlement acceptable to the Greek Cypriot side.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo: the road to glory

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek basketball star, put in one of the greatest series of sporting performances anyone is likely to see to lift the Milwaukee Bucks to a historic 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. 

The achievement culminated in a decisive game six where Antetokounmpo surpassed himself, scoring 50 points, securing 14 rebounds and making five blocks and two assists; though the statistics don’t do justice to the sheer will power, determination, mental strength and physical endurance he displayed in leading his team to glory.
The Bucks’ victory, their first NBA championship since 1971, marked a remarkable eight-years for Antetokounmpo, drafted by the Wisconsin side in 2013 as a spindly, inchoate 18-year-old, who some scouts predicted could be a star in the mould of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, but most thought his basketball skills were too underdeveloped and untested to merit interest in signing him. 
The usual route for NBA stars is to win a scholarship to a US university, hone your skills over two, three, four, years in college basketball, which is highly competitive and where scouts will have repeated chance to watch and judge you, before a gamble is taken. 
Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, only played in the lower leagues in Greece – for Filathlitikos Zografou – a standard likened to a local YMCA competition – which led many American scouts to take the view that Antetokounmpo may look good against mediocre players in Europe but this didn’t tell you anything about how well he would compete against US-trained players, who’d had the benefit of years of superior coaching, conditioning and competition.
Hundreds of articles have been written, dozens of television programmes made – Disney is now producing a feature film – telling Antetokounmpo’s story; his rise from a cramped flat in an insalubrious part of Athens, the third of five sons, the last four born in Athens to undocumented immigrants from Nigeria, Veronica and Charles Antetokounmpo, to five-time All Star, two-time MVP and now NBA champion and Finals MVP. 
The family’s struggles on the margins of the Greek economy – which included hawking sunglasses, CDs, DVDs on Athens’ streets to make a precarious and meagre living – are well established as is the racism of some locals, coming to terms with a wave of immigrants from all the world arriving in Greece. 
Yet, amid all the difficulties and travails, the Antetokounmpos persevered, the four Greek-born brothers went to local schools, had people in their community and neighbourhood willing to help them and their parents navigate Greek society and make them feel they had a place and stake in it. 
It is these people the Antetokounmpo family chooses to remember rather than the ones who showed hostility or resentment towards them and has made Giannis Antetokounmpo Greece’s greatest advocate abroad and a superhero and superstar at home.
* I've read, seen, listened to dozens of articles, TV shows, podcasts, about Giannis Antetokounmpo's amazing NBA story; but this three-part series on his journey from rudimentary basketball talent in Athens to being drafted by the Bucks is the best at revealing what makes him tick.
The Giannis Draft: The Woj Pod’s 3-episode narrative podcast on the greatest NBA draft story ever told. 

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Cyprus, the EU, Turkey: when kicking the can down the road amounts to appeasement

After the failure of the UN-led Cyprus talks in April, any further developments were not expected to take place until the end of June, when the European Council (EUCO) was due to convene to discuss EU-Turkey relations taking into account, supposedly, not only Turkey’s belligerence against Greece in the Aegean but also Turkey’s disengagement from the accepted parameters of a Cyprus solution – a bizonal, bicommunal federation – in favour of a so-called ‘two-state solution’, i.e. a confederation of two sovereign states on the island, and its moves towards the colonisation of Varosha, a large Greek Cypriot town that was ethnically cleansed by Turkey in 1974 and has remained under military occupation since then.

Following the March EUCO and the Geneva talks, the EU said it expected Turkey to de-escalate tensions with Greece and contribute to starting full-blown Cyprus talks. In return, the EUCO said it would consider Turkey’s demands for an upgrade in the EU-Turkey Customs Union and more money to pay for Turkey’s hosting of million of refugees and immigrants, escaping conflicts and economic malaise in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

While there has been a respite in Turkish provocations against Greece – Greece’s robust reaction to Turkish threats and violations seems to have deterred Turkey, for the moment; there was no change in Turkey’s rhetoric regarding Cyprus. Whether coming from Ankara or the occupation regime on the island, the Turkish side has insisted that a reunified Cyprus is no longer on its agenda, that Turkey has no intention of ending its occupation of Cyprus and that Varosha will be opened and colonised.

So, what was the reaction the EUCO of 25 June to Turkey’s machinations? Would the EU finally exert real pressure on Ankara to end its occupation of 37% of the territory of one of its member-states? Of course not. The meeting’s Turkey conclusions were as follows:

The European Council reverted to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the European Union’s relations with Turkey, and recalled the EU’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. It welcomes the de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean, which needs to be sustained in line with the statement by the Members of the European Council of 25 March 2021. 

The European Council reiterates the EU’s readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest, subject to the established conditionalities set out in March and in previous European Council conclusions.

In line with this framework, it takes note of the start of work at technical level towards a mandate for the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and recalls the need to address current difficulties in the implementation of the Customs Union, ensuring its effective application to all Member States. Such a mandate may be adopted by the Council subject to additional guidance by the European Council.

It also takes note of the preparatory work for high level dialogues with Turkey on issues of mutual interest, such as migration, public health, climate, counterterrorism and regional issues.

The European Council calls on the Commission to put forward without delay formal proposals for the continuation of financing for Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other parts of the region, in line with the statement of the Members of the European Council of March 2021 and within the context of the EU’s overall migration policy.

The European Council recalls its previous conclusions and remains fully committed to the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. It underlines the importance of the status of Varosha and calls for full respect of UN Security Council Resolutions, in particular Resolutions 550, 789 and 1251. It regrets that the informal meeting in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations did not pave the way for the resumption of formal negotiations. The European Union will continue to play an active role in supporting the process.

Rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey remain a key concern. The targeting of political parties, human rights defenders and media represents major setbacks for human rights and runs counter to Turkey’s obligations to respect democracy, the rule of law and women’s rights. Dialogue on such issues remains an integral part of the EU-Turkey relationship.

In line with the shared interest of the EU and Turkey in regional peace and stability, the European Council expects Turkey and all actors to contribute positively to the resolution of regional crises.

The European Council will remain seized of the matter.

It’s tempting to say that EUCO kicked the can down the road – asking for the maintenance of de-escalation in the Aegean and for Turkey to revert to supporting the UN parameters for a Cyprus solution. But no serious appraisal of Turkey’s long-term plans could conclude that Turkey has given up or will give up on its Blue Homeland ideology that motivates its policy towards Greece and Cyprus and envisages Turkish domination of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Thus kicking the can down the road is not a holding or neutral policy and certainly does not serve what the EU says is its purpose, offering Turkey the opportunity to comply with international standards and solve its problems (abandon its aggression) towards its neighbours.

The constant breathing space the EU allows Turkey only serves to encourage Turkey on its path, prove to the Turkish leadership that Europe is weak, decadent and unable to assert its interests and values. It’s all very well for the EU to claim it has principles, but if you never do anything to defend these principles then how serious and sincere you are about them? Perhaps the EU’s true principles aren’t those it constantly blathers about but other, more venal ones, it is too embarrassed to articulate.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Glyka Nera murder: the guilt is pervasive

Eleni Mylonopoulou

Whereas most crime and criminals are not interesting, revealing nothing more than men and women in their most venal state, occasionally there are transgressions that transcend banality and enter the realms of tragedy and, at the same time, expose the corruption and degradation of society.

What seems to have happened is that a young woman’s post-natal depression, her declarations of hatred for her husband and their child this produced, her outbursts and threats to leave him, were regarded by him as beyond reason and explicable behaviour.

In diary entries made public by the police, Caroline Crouch reveals the extent of her distress:

‘I fought with Babi again. This time it was serious. I hit him, I cursed at him and he broke down the door. All I wanted was for him to ask how I am when I woke up. I woke up so weak and tired. I am thinking of leaving. I am thinking of going to my sister, I don't know if I can keep going with Babi. I love him so much that I can't leave him even though this relationship hurts me.’

And again: ‘Last night we fought with Babi because I had a meltdown because of my hormones. I yelled at him and hit him and told him I don't want our baby... I am not well, I am very upset, I know he would never hurt my baby. My love for her is stronger than anything in the world.’

The couple’s response to the turmoil in their relationship was the right one: to seek professional help. But in making this correct decision, they also made a fatal one, because the person they sought help from – Eleni Mylonopoulou – was a fraudster.

Advertising herself on the website as a therapist, midwife and counsellor, even someone who had novel cures for cancer, with political connections to a Syriza MEP, she seemed like the ideal person who could understand what the couple were going through and offer them expert guidance to overcome their awful difficulties.

Except, Mylonopoulou was one of the many con artists who take advantage of gaps in social provision and regulation in Greece and set themselves up as medical practitioners, therapists and healers, who are tolerated and indulged by the public, media and authorities, but are in fact phoneys who’ve fabricated their qualifications – Mylonopoulou claims she had been trained in Romania – and whose sole motivation is exploitation of misfortune for financial gain.
Thus Mylonopoulou, instead of providing advice that might have helped the couple, subjected them to her quackery and thievery. With no improvement in her condition or their relationship, Crouch and Anagnostopoulos abandoned therapy, gave up looking for help they desperately needed and their mental health was left to deteriorate and the outcome was the unnecessary destruction and ruination of several lives.

Of course, this analysis presupposes that had Crouch and Anagnostopoulos received proper help then their relationship would have recovered. This might be criticised as diminishing the guilt or responsibility of the killer.

Caroline Crouch’s post-natal depression is not unusual and even untreated rarely ends with the husband so disturbed by his wife’s behaviour that he ends up killing her and then concocting an elaborate story to conceal his crime and fully adopting the persona of the grieving husband, which involves making gushing statements to the media about your victim and your life with her, and also, grotesquely, providing public solace to the mother, whose daughter you know you have murdered. This is where Anagnostopoulos’ sociopathy and psychopathy comes in, casting doubt on any theory that the murder could have been averted. Maybe Anagnostopoulos' madness was an aberration, a fleeting eruption of rage, maybe madness overtook him over time, as his relationship with his wife fell apart, or maybe the darkness in his soul was there all along.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Venizelos, Britain and Cyprus

Above is an interview conducted by Roderick Beaton – former professor of Modern Greek at King’s College London and whose last three books have been George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel; Byron’s War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution; and Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation – with Michael Llewellyn Smith, former UK ambassador to Greece and historian of modern Greece, best known for Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor 1919-1922, and who is now set to publish the first of a two-volume biography of the preeminent statesman of modern Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos, leader of the country during the Balkan wars, protagonist in the National Schism, the Paris Peace Conference, culminating in the Treaty of Sevres that gave Greece the opportunity to realise its ambition of the Greece of two continents and five seas, and in the aftermath of defeat by Turkish nationalist forces that led to the demise of Hellenism in multiple historic homelands. 

As a British historian, Llewellyn Smith may be forgiven for concentrating on the role of Britain in modern Greek affairs and in Venizelos’ thinking and approach. 

Thus, Llewellyn Smith stresses Venizelos’ conclusion that Greece was too weak to advance its interests and hopes in the Eastern Mediterranean and would need to depend on the patronage of Britain, the region’s superpower, if Greek efforts were to succeed. 

Persuading Britain that Greece was an ascending power in the Eastern Mediterranean, which the British empire could rely on, and that Turkey – which Britain had supported in one way or another since the 1840s as a means to keep Russia out of the region – was in terminal decline was Venizelos’ obsession. 

It was an analysis and policy that laid Venizelos open to acute criticism from his opponents – the Dragoumis family and Royalists – who felt Venizelos was diminishing Greece – its sovereignty, room for manoeuvre and ability to chart a course and take decisions entirely in accord with its interests – and making the country subservient to the whims of foreign powers. 

Venizelos’ devotion to Greece’s alliance with Britain remained with him throughout his career. Even after the demise of the Megali Idea, Venizelos insisted that Greece’s foreign policy could not be in conflict with Britain’s. 

It was this caution that shaped Venizelos’ reaction to Greek Cypriot representations to the Greek government after the 1931 uprising on Cyprus – the so-called Oktovriana, which culminated in the burning down of Government House – that challenged British colonial rule on the island and brought to the surface once again the Greek population’s demand for union with Greece. 

In response to pressure from prominent Greek Cypriots and the beginnings of a movement in Greece supporting Cypriot demands for Enosis, Venizelos was scathing. Not only did he order the suppression of any domestic support for Cyprus, but he made it clear to Greek Cypriot leaders that they would find no succour from Greece if they pursued their campaign to end British rule on the island. 

Describing Venizelos’ reaction to the Oktovriana, Holland and Markides write: 

‘Two weeks after the burning of [Governor Ronald] Storrs’s residence [in Nicosia], students in the University of Athens, notably replacing ‘Armistice Day’ with a new Hellenic celebration of ‘Cyprus Day’, demonstrated… The crowd was broken up by police acting under the direction of Venizelos, in office for the last time as Prime Minister. “The maintenance of friendly relations with Great Britain”, read the stern statement issued by Venizelos, “has been the policy of Greece since independence, and those who jeopardized this were insane.”’ (Robert Holland and Diana Markides: The British and the Hellenes, Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850-1960).

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Christopher Hitchens: why Cyprus matters to me

Above is a clip from a much longer interview with Christopher Hitchens from 2007 done on CSPAN in which the Anglo-American author and journalist reviews his life and work. For a couple of minutes, Hitchens also talks about Cyprus after having been asked about his seminal book on Turkey’s invasion and occupation of the island, Cyprus: Hostage to History, and responds to the interviewer’s question as to why Cyprus is important to him.

It’s worth pointing out that Hitchens’ book on Cyprus didn’t entirely emerge after the events of 1974 but that he had been regularly writing on the island’s travails for many years previously, with his articles on the international or geopolitical context appearing in the New Left Review and the New Statesman.

From early on, from before the Athens junta’s coup and Turkey’s invasion, Hitchens understood what was at stake in Cyprus and that this was that a small, democratic country, trying to chart its way out of centuries of colonial rule, was having its independence thwarted and its sovereignty and territorial integrity challenged, by a swathe of malign external actors: America paranoid about the island becoming communist, a Cuba in the Mediterranean, an Orientalist loathing for the ‘red priest’ Makarios; the UK, indulging America’s irrational fears in order to appear relevant while at the same time serving its own post-colonial interests and resentments; Turkey, which had been persuaded in the 1950s that Cyprus was a vital national matter and that it could revive its power and prestige by annexing part of the island; and Greece, or more properly the Greek junta, in power since 1967, which dressed itself in Greek nationalist uniform but in reality when it came to Cyprus, sharing the American obsession with communism and hatred for President Makarios, and wanting to come to an arrangement with Turkey over how to partition the island.

For many students of Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Cyprus, Hitchens’ understanding of what happened in 1974 almost goes without saying. However, in recent years, his narrative has been challenged.

Thus, you have Perry Anderson’s brilliant essay on Cyprus – The Divisions of Cyprus – which, while concurring with Hitchens in placing Cyprus in a geopolitical, neo-colonial context, gives more emphasis to Britain’s role in Cyprus’ demise than Hitchens, who stresses the part played by America and, in particular, the machinations and crude plotting of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

However, there has been another trend in Cyprus problem literature, which comes from authors such as James Ker-Lindsay and Andreas Constandinos, which seeks to minimise the role of external actors in bringing down the Republic of Cyprus and, instead, portrays the island’s fate as deriving from a collapse in relations between the island’s Greek majority and Turkish Cypriot minority.

In this reading of Turkey’s invasion and occupation, the Greek Cypriots, as the more powerful, majority community are blamed for not trying to make the 1960 constitution work, remaining wedded to Greek nationalism and for its overbearing attitude to the Turkish Cypriots and their concerns.

Funnily enough, the fractured community relations narrative that ends up pointing the finger of blame for Cyprus’ partition at Greek Cypriots is shared by the island's imperial nemeses, Britain, America and Turkey.

In Britain’s case, the narrative allows Britain to excuse itself from responsibility for what happened to the island, portraying itself, from the 1950s onwards, as an honest broker, caught in the middle of Greek and Turkish nationalism, the primitive and engrained hatred Greek and Turkish Cypriots have for each other. All morally superior Britain could do as the Greek and Turkish Cypriots engaged in mutual slaughter was try its best to keep it all to a minimum. For America, these old world ethnic hostilities represent everything their post-ethnic country stands against and this contempt for petty Cypriot attitudes allowed it to justify its arrogance and cynicism and brush aside the dark fate that befell Cypriots as something they had coming.

As for Turkey, the narrative of irreconcilable warring communities is particularly convenient, since Turkey has spent 50 years trying to convince international public opinion that its invasion was inspired by a humanitarian desire to protect the outnumbered Turkish Cyprus from Greek Cypriot aggression.

When we consider the Cyprus narratives favoured by Britain, Turkey and America, their attempt, one way or another, to reduce the Cyprus issue to one of failed relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, we see how vital Hitchens’ interventions on Cyprus remain – how important his insistence that the island’s division is seen in a geopolitical context and that all interpretations otherwise are naive, tainted by neo-colonial conceit and prejudice or are politically motivated.