America in Cyprus: a history of malice, cynicism and hypocrisy

Here’s a fascinating and, ultimately, nauseating document compiled by the US Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training consisting of 500+ pages of oral history interviews with some 70 American diplomats – ambassadors, consular officers, desk officers, special emissaries, etc – who served in or covered Cyprus, Greece, Turkey during the period 1950-2005 and their observations about Cypriot political developments during the period.

The events the US foreign service bureaucrats discuss include the EOKA uprising; Cyprus’ independence; the Turkish Cypriot insurrection in 1963; the deterioration of the political situation in Greece and the emergence of the junta – how this affected Cyprus; the junta’s coup against Makarios; the Turkish invasion; the efforts by Greek Cypriots to recover from the devastation of Turkey’s onslaught; the various efforts to achieve a Cyprus settlement, concluding with the Annan plan in 2004.

The accounts of these officials provide an insight into how America’s global power was put together and maintained. In Cyprus’s case, we see it was done with malice, cynicism and hypocrisy. Of the dozens of US diplomats involved with Cyprus over 60 years, only one or two can escape denunciation.

The primary interviewer in these oral histories is Charles Stuart Kennedy, who was US consul general in Athens from 1970-74. Kennedy is not interested in any critical or sophisticated assessment of American policy on Cyprus. Rather, he relentlessly tries to direct his interviewees into supporting his own prejudices and views – which involve an intense dislike of Greeks, a contempt for Greek Cypriots, and an obsession with the influence of the Greek American lobby, which he blames for the Cyprus problem not being decisively taken off the agenda as it should have been, according to him, in 1974 with Turkey’s invasion.

It’s become unfashionable nowadays to talk about America’s responsibility for bringing catastrophe to Cyprus and cliched to point out Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s malign influence in the entire affair.

However, the view that America abetted, one way or another, the Athens junta in overthrowing the Makarios government and, then, Turkey in its invasion and partitioning of Cyprus – and that Henry Kissinger played the dirtiest of roles in these events – is fully vindicated by these oral histories.

Here are a some more specific points that emerge from reading these oral histories:

From the outset, the prevailing US view was that: ‘Cyprus was not going to be allowed to destroy NATO’. Everything had to be done to stop Greece and Turkey going to war over this insignificant dot on the map.

In effect, America’s desire to protect the smooth functioning of NATO meant placating Turkey, since Turkey was regarded as far more important to the US’s cold war and strategic interests than Greece.

The democratically-elected president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, for the Americans, was ‘a very unsavory, untrustworthy, unpredictable man.’ He is further described as uncooperative, slippery, Byzantine, a tribal chieftain.

However, Washington didn’t really despise Makarios for his ‘Byzantine’ personality, but because he objected to US plans to ‘solve’ the Cyprus problem by doing away with Cyprus’ independence, Cyprus’ ability to determine its out future, and making the island a NATO protectorate. Makarios opposition to the Acheson plans, devised by former secretary of state Dean Acheson, which envisaged abolishing the Republic of Cyprus and partitioning Cyprus between Greece and Turkey, was explained by Washington by suggesting Makarios was vain and enjoying the trappings of being head of an independent country.

Making Cyprus a NATO outpost is what mattered to Washington and Cypriot independence – embodied by Makarios – was the obstacle to its ambitions.

This is how Walter Silva, part of the State Department’s Cyprus Task Force in 1974 describes the prevailing US view of Cyprus:

‘It was such a small problem. There was a great deal of searching in the Department to find out what possible interest we had in whether Cyprus was divided between Greece and Turkey, whether it was united with Greece under the "enosis" plan or whether it all went with Turkey. In any of those scenarios Cyprus would be part of NATO and become a NATO stronghold, the head of the spear aimed at the heart of the Middle East sort of thing. I don't recall any strong feelings among those who had served in Greece, served in Cyprus or served in Turkey. They usually took the positions of their former hosts. There was some of that clientitis thing. But other than that it was hard to get anybody above the Desk level really excited. They were excited by the possibility that we could use Cyprus, that would be the thing. It would have been nice.’

Q: Use Cyprus how? 

SILVA: As a military forward base. That would have been very nice, you see, if we could replace the British there and have naval and air forces that close to our interests in the Middle East. But it didn't turn out that way. Independent Cyprus was not about to become a forward base for the Sixth Fleet.’

American officials needed to justify Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, which they knew was accompanied by atrocities and ethnic cleansing, by asserting that Greek Cypriots had it coming for the way they had supposedly mistreated the Turkish Cypriots – not just in the 1960s but, apparently, throughout Cyprus’ history. Partition, therefore, not only served NATO/US interests but was somehow justice being served to Greek Cypriots for their oppressive chauvinism. 

This is James Morton, State Department Cyprus Desk Office 1975-6:

‘I think, and I had previously served in Greece, basically the feeling amongst most officers serving in Cyprus, and it wasn't a large embassy, was that the Greek Cypriot community had brought it on themselves. The distribution of population was such that small isolated pockets of Turkish Cypriots kind of sprinkled around the larger Greek sea within the island of Cyprus. We heard stories of how for fun on a Sunday Greek Cypriots would jump in their car and ride through villages and fire and even shoot and kill women and children in these pockets. The Turks were totally vulnerable. Finally because of all sorts of events… the coup, Nicos Sampson and a lot of stuff that has been recorded elsewhere… the Turks had just had it. I feel personally, and I can say it now more than I could say it then, that they were fully justified in coming in to protect their brethren.’

American maligning and dehumanising of Greek Cypriots continued after Turkey’s invasion. What Greek Cypriots had endured was minimised, if not dismissed.  

This is Geoffrey Chapman, State Department Cyprus Desk Officer, 1977-79, claiming that the refugees were pampered and exerted undue influence in determining the island’s future:

‘The Greek Cypriot government was of course under heavy pressure from the refugee organizations, representing Greek Cypriots who had been forced out of their homes in the north and would settle for nothing less than returning to them. A lot of these refugees quite deliberately refused to integrate with the rest of Greek Cyprus, which they could easily have done, and instead maintained a refugee status. The U.S. taxpayer [through foreign aid] funded quite luxurious housing for them; they by no means lived in what one normally would conceive to be refugee camps. The refugees were a very powerful lobby and no Greek Cypriot president or other leading politician could afford to ignore them, and their demands were absolute. So Greek Cypriot flexibility and ability to compromise was circumscribed from the word go.’ 

In these oral histories, American officials overwhelmingly reject any responsibility for the Greek junta’s coup against Makarios and Turkey’s invasion and are contemptuous of Greek and Greek Cypriot anti-Americanism after 1974, believing it represented Greeks’ political immaturity, always looking to blame others for their own problems and mistakes.

US hypocrisy and deceit is also conspicuous whenever Nikos Sampson  enters the Cyprus story.
Sampson is variously described in these oral histories as despicable, a psychopathic killer, an extreme Greek nationalist, a Turk-hater, a thug, etc, and that with him installed as president of Cyprus by the Athens junta, Turkey was fully justified in invading the island. 

This is how James Williams, political officer Nicosia (1973-75) described his encounters with Sampson:  

‘Sampson would usually be sitting at a huge desk when you went into his office with shelves that were lined with newspapers and magazines and books. I doubt he’d read many of them. But quite often, and I’m not joking, he would be looking at the centerfold of a Playboy magazine when you came in. I don’t know if this was for my benefit as an American diplomat, or if that was his standard reading material. But he was totally unembarrassed about it, put it to the side, and then would talk rather freely about how he saw the political development within the Greek Cypriot community, or within Cyprus.’

Not once is it recognised that Sampson was a long-standing CIA asset, valued for his anti-communism, and that the small media empire that allowed him to become well-off and prominent in Cypriot society was covertly funded by American intelligence services.

The ‘institutionalised tilt’ towards Turkey in US foreign policy, a result of Turkey’s perceived geo-strategic worth, leads to Turkish motives in Cyprus being taken at face value and rarely, if ever, described in negative or critical terms. 

Rather, Turkey’s interests in Cyprus – defined as a desire to protect the ‘beleaguered’ Turkish minority and prevent the encircling of Turkey by Greek islands – are presented as rational and reasonable.
Even when the Turks tell the Americans to their faces the real reason they invaded Cyprus, the Americans don’t demur let alone understand the implications of what they have unleashed. 

This is William Crawford, US ambassador to Cyprus, 1974-78 reporting a discussion he had with Turkey’s ‘ambassador’ in occupied Cyprus after the invasion: 

‘The [Turkish ‘ambassador’] said, “Turkey is an imperial power and a continental power. That we are unnaturally prevented from breathing to the north and the east by the presence of the Soviet Union makes it all the more important that we be able to breathe to the south and to the west. 1974 solved the southern dimension. It remains to solve the western dimension.”’

America’s efforts to contribute to UN initiatives aimed at a Cyprus settlement after 1974 come across as half-hearted and cynical. Most American diplomats shared the Turkish view that the Cyprus problem had been solved in 1974 and that any attempts to reverse matters were superfluous. 

Others, who did acknowledge that the status quo was not entirely desirable, expended most of their energy trying to get Greek Cypriots to agree a settlement that accepted the ‘facts on the ground’ created by Turkey’s invasion. 

American interest in Cyprus after Turkey’s invasion only ever peaked when they believed a settlement would help Turkey. It’s clear from these oral histories that the entire Annan plan process was developed as a means to remove obstacles to Turkey’s accession to the EU. 

The interests of Cypriots, fairness and functionality, were last on America minds when it came to devising settlement proposals. In fact, the US worked towards a bizonal bicommunal federation even though they knew such a plan, if ever implemented, would likely fail. 

This is Nelson Ledsky, US special coordinator on Cyprus (1989-1991), giving his oral history in 2003, on the fairness and durability of a bizonal bicommunal federation:

‘I think there will be a negotiated solution. Whether that will also lead to peace on the island, I cannot say. I don’t think the agreement now being negotiated will actually work. I don’t think the country of Cyprus is a viable entity as it is currently envisaged by the draft agreement. This agreement does not provide for a workable solution; it provides for a solution, which over time will probably not be sustainable. Changes will have to be negotiated or imposed. I think, for example, that the Greek Cypriots will eventually take over the whole island. [Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf] Denktash’s fears may be realized. I think it is possible, perhaps even likely, that the agreement as presently constituted will fall apart, two or three or five years after it has been assigned. The governmental system now being envisaged is intrinsically unworkable.’

 Finally, to bring things up to date, there is nothing new in the current Turkish insistence that before negotiations for a Cyprus settlement can start, the ’Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ and Turkish Cypriot ‘sovereign equality’ have to be recognised. 

This is the same position Denktash took in the 1990s. 

Alfred Moses, special presidential envoy for the Cyprus conflict, 1997-2000, describes how these seemingly impossible Turkish demands were overcome in 2000 during the Annan process:

‘We later had another long session in Geneva in November 2000. [I came up with an initiative] intended to deal with Denktash’s insistence that there be prior recognition of the sovereignty of the TRNC as a condition to moving to meaningful negotiations on a final agreement. I came up with language for Secretary General Annan to use which was to the effect that the parties would be equal in the negotiations, and that any final resolution would take into account the equal status of the parties. Denktash saw that as an enormous victory. It was really intended to move Denktash off his position on recognition of TRNC’s sovereignty. He played it as a big win, whereupon Clerides [Cyprus’ president] played it as a big loss, and withdrew from the talks. I had to hold his hand, literally, in his suite in the Waldorf Towers, before he announced he would continue the proximity talks.'

An unsettled state: majority rule versus federalism in Cyprus, 1957-1964, by Diana Markides

An unsettled state: majority rule versus federalism in Cyprus, 1957-1964
, by Diana Markides

The violent Greek-Cypriot campaign for union with Greece was launched in April 1955. A year earlier, confronted with a groundswell of political agitation, the British Government had withdrawn its Middle East Headquarters from Egypt and settled hurriedly at Dhekelia and Episkopi. The move was overseen by Sir Antony Eden while he was Foreign Secretary in Winston Churchill’s final Government. In July 1956, by which time Eden had become Prime Minister, Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and, in doing so, exposed the Anglo-French inability to react effectively. These events, occurring in quick succession, fuelled Turkish fears that Britain would shortly withdraw from Cyprus as well. In fact, fierce reactions to the events in Egypt within the imperialist right wing of the Conservative party made it impossible for Eden’s Government and, subsequently, Macmillan’s, to contemplate such a move. Meanwhile an all-time low in Anglo-American relations resulted in enhanced British dependence on Turkey in the region.

British regional concerns, the Greek-Cypriots’ Enosist ambitions and Turkey’s plans for a post-British Cyprus all combined to ensure the decolonisation of the island would not be a strictly Anglo-Cypriot affair: it would be characterised by the ambiguity and the competing regional ambitions that had surrounded the acquisition of the island by Britain in 1878, and which had confounded attempts to make it a run-of-the-mill Crown Colony after the Great War. Aspirations for self-determination in Cyprus, aroused by the Wilsonian vision of a post-war world, would be ever-dogged, as they were throughout the lands once ruled by the Ottoman Sultans, by the hotchpotch of populations they contained and the inevitable frictions that ensued once attempts were made to make ethnicity the main criterion of sovereignty.

The Greek-Cypriots had not taken into account the discomfort of the Turkish-Cypriots at the prospect of union with Greece – they believed their co-islanders to be an insignificant minority. More dangerously, they had not considered any possible Turkish reaction, making a wrong assumption, one that continued well into the 1960s and beyond, that Turkey was a tame creature of the Western Powers and would do their bidding. This was a salient error. On the contrary, in pursuing its aims in Cyprus, the Turkish Government took full advantage of British dependence on the Turkish Cypriots within the island, once the violent campaign for Enosis was in full swing, and of British dependence on Turkey in the region.

In March 1956, in an attempt to bring the Greek-Cypriots to call a cease-fire and come to the negotiating table, the British Government conceded an enigmatic acknowledgement of Greek-Cypriot self-determination in principle, but summoned international arguments to postpone its implementation while hoping to persuade the Cypriots to opt for a new plan for internal self-government. Indeed, the British proposals, being drawn up at that time by the eminent lawyer, Lord Radcliffe, indicated a British willingness, subject to certain restrictions, to consider a Greek-Cypriot majority in the legislature. It was the prospect of a British-led move towards a majority-ruled self-governed island that led Ankara to go beyond diplomatic representations regarding Britain’s Cyprus policy and become directly involved in creating conditions on the island to maintain the Turkish-Cypriot community as a separate political entity. Ankara had already proposed a communally federal system of government in Cyprus to Lord Radcliffe by April 1956. He had rejected the idea outright on the grounds ‘there was no pattern of territorial separation between the two communities’. Moreover, he considered ‘the equal representation for the two communities of such different sizes, undemocratic’.

Maintaining influence in a post-colonial Cyprus, a sine qua non for the Turkish Government, meant ensuring there would not be Greek-Cypriot majority rule. In its view, the Turkish-Cypriot minority needed to be perceived as a politically distinct community. From the start of 1957, the Turkish Government would begin creating circumstances in which the two communities would be increasingly separated. In this they had the growing support of Turkish-Cypriot leadership which began to look to Turkey, rather than to Britain, for security. Increasingly, the British were drawn to positions that would accommodate the stronger party, Turkey at the expense of the Greek Government, on whose never more than lukewarm support the Greek-Cypriots depended. Whitehall felt the Greek Government’s demands could be ignored with impunity, since its loyalty to NATO was a given and Greece’s strategic role in the Middle East was limited, compared to that of Turkey.

In December 1956, in the midst of the Suez crisis and under growing pressure from Ankara, Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs, made a statement in the House of Commons offering separate self-determination for the Turkish-Cypriots in the event of a British withdrawal. He stated that it would be:

‘The purpose of Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that any exercise of self-determination should be effected in such a manner that the Turkish Cypriot community, no less than the Greek Cypriot community, shall, in the special circumstances of Cyprus, be given freedom to decide for themselves their future status. In other words, Her Majesty’s Government recognise that the exercise of self-determination in such a mixed population must include partition among the eventual options.’

This statement has been interpreted as the launching of a partitionist policy for Cyprus. This was not exactly the case. Partition of Cyprus would have been considered, according to Governor, Sir John Harding a ‘confession of failure’. The intention was to use it as a threat. The partition of the island between Greece and Turkey would entail a British departure, and the British did not want to leave. On the contrary, they hoped that the promise of separate self-determination for the Turkish-Cypriots would be enough to satisfy Ankara and, at the same time, frighten the Greek Government and the Greek-Cypriots into abandoning Enosis and negotiating Lord Radcliffe’s plan. The trouble was that it was precisely the fear that Lord Radcliffe’s plan would be put into effect that brought Turkish-Cypriots out onto the streets in Cyprus to demand ‘partition or death’. In a sense, by 1957 the British had been left behind. The other parties immediately involved were manoeuvring for a stake in a post-British Cyprus and pursued very specific and contradictory aims to this end. Britain was trying to juggle appeasing Ankara while conceding enough to the Greek-Cypriots to make the continuation of British rule palatable. Thus the pill of Lennox Boyd’s declaration offering separate self-determination to the Turkish-Cypriots was sugared, at the Americans’ bidding, by the release of the Greek-Cypriot leader, Archbishop Makarios, from the Seychelles in March 1957.

This chapter will suggest that from 1957, increasingly, the de facto struggle was between majority rule, espoused by Makarios, and federation – rather than between Enosis – and partition. Majority rule would mean, inevitably, rule by a very substantial Greek-Cypriot majority, leaving 18 per cent of the population, which was Turkish-Cypriot, with little political leverage. These diametrically opposed political aims were in place well before independence, and they remained at the heart of the failure to implement the complex constitution of the new republic after 1960 – they also predated inter-communal violence. While Makarios was already signalling a guarded interest in self-government, as he offered ‘an encouraging word about Radcliffe’ while still in the Seychelles, a federal structure was, from 1956, the preferred control valve for the Turkish Government and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership: it would ensure the Turkish-Cypriot minority was perceived as a community, a distinct political entity, rather than as a minority that could be politically swallowed up by the majority.

Turkish efforts to secure and sustain a communal administrative structure to establish a communal power base, as well as Greek-Cypriot efforts to resist this tendency, will be examined. The chapter will highlight the central but elusive role of communal control over territory in this regard. It will be argued that disputed control over territory, which could be physically defended, was perhaps a more combustible element in the outbreak of violence in December 1963 than the 13 point constitutional proposals submitted by the Greek-Cypriot leadership. From the late 1950s the Damoclean sword of partition, threatened continually by Turkey and, subsequently, by Britain, as the likely consequence of the continuing violent campaign for Enosis, disguised the fact that it would not be enough for the Greek-Cypriots to give up their demand for union with Greece. They would also have to eschew majority rule.

In the wake of the first wave of inter-communal violence that came to a head in the summer of 1958, Archbishop Makarios publicly declared a willingness to negotiate for an independent republic. In doing so, he believed he was making a massive compromise, and would thus avoid the partition of the island between Greece and Turkey. Indeed, a large number of his Greek-Cypriot flock believed he had gone too far and had betrayed the cause. In fact, the regional context in which majority rule might have been possible had been superseded by 1957. Greek-Cypriot majority rule was as unacceptable to Ankara as Enosis, and Ankara was a vital ally for Britain in the region. Although it was never publicly stated to be Ankara’s policy, the gradual separation of the population begun in Dark 1958, as Niazi Kizilyurek has recently described the year, was to continue through the 1960s, culminating in the surgical ethnic cleansing carried out by the Turkish army in 1974.

After independence, each side pushed harder and faster for these ends than the other side was prepared to tolerate; the position of each side was complicated by the extremist elements within it that still insisted on nothing less than the immediate union with Greece, on the one hand, and the partition of the island between Greece and Turkey on the other. Generally, the Greek-Cypriot community would not disavow its vision of Enosis. Given its long history, to abandon the quest for such a holy grail would be political suicide, and this remained the case beyond 1960. To allow the spectre of Enosis to linger, however, to hint that it was still the ultimate goal, fuelled fears for the security and well-being of the Turkish-Cypriot minority and legitimised the Turkish insistence on iron-clad safeguards against its political extinction.

Consolidation of political control in areas where the minority was more concentrated was a method of maximising political strength vis-à-vis the majority. Cyprus has been described by Charles Foley as an ‘ethnographical fruit cake’ with Greek and Turkish-Cypriot fruit throughout. It was the demographic intermingling of the two communities on the island that led Radcliffe to declare communal separation impossible. Nevertheless, the Turkish-Cypriots were more concentrated in the main towns of the island. Since the beginning of British rule, these towns had been run successfully by mixed councils. In 1957 a Turkish campaign had been launched for communally separate municipalities. This was the start of a gradual but persistent strategy to consolidate the Turkish-Cypriot population in certain areas under exclusively Turkish-Cypriot political direction. In territorial terms, the Turkish-Cypriots set out to turn the municipalities, for so long a platform for the Enosist ideal, into the Trojan horses of separatism.

A de facto separate Turkish-Cypriot administration was set up unilaterally during the inter-communal riots in June 1958. The forcible takeover of municipal property in the five main towns took place under the cover of these riots; indeed, this must have been their major objective. In occupying the municipal markets in Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos, Turkish-Cypriot leadership also struck at the hub of traditional urban commercial interaction on the island, as drawing the Turkish-Cypriots away from dependence on the majority community was an integral part of separatist policy. June 1958, then, saw the beginning of a long process of creating situations which facilitated the segregation of communities. Although the movement of population at this stage was very marginal (‘about three tenths of one per cent’, according to United States Consul, Toby Belcher), it was indicatively described by Turkish Foreign Minister Fatin Zorlu as ‘a population exchange’.

These adjustments to demographic distribution on the island were not intended to be short-term, nor were they restricted to the five main towns – they were made from the top down. A telling example is that of Vroisha. In the summer of 1958 the Turkish-Cypriot leadership in Nicosia pressed the Colonial Administration to transfer the population of the tiny Turkish Cypriot hamlet of Vroisha, deep in the Paphos forest, to Mora, a Turkish-Cypriot village north-east of Nicosia. On investigation, the British District Commissioner discovered a petition was circulating among the villagers couched in terms of ‘the poverty of the villagers, their unemployment and their constant terror of EOKA’. In fact, he reported, they were quite safe, in high spirits and more interested in lobbying for a new road. The petition had been sent to the Mukhtar by the Federation of the Associations of Turkish-Cypriots, an organisation run by Rauf Denktash. It was printed in English, which no one in the village could read. The Vroishians stayed in their village in 1958, finally abandoning it in 1964, when they sought refuge in the Turkish-Cypriot enclave of Limnitis/Yesilirmak. There is no record of inter-communal strife in Vroisha, but the security situation island-wide had deteriorated considerably for the Turkish-Cypriots in the intervening years. Fear, spiked by news of individual incidents elsewhere, was a potent factor in creating insecurity.

The material in an interesting ‘migrated’ Cyprus file, recently released by the British National Archives, suggests the internal migration of Turkish-Cypriots was already being organised by the Turkish Cypriot leadership in Nicosia with the encouragement of the Government in Ankara, sometimes with a less than willing Turkish-Cypriot population. It is clear it was discouraged by the Colonial Government, as developments concerning Vroisha in 1958 indicate. In one of many characteristic accounts in this file, the Governor reported to the Colonial Secretary in September 1958:

‘The heads of six families who left Akoursos (Paphos district), for Skylloura (north of Nicosia), have now returned to Ktima. They added that 28 of the 30 families who had moved now wished to return but cannot do so without Government assistance in transport and in repairing such of their houses as have been damaged during their absence. Commissioners are being informed that Government is prepared to assist in the provision of transport to enable persons who’ve left their villages to return … It is also reported that other families from Lemba would be willing to return but are apprehensive of the welcome they would receive from the Turks of Lemba.’

Meanwhile a telegram from the Foreign Office to the British ambassador in Ankara, in August 1958, instructed him to take:

‘A suitable opportunity to remind the Turkish ministers of the Colonial Secretary’s remarks to the Turkish Amb[assador], and to impress upon them that if migration is encouraged for political reasons, this would only have an adverse effect on community relations in the island, apart from the sufferings of the villagers concerned.’

Nevertheless, during the transition period at the end of 1959, Rauf Denktash, the president of the Turkish Communal Chamber and the more abrasive of the two Turkish-Cypriot leaders, was still refusing to co-operate with Sir Hugh Foot, the last Governor of Cyprus, in facilitating the return of Greek-Cypriot inhabitants to the large rural centre of Lefka. They were a minority there, had fled en masse during the inter-communal riots in 1958 and never did return. This tendency of the Turkish-Cypriots to stall in the face of – admittedly mild – British pressure to facilitate the return of refugees to their original homes was again apparent in 1964. That Ankara was solidly behind this reluctance was indicated most explicitly by a conversation between Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Cemal Erkin and the British ambassador, Sir Bernard Burrows. At this time, the British in Cyprus were anxious to increase their waning credibility as peacekeepers for the Greek-Cypriots, who accused them of bolstering the Turkish-Cypriot enclaves and the federal or partitionist policy this entailed, instead of encouraging the return home of Turkish-Cypriot refugees. The British Government wanted the Vice-President, Fazil Küçük, to make a statement to the effect that ‘Turkish Cypriots had left their homes and properties only because of the threat to their lives and properties and that if that threat were removed, they would resume their place in the Cyprus Administration’. They attempted to enlist the help of the Turkish Government in bringing this about. Feridun Cemal Erkin was indignant. ‘This amounted’, he said, ‘to asking the Turkish Cypriots, and indeed, the Turkish Government, to give up their aim of federation based on the geographical separation of the two communities’. There could be no question of their doing this, and he wanted assurances that the Turks were not being asked to ‘do the impossible by renouncing their policy of federation’. The close involvement of Ankara in this strategy of demographic consolidation of the Turkish-Cypriots within the island, and its connection to avoiding majority rule and promoting the prospect of a federal system, can be traced from 1956 right through to the present.

Back in 1958, when the British had balked at the creation of two minute, dysfunctional municipalities in each of the island’s towns, Denktash indicatively accused them of being ‘arbitrary spectators before the tyrannic rule of the Greek majority’. Perhaps Denktash picked up the phraseology from the military circles in Ankara to whom he was close. Ismet Inönü’s Government came into power in 1959 as a result of a military coup against the popular Menderes. Inönü’s military Government urged strict adherence to the Turkish constitution as ‘a shield against the tyranny of the majority’.

The Turkish Government was sensitive to the link between majority legislatures and legitimising changes of status because of developments in Crete, for example, during the European-guaranteed autonomy there in the first years of the twentieth century. More recently and more significantly, on the eve of the Second World War Ankara manipulated the electorate in the Hatay, then in French mandated Syria, so the legislature there would legitimise its ultimate annexation by Turkey. This episode has been recently analysed in detail by Sarah Shields in her fascinating book, Fezzes in the River.

First, Turkey insisted upon the Hatay’s independence for French-mandated Syria, and this was achieved by international agreement in September 1938. The reluctant agreement of the Syrian Government followed promises of full independence or Damascus. The Hatay State’s independence was guaranteed by France and Turkey, with proportional representation introduced by the League of Nations to protect minority rights. This tended, on the contrary, to fuel confrontation, as the attempt to ethnically categorise a population that had never considered its ethnicity was transformed into an international struggle for political influence. If Turkey’s influence over the sanjak required a Turkish majority, then by hook or by crook a Turkish majority must be created. For the League of Nations electoral commission sent out to supervise electoral registration, the attempt to categorise the population in ethnic terms proved a nightmare, and the French, reluctant to risk losing the Turkish alliance, were dragged along. William George Rendel, head of the Eastern Department at the Foreign Office, described the situation:

‘We have very good reason to believe that the Turks are in fact no more than about 40 per cent of the total population of the Sanjak, as the French and local authorities have always contended. What the Turks want is that, whatever the true proportions of the population may be, there shall be at least a 60 per cent Turkish majority. The work of the committee will therefore consist in altering those provisions of the electoral law which are intended to secure a free expression of the wishes of the inhabitants of the Sanjak, so as to ensure a Turkish majority in any circumstances.’

As with the French Government in the Hatay in the late 1930s, the British Government found itself dragged along in Turkey’s wake with regard to Cyprus. Britain needed a Turkish alliance in the 1950s just as Syria had in the 1930s.

In contrast to the Turkish Government, during the 1950s the Greek Government was neither willing nor able to assert much political leverage over the Greek-Cypriots or the British. Their main aim was first to achieve and then to sustain a détente with Turkey; this was essential to the defence of the country’s long and exposed border with the Soviet Union. The post-colonial struggle was essentially between Greek-Cypriot leadership, on the one hand, and Turkish-Cypriot leadership and Ankara on the other. If majority rule, rather than Enosis, had become Makarios’s immediate aim by the end of 1958, it was because of the contrast between the political reality on the island, where the Greek-Cypriots had a substantial majority, and the political reality in the region, where a weak Greek Government had international (Cold War) political and strategic interests that precluded them from confronting Turkey or their other Western allies on this issue. Makarios would thereafter focus on his local numerical advantage and appeal to the international community for votes in favour of independence. But Greek-Cypriot majority rule, in effect, meant a Greek republic in the eastern Mediterranean, and this Turkey intended to avoid at all costs. Threatened with encirclement by efforts underway since 1957 in Iraq, Syria and Egypt to create a non-aligned United Arab Republic, the growing stature of Makarios, in the non-aligned movement to which by then they all belonged, was a further irritant.

Ankara mobilised a willing Turkish-Cypriot leadership to insist on separate communal administration within the island and pressed the beleaguered British to depart from the concept of minority rights for Turkish-Cypriots. The words minority and majority were still used by the British Government in formal proposals until 1957. Lord Radcliffe, for example, stated in the tenth paragraph of the covering note of his 1956 proposals:

‘When I use the word ‘minorities’ I do not at all forget that the minorities themselves are racial communities which possess, though in varying degrees, historical traditions and religious, cultural and social bonds, different from those of the majority race in Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot.’

In the new era punctuated by the inter-communal riots of 1958 and the introduction of the Macmillan plan, this significant phraseology had been replaced by the word community.

At a diplomatic level, too, the Turkish Government began to prepare the way. To this end, in 1958 Fatin Zorlu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, stressed to the British ambassador in Ankara that a post-colonial Cyprus should be ‘Turkish-Greek, not Greek or Cypriot’. If the island was to be federal so as to be Turkish-Greek, rather than Cypriot, then the two nationalisms assiduously cultivated in the previous years were an important part of maintaining this balance, an important part of curbing Cypriot sovereignty and of maintaining external control. Thus the Zurich constitution seeks to provide for authority to be communally divided. A member of one community could not elect members of the other community to office: Greek-Cypriots voted for the President, Turkish-Cypriots voted for the Vice-President. Specific articles of the constitution provided for all communal institutions, as well as individual members of the Greek and Turkish communities, to have the right to fly their national (Greek and Turkish) flags and to celebrate their separate Greek and Turkish national holidays. In other words the settlement incorporated and emphasised these differences. It did not attempt to reduce them. This tendency reflected the contradictory national claims of the time within the two communities; it sought to make the settlement palatable to their national sensitivities but, at the same time, facilitated their political polarisation. It was enhanced by the Cold War tendency of the Western powers to encourage anti-communist – and therefore nationalist – factions to prevent the possibility of the communist party, AKEL, creeping into power through the ballot box, always the Americans’ greatest fear.

In order for the island to be Turkish-Greek, rather than Cypriot, it would need to be governed by an equal partnership between two numerically unequal communities, not by representatives of the majority of Cypriots. Communally separate town councils were the intended first step towards a communally separate government that would ultimately make federation possible. The issue remained central to the failure to implement the Zurich constitution, and a resolution to the method of implementation of the most problematic articles, including article 173 on the municipal issue, remained pending when the Republic of Cyprus came into existence in 1960. Article 173 remained unresolved until the inter-communal crisis of December 1963. Because it involved control over territory, it was, perhaps, a more potent cause for the breakdown at that point than the thirteen-point constitutional proposals submitted by the Greek-Cypriots on 19 December 1963. Never fully implemented, article 173 (on municipalities) was the only point in the constitution that sought to define communality in territorial terms. It thus acted as a bridge between the desired federal concept and the actual unitary nature of the new republic.

Its significance becomes clearer if we relate it to an observation made at that time by the Turkish ambassador in London, Nuri Birgi, to Selwyn Lloyd, the Foreign Secretary. Nuri Birgi was a lawyer and a Turkish diplomat who was to represent Turkey on the Constitutional Committee set up to draft the constitution for the new republic of Cyprus. He told Selwyn Lloyd that for Ankara to drop its increasingly violent demands for partition, it wanted not only a military base but also a political presence in Cyprus. ‘This could be established’, he said, ‘through the Turkish Cypriot community’. He thought this would be ‘the best guarantee against Greek imperialism’. They would need ‘something equivalent or even better than partition such as an ‘equal share in the administration of the whole island’. He perceived this equal share being translated into some form of federation.

The conflict over administrative structure had thus revealed a deeper malaise over the issue of sovereignty. The sovereignty the Greek-Cypriots were beginning to assert flew in the face of Ankara’s perception of the state the London and Zurich Agreements had created. Fatin Zorlu had mentioned to Lennox Boyd in 1958 that Cyprus should not be independent, ‘just not a colony’. In May 1963 Turan Tuluy, the Director General of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, stressed that Ankara was prepared ‘to live indefinitely with the present conditions in Cyprus, however unpleasant they might be’ (the reference was to what the British were by then describing as ‘Turkish ghettos’), ‘rather than allow the reintegration of municipalities’. He went on to make a clear connection between retaining control over these tiny but exclusive pockets of power and the prevention of majority rule by stating that Makarios and the Greek-Cypriots would have to begin treating the Turkish-Cypriots as ‘an equal and esteemed community rather than a minority whose position could be whittled away with impunity’ before any thought of unification could be contemplated. The disproportionate share of power gained by the Turkish-Cypriots at Zurich could only be legitimised by the existence of a clearly separate – and otherwise threatened – political entity.

Ankara’s long-term policy therefore effectively concentrated on enclosing as many Turkish-Cypriots as possible within enclaves controlled by the Turkish-Cypriot leadership, regardless of any hardship this might cause them. Although military intervention was threatened regularly in the following years, Turkish policy, which once more concentrated on political leverage over the status of Cyprus, was directed by the principles that had dictated municipal partition since 1958. The extended Turkish municipalities and other predominantly Turkish areas, such as the town and environs of Lefka which, as a result of inter-communal fighting in 1963, had become defended enclaves, were the basis on which Turkey, in the following decade, would seek to establish a federal system in the Republic of Cyprus. By 1964, the Turkish-Cypriot leadership actually felt abandoned, in the absence of the expected Turkish deliverance. In the following years, by failing to intervene, while at the same time insisting that Turkish-Cypriots remain isolated from the Greek-Cypriot majority, Turkey had, to some extent, sacrificed the welfare of the Turkish-Cypriots to the interests of the motherland. By keeping them geographically and politically isolated from the Greek-Cypriots, as long as the problem remained pending Ankara could rest assured there would be no change in the status of the island: the Turkish Government could continue to argue for a federal solution, described by the British ambassador in Ankara in February 1963 as ‘their prime objective’, and thus maintain a political foothold without disturbing Greek-Turkish relations. The policy inevitably entailed the Turkish-Cypriots’ isolation from the economic boom enjoyed by the Greek-Cypriots between 1964 and 1974, however, and condemned them to a ghetto existence largely dependent on Turkish Government subsidies.

The Greek-Cypriots assisted Ankara in this in this strategy by subjecting the Turkish-Cypriots to undue harassment. Greek-Cypriot attempts to prevent the creation of defended enclaves resulted in a blitz against the smuggling of guns and ammunition between them. Heavy-handed treatment by Greek-Cypriot police, including constant, humiliating searches and the confiscation of Turkish buses that had to run a gauntlet of Greek-Cypriot roadblocks between their villages and the town centres, destabilised the way of life of many Turkish-Cypriot villagers. Moreover, the Cyprus Government did not adequately address the sporadic kidnapping and sometimes assassination of Turkish-Cypriots by irregular Greek-Cypriot paramilitary units, which underlined the growing sense of vulnerability the minority community felt. Consequently, its members gravitated towards the enclaves.

But let us look more closely at the immediate consequences of the dramatic inter-communal deadlock at the end of 1962 that heralded the preparation for alternative ways forward. On 24 December 1962 the Cyprus Mail carried the headline ‘Breakthrough in Municipal Talks’, but the apparent agreement between Makarios and Küçük, reached after five years’ negotiation, was retracted the following day by Küçük on orders from Ankara. Through 1963, this new awareness of Ankara’s intimate involvement goaded the Greek-Cypriots towards a dangerous unilateral assertion of sovereignty, an assertion that could only make the situation worse. At the end of December 1962 the Council of Ministers, where Greek-Cypriots had a majority vote, had replaced the existing municipal councils with municipal boards, its members appointed by the Council of Ministers. Since municipal administration had ceased to be parochial, it would be centralised, brought firmly under the control of the Greek-Cypriot-led central Government – the Turkish-Cypriot communal chamber countered by enacting its own municipal law to cover the Turkish Cypriot bodies. In May 1963 the constitutional court declared both moves illegal. After May, the illegal Turkish-Cypriot municipalities continued to exist with impunity, while the Council of Ministers dissolved the municipal boards and put the towns under the direct administration of the district officers.

In February 1963 the announcement of the newly appointed municipal boards was welcomed across the Greek-Cypriot political spectrum as ‘the first step to normalisation, uniting the services of the republic and preventing the creation of a state within a state.’ At the same time, it raised new expectations in the Nicosia bazaar, deeply scarred since the restrictions on intercommunal movement in place since 1958. On 18 January 1963 Greek-Cypriot shopkeepers from the surrounding streets in the old city combined to challenge the Government to face up to its responsibilities and take over the Turkish-held central market. They complained that by blocking the market entrances in Hermes Street, the Turkish leadership had not only prevented Greek-Cypriots from shopping in the market, but it had also stopped Turkish-Cypriots from shopping in Greek-Cypriot shops in the neighbouring streets. Business in the area had dried up, and the shopkeepers were being forced to move out. They warned of an escalating exodus until the old city of Nicosia, like that of Famagusta, was entirely Turkish. These domestic pressures fed the increasing Greek-Cypriot sense that it was time the state took control.

By February Makarios had introduced a stick-and-carrot approach. New Greek-Cypriot proposals for gradual reunification, while offering generous subsidies for Turkish-Cypriot municipal committees to spend on the Turkish-Cypriot quarters of each town, were accompanied by measures intended to demonstrate that Greek-Cypriot patience on this issue was not unlimited. The Council of Ministers refused to issue the annual grant due to the Turkish communal chamber which covered education, among other things, because some of it would be used to finance the illegal Turkish-Cypriot municipalities. Telephone lines to these municipalities were cut because bills had not been paid, and Turkish-Cypriot employees were ordered to pay personal taxes to the new (Greek-Cypriot) municipal boards. The most dangerous decision the Council of Ministers made in January 1963 was to attempt to reclaim territory taken forcibly by the Turkish-Cypriots in 1958, by empowering the new municipal boards to acquire all municipal property, including the iconic central markets. This decision followed a submission made to the Council of Ministers by the Minister of the Interior, Polycarpos Georgadjis, who appears to have been preparing the way for a physical takeover of this property. In charge of the police in his ministerial capacity, Georgadjis also presided over the Greek-Cypriot paramilitary organisation established in 1962 under the cryptonym Akritas.

The day after the submission a bomb exploded in the Byraktar mosque in Nicosia in circumstances similar to those of a similar explosion a year earlier. This was a Turkish-Cypriot message, reiterated in Turkish diplomatic representations, that any such attempted take-over would lead to inter-communal fighting. Makarios was, in fact, threatening to take the arbitrary action Sir Hugh Foot, the last Governor, had shrunk from 1958 and 1959 for fear of a relapse into violence. Foot had insisted this issue must be resolved by a joint decision amongst the leaders of the two communities. After five years of failed negotiations on the municipal issue, the Greek-Cypriots now intended to impose unified municipalities by force, if necessary. They believed international support for unification, together with the newly appointed boards that had been purged of the communist councillors and mayors so numerous in the elected municipalities, would bring Western pressure on Ankara to capitulate. On the island itself, Turkish-Cypriots were faltering in their defence of municipal separatism because of its commercial disadvantages. Arthur Clark, the British High Commissioner, was convinced ‘Dr Fazıl Küçük, Orek, Muftizade and Denktash had all abandoned the idea of geographic partition of municipalities by 29 December 1962’, although they had subsequently retracted agreement on unification at Ankara’s bidding. Confidence was expressed within the Ministry of the Interior that now that the British were no longer governing Cyprus, ‘Government forces [would] be able to control the Turks and maintain order without difficulty’ if this policy led to disturbances. This implicit but flawed assumption, that Turkish behaviour in 1958 had been the result of British manipulation, also underpinned Greek-Cypriot assessments of the strength of their position in diplomatic exchanges in the months that followed.

In February 1963 Arthur Clark strongly advised the Cyprus Government to delay the decision to take over Turkish-held municipal properties, arguing that the positions of the Turkish-Cypriots and, more importantly, Ankara, had stiffened as a result of this decision. He asked the Cyprus Government to delay acting on it. It is clear from his March 1963 letter to Air Chief Marshall Sir Denis Barnett, Commander of British Forces in Cyprus, that he feared the municipal issue might end in armed conflict ‘because of the rigid attitude of Ankara’. He feared:

‘A clash between Greeks and Turks in one of the main towns, most probably Nicosia (e.g., over the Nicosia Municipal Market, if Greek policemen on government orders tried conclusions with the Turkish butchers, or between rival demonstrations, egged on by extremists): this would lead to disturbances and rioting mainly in the central areas or old town where the two communities are cheek by jowl.’

The atmosphere remained edgy. A chain reaction had set in. There were repeated Turkish threats of inter-communal violence in the event of a Greek-Cypriot attempt to retake municipal property, and preparations were made for its defence. In September 1963 Turkish-Cypriot irregulars were still mounting an armed guard around the central market in Nicosia, reflecting the tensions aroused over territory once freely accessible to all. By this time the Greek-Cypriots had actually abandoned any thought of attempting to take Turkish-held municipal property by force. Even the document Stella Soulioti describes as ‘rendered notorious by quotation, misquotation and mutilation’, the Akritas plan, written in the autumn of 1963, stresses in a rarely quoted paragraph:

‘Actions which require positive dynamic action such as the unification of municipalities must be avoided. Such a decision would require dynamic intervention by the government to bring about unification and take over municipal properties by force which would probably compel the Turks to act forcefully.’

Although the Greek-Cypriots’ January 1963 decision to take over municipal property forcibly, if necessary, had clearly been reversed, largely to avoid precipitating inter-communal violence, the fact that such an action had been planned and threatened, heightened tensions that could not be easily relaxed. The presence of smuggled guns and the penchant for paramilitary gangs had been a consequence of the nature of the anti-colonial struggle. The subsequent policy revealed by the Deniz incident during the transition period in the autumn of 1959, that Ankara planned to ensure the Turkish-Cypriots were armed, rather than disarmed, for their security, had the inevitable consequence of provoking Greek-Cypriots to defend themselves. Cyprus was full of guns. The Turkish Cypriot Minister of Agriculture’s obsession with spending large sums of money on enlarging the obscure little fishing shelter of Mansoura on the north-west coast of the island to take large vessels, invited suspicion that Ankara intended to supply and reinforce the Turkish-Cypriots on a larger scale. The creeping policy of the leadership to establish a chain of exclusively Turkish-Cypriot command in their areas became more ominous in the face of a clear strategy to prepare for their defence. While Greek-Cypriot policy sought to eliminate areas of exclusive Turkish-Cypriot control, what in fact was taking place, under the cover of talks for municipal reunification, was the consolidation and defence of these areas under Ankara’s supervision. There was a growing sense among the Greek-Cypriot leadership that the Turkish side was perniciously creating a republic ‘riddled with holes’ that must be plugged for the state to remain afloat. They may have been perceived as ‘holes’ in the state for the Greek-Cypriots, but they were fortresses against political emasculation for the Turkish-Cypriot leadership and for Ankara.

During the early years of the Cyprus Republic, each side sought to undermine the independent state, which both maintained they were endeavouring to preserve. The spectres of Enosis and partition were paraded regularly before domestic and international audiences to justify each side’s respective actions or refusal to act. The more chronic the failure to settle inter-communal disputes became, the more the practical difficulties, solutions to which were often in sight, gave way to polarised perceptions of the threat under which each community lived. There were a host of contributory factors, but failure to resolve constitutional issues was essentially the result of differing perceptions of the nature of the republic that had been created and the extent of its sovereignty.

The struggle between majority rule and a federal system in Cyprus has been essentially a struggle over sovereignty and an assertion of control over any future change of status. The Greek-Cypriots sought to control the future status of the island, while Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership sought to prevent them from doing so. Political influence through the indigenous population is a more internationally acceptable alternative for achieving geopolitical ends than raw military intervention – the manipulation of the political system in Cyprus since 1957, and of the political system in the Hatay on the eve of the Second World War, are cases in point. Communal polarisation brought about by competing nationalisms within the indigenous communities certainly occurred through the twentieth century, but it was an international agenda which made that polarisation confrontational and divisive. Fast forwarding to 2017, we find the Cyprus problem still on the international agenda, while neighbouring Syria has been reduced to rubble by civil strife in a war-torn Middle East. The Turkish Government, according to an agreement reached with Russia in December 2016, may be a co-guarantor with Russia of the shape of Syria that emerges from the rubble.

At the same time, the Turkish Government has been summoned to the negotiating table in Geneva by the Secretary General of the United Nations, where its role as a guarantor of the Cyprus republic is, for the first time, being called into question. The notional lines now being drawn on the map of Cyprus representing the constituent states of the federal republic of Cyprus will be, for all intents and purposes, a modification of the line created by the occupying Turkish forces in 1974. In that year, following a coup by the Greek junta, the Turkish Government, invoking its guarantor rights, intervened militarily to restore the status quo created by the 1960 constitution. Instead, in 1975, the north of the island, still under Turkish occupation, unilaterally declared itself to be the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. Greek-Cypriots were constitutionally and physically excluded from this state. It has, in the following years, with the gradual introduction of Turkish settlers to boost its tiny population and with the obliteration of all traces of the previous inhabitants of the area, drawn ever closer to Turkey. While considering whether Turkey should or should not retain its role of guarantor of the federal republic of guarantor of the federal republic of Cyprus currently being negotiated, it is worth examining events in the sanjak of Alexandretta, or the Hatay, in the later 1930s. The analogue is very telling and merits some detail.

By 1938 it had become increasingly clear that the Turkish Government had failed to bring about a ‘Turkish majority’ in the Hatay, as planned. The sanjak was of salient interest to Ataturk, who described it as ‘the strategic key to Cilicia’. His aim, having negotiated its independence from Syria in December 1937, was to secure a Turkish majority in the elections for its legislature. In spite of the reluctant collaboration of the French mandatory power, the international electoral commission, appointed by the League of Nations to draw up electoral registers, had balked at the sometimes violent manipulation of the electorate they were being pressed to register, and in June 1938 they suspended the registration and resigned. When they left, Turks made up 46 per cent of the register, with only five thousand voters still to be included.56 This would not do. Citing its obligations as a guarantor of the state to restore law and order, the Turkish army marched into the Hatay so the process of registration could be completed under Turkish supervision. A majority of two Turks was elected to the new assembly which, in contravention of the Fundamental Law the Turkish Government had ostensibly intervened to enforce, enacted legislation incorporating Turkish law and currency into the new state, closing the border with Syria, providing free access through the northern Turkish border and sending delegates to the Turkish National Assembly in Ankara: it became, for all intents and purposes, a Turkish province. The non-Turkish population of the Hatay fled in large numbers, replaced by incoming Turks. In June 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the Hatay Assembly voted to annex the shot-lived state to Turkey by a majority of two, while a Franco-Turkish friendship treaty secured French passivity.

In the case of the Hatay in the 1930s and in the case of Cyprus in 1974, Turkey’s guarantor powers were invoked and interpreted unilaterally to assert control: in the Hatay to secure Turkish majority rule and in Cyprus to secure a tightly controlled federal (or preferably confederal) state to replace the constitution, whose severely restricted majority rule the Greek-Cypriots had been so arrogantly eager to amend. The Turkish army remains on the island to secure this goal as, for the first time, Ankara’s claim to the right to guarantee the new federation, and to back that guarantee with a military presence, is being challenged. Turkey’s underlying motivation for insisting on these continuing guarantor rights can be found in a statement made by President Erdogan on 5 January 2017:

‘We have to eliminate threats to our country at the source. We should always keep in mind that Turkey’s security begins not in Gaziantep but in Aleppo, not in Hatay but in Idlib, not in Mersin but in Cyprus, not in Kars but in Nakhchivan, not in Artvin but in Batumi, not in Thrace but in the Balkans.’

A Turkish military presence and guarantee is perceived by Ankara as necessary for the security of the Republic of Turkey. It is perceived as necessary for the security of the Turkish-Cypriots as well, of course, in as much as the maintenance of the Cypriot community as a separate political entity is perceived as integral to the security of the Turkish nation as a whole. The federal republic of Cyprus being negotiated is to be a member of the European Union, while Turkish membership of the European Union seems increasingly unlikely. Therefore, in a future scenario in which the European Union may be hostile to Turkey, Cyprus would be as much a ‘security risk’ for Turkey as a Cyprus united with Greece, or an independent Cyprus ruled by a Greek-Cypriot majority. The Turkish-Cypriots might become so European they could no longer be counted upon to look to Ankara for security. In the same way, the area beyond the Turkish borders mentioned above are perceived as possible threats to Turkey in certain circumstances, some more immediately than others, for example the Kurdish-inhabited areas of Iraq and Syria currently being fought over.

From: Anastasia Yiangou, Antigone Heraclidou (eds). Cyprus from Colonialism to the Present: Visions and Realities.


A couple of points of disagreement with Markides: 1. She insists Britain became susceptible to Turkish pressure for partition/federation of Cyprus because of the UK's diminishing power in the Middle East/East Med and the need to ally with Turkey in the region. I'm not convinced.

Arguably, Britain's interests in the region would've been better served by accepting Greece's offer of extensive military installations in Cyprus (and Greece) in exchange for the transfer of the island's sovereignty to Athens.

2. Markides equates the demand for Enosis with the demand for partition. However, firstly, as Markides notes, it wasn't Enosis the Turkish side objected to but any form of majority rule, i.e. proper decolonisation and independence, that would give GCs sway on the island.

Secondly, the implications of Enosis or majority rule for the Turkish Cypriots would likely not have been the calamity to their lives she implies. On the other hand, partition was predicated on ethnic cleansing – and not only of Greek Cypriots but of Turkish Cypriots too.

Turkish Cypriot security was more jeopardised by the logic and actual campaign for partition than by the pursuit of Enosis/majority rule. In achieving the Turkish aim of geographical separation, more Turkish Cypriots, proportionately, had to flee their homes than Greek Cypriots.

Cyril Radcliffe, from India to Cyprus: partition and British imperial policy

This piece is in response to a small twitter exchange with the eminent historian of India William Dalrymple, which had me pointing out that, at the fag end of British colonial rule in Cyprus, Cyril Radcliffe who had, a decade earlier, devised plans to carve apart India as the sub-continent moved towards independence, was also responsible for being the first to codify British proposals to partition Cyprus in 1956.

On further study, this is not quite right.

In fact, as some in the UK colonial establishment began to seriously consider partitioning Cyprus – parcelling out portions of the island to Turkey and Greece and retaining a chunk for the UK for the purposes of military bases – Radcliffe, who had been appointed Constitutional Commissioner for Cyprus in February 1956, came up with proposals that reflected those in the British ruling elite squeamish about butchering Cyprus.

The background to Radcliffe’s involvement in Cyprus is, of course, the EOKA uprising that broke out in April 1955 and was aimed at ending British rule (which had begun in 1878) and the union of the island with Greece.  

To Greek Cypriot demands for self-determination, Britain responded that some parts of the British empire were too strategically important to ever be allowed this kind of freedom.

Initially, EOKA’s campaign was intended to be limited and put on display how serious Greek Cypriots were about ending British colonial rule; but, as often happens with armed insurgencies, the violence escalated and took on a life of its own.

While the departure of the Greek Cypriots from purely political means to achieve their ends somewhat played into the hands of more hardline British imperialists, who could now treat the Cypriot clamour for an end to colonial rule as a security not a political issue, there was still a British recognition that there needed to be some movement to satisfy Greek Cypriot demands (Greek Cypriots constituted 80% of Cyprus’ population) for greater political involvement in running the island.

This is where Radcliffe enters the story. In February 1956, Radcliffe was tasked by the British government to survey the island’s political landscape and come up with a constitution that would square the circle of maintaining British sovereignty while, at the same time, allow for self-government for Cypriots based on liberal democratic principles.

The first interesting point to emerge from this is that less than a decade after what we now regard as one of the great human catastrophes in history – the partitioning of India – in which Radcliffe is somewhat of a villainous figure, in 1956 his reputation was still high enough in British colonial circles for him to be called on when British rule in Cyprus had run into trouble.

It also suggests that Radcliffe, often portrayed as a man tortured by the consequences of his role in the partitioning India, was not averse to becoming involved in another colonial quagmire where partition was high on the agenda.

As with India, Radcliffe had no previous experience of Cyprus and only nine months elapsed from the time of Radcliffe being appointed as Constitutional Commissioner to the release of his report. He visited Cyprus twice, from July to September 1956, always under armed escort, for four weeks in total, where he spent most of his time conferring with the island’s governor, Field Marshall Sir John Harding, and listening to Turkish demands for partition. Greek Cypriot luminaries on the island refused to meet with Radcliffe, in protest at the treatment of Archbishop Makarios, the undisputed political leader of the Greek Cypriot community, who had been deported by Harding to Seychelles in March 1956.

Radcliffe’s report, submitted to the colonial office in late 1956, began inauspiciously, purporting to be impressed with the educational and cultural accomplishments of the Cypriots but bewildered that this hadn’t resulted in political advancement, seemingly oblivious to the distortions colonial repression and manipulation had on political life on the island.

‘The people of Cyprus, I have reminded myself,’ Radcliffe declared, ‘are an adult people enjoying long cultural traditions and an established education system, fully capable of furnishing qualified administrators, lawyers, doctors and men of business. It is a curiosity of their history that their political development has remained comparatively immature.’

Cyprus had, since 1931, following small-scale anti-colonial riots, been run as a tinpot gubernatorial dictatorship, with the constitution and legislature suspended, political parties banned, censorship, petty restrictions on the expression of anti-colonial feeling, deportations, and so on, and it was Radcliffe’s task to end this sorry state of affairs and, hopefully, earn the loyalty of Cypriots, particularly Greek Cypriots, whose attachment to Greece had perennially posed the biggest threat to the colonial status quo.

The constitution Radcliffe envisaged for Cyprus depended, as Robert Holland says, on ‘the old imperial device of dyarchy’ – in which powers devolved to the local population, in the form of a Legislative Assembly, would be balanced (or, in reality, superseded) by those retained by the colonial authorities, in the person of the Governor of the island, who would also have exclusive powers in matters of defence, foreign affairs and internal security.

Having rejected Greek Cypriot demands for a full-blown democratic constitution and self-determination – which would have inevitably led to Enosis – Radcliffe also spurned Turkish and Turkish Cypriot demands for a federation, which everyone understood, if adopted, would be nothing more than the prelude to the Turks’ ultimate aim, partition.

Even if the Turks regarded partition as a compromise – their original aim in the event of a British withdrawal from Cyprus was the annexation of the entire island – Radcliffe saw no merit or justice in sundering the island and instead proposed widespread safeguards for the island’s Turkish minority within a unitary state.

Holland suggests that Radcliffe’s experience of partitioning Punjab and Bengal in 1947, the horrors that accompanied this, had prompted him to agree with Harding that partitioning Cyprus was a ‘confession of failure’ and ‘a counsel of despair’.

In this regard, Radcliffe said in his report that it would be manifestly unjust and undemocratic that the Turkish minority, comprising 18% of the island’s population, ‘be accorded political representation equal to that of the Greek Cypriot community’.

In Radcliffe’s opinion, acceding to the Turkish demand for a federation was not logical. There was ‘no pattern of territorial separation between the two communities and, apart from other objections, federation of communities which does not involve also federation of territories seems to me a very difficult constitutional form’.

Given the fact that Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities were mixed throughout Cyprus with no discernible geographic separation, it was clear to British colonial administrators, like Radcliffe, that Turkish demands for a federation/partition could only come about as a result of civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, widespread ethnic cleansing and a probable war between Greece and Turkey.

Not only did the British balk at the humanitarian consequences of agreeing to Turkey’s partitionist aspirations, but the subsequent convulsions would not only likely make Britain’s position in Cyprus untenable but would also jeopardise the entire southern flank of NATO – a scenario that prompted the Americans to warn the UK at the time against the ‘forcible vivisection’ of the island.

However, Radcliffe’s good sense in rejecting partition for Cyprus was not reflected among Tory party imperialists and the British defence establishment – smarting now over the Suez humiliation and the prospect of Britain being ejected wholesale from the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean – or those in the colonial administration in Cyprus who resented the EOKA uprising and wanted to punish the Greek Cypriots for it. These three centres of power all came to the conclusion that partition would be preferable to Enosis and that even if they couldn’t envisage Britain doing the dirty work of ethnic cleansing, on which partition was predicated, then at least the threat of partition should be used against the Greek Cypriots to frighten them into accepting continuing British sovereignty of the island. 

Thus, despite Radcliffe resisting Turkish demands for partition, when presenting his report to the House of Commons, colonial secretary Alan Lennox-Boyd insisted that partition of Cyprus was very much on the agenda and, indeed, that Radcliffe’s proposals for self-government could be interpreted as portending a long-term outcome of ‘double self-determination’.

‘As regards the eventual status of the island,’ the colonial secretary said in the House of Commons on 19 December 1956, ‘Her Majesty's Government have already affirmed their recognition of the principle of self-determination. When the international and strategic situation permits, and provided that self-government is working satisfactorily, Her Majesty's Government will be ready to review the question of the application of self-determination.’

He went on: ‘When the time comes for this review, that is, when these conditions have been fulfilled, it will be the purpose of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that any exercise of self-determination should be effected in such a manner that the Turkish Cypriot community, no less than the Greek Cypriot community, shall, in the special circumstances of Cyprus, be offered freedom to decide for themselves their future status. In other words, Her Majesty's Government recognise that the exercise of self-determination in such a mixed population must include partition among the eventual options.’

Whether Lennox-Boyd was cynically using the threat of partition to coerce Greek Cypriots to stop demanding an end to British rule or if the British really had decided at this point that partition of the island was the best way to protect imperial interests is a moot point.

What is not moot is that Britain in 1956 had the opportunity to explicitly tell Turkey that its ambition of partition was unacceptable and would never be considered while Britain had responsibility for the island. Rather than doing this, the British chose instead to appease Turkey, giving it to believe that partition was a viable solution for Cyprus and one that Britain was prepared to consider.

As for the immediate effect on Radcliffe’s constitutional proposals, Lennox-Boyd’s allusion to partition, even if it was only made to tantalise the Turks and scare the Greeks, proved fatal for their prospects.

For Greece and Greek Cypriots, Radcliffe’s diarchy proposals were the same old British colonialist hypocrisy – Time magazine said Radcliffe’s constitution offered Cyprus ‘a façade of self-government carefully designed to preserve what the British in India used to call their paramountcy’ – and conceit, espousing liberal democracy while at the same time insisting that it be severely curtailed to preclude any challenge to British colonialist rule and sovereignty.

Worse than the prospect of continuing British ‘dictatorship’ in Cyprus was the inevitable suspicion felt by the Greek side, after Lennox-Boyd’s performance in the House of Commons, that Britain would use its remodelled administration of Cyprus to gradually steer the island towards partition.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots were more amenable to Radcliffe’s report. Even if Turkish prime minister Adnan Menderes couldn’t persuade Lennox-Boyd to ditch Radcliffe’s ‘academic exercise’ and go for immediate partition – Menderes told Lennox-Boyd, no doubt referring to the genocide/ethnic cleansing of Greeks from Anatolia and Asia Minor from 1915-23, 'we have done this sort of thing before, and you will see that it is not as bad as all that’ – the Turkish side was reassured that Britain regarded Radcliffe’s constitutional proposals as a potential stepping stone towards dividing Cyprus and thus ‘logical material for negotiation’.

While the British were furious with the Greek side for rejecting Radcliffe’s proposals for self-government – the Foreign Office referred to the Greek government’s reaction to Radcliffe as 'ungracious and ungenerous and very stupid' – what really did for Radcliffe’s attempt to end the violence on Cyprus wasn’t the stubborn attachment of Athens and, more especially, the Greek Cypriots to immediate self-determination and Enosis – but the drivel and machinations of Lennox-Boyd who, in order to appease Turkey and play to the gallery of diehard imperialists in the Tory party, introduced the spectre of partition.

In her book Fettered Independence: Cyprus 1878-1964, Stella Soulioti, a close ally and confidante of Makarios, suggests that – had Harding not made the stupid decision to deport Makarios and Lennox-Boyd hadn’t sought to clumsily blackmail Greek Cypriots with the threat of partition – Radcliffe’s proposals could well have served as a basis to end the conflict in 1956. Makarios, she says, was not inflexible in pursuing self-determination/Enosis and was prepared to contemplate a constitution that provided for self-government.

In fact, Soulioti says that Christopher Woodhouse, the Conservative politician with a long record of political, military and academic connections to Greece, had advised the Greek ambassador to London at the time, Giorgios Seferis, that Athens should accept Radcliffe’s proposals because they would eventually lead to Enosis; Woodhouse adding that he had consulted Radcliffe about this and that Radcliffe had agreed that this was the case even if he ‘could not say so publicly’.

Meanwhile, Nancy Crawshaw, in her book, The Cyprus Revolt, which is hostile to the Greek pursuit of Enosis, lauds the Radcliffe proposals and praises Radcliffe for his ‘outstanding contribution to the search for a compromise’.

Regardless of the merits of Radcliffe’s constitution and who was responsible for its precipitate demise, it was the last time proposals that aimed at a unitary state were put to Greek Cypriots.

After 1956, violence on the island intensified, with an increasingly fanaticised Turkish side now turning to riots, bombs and bullets in pursuit of partition, an aim for which they didn’t just have support and sponsors in Ankara but also from many in London and in the colonial administration in Nicosia.

Thus, while Britain still had legal sovereignty of the island, all post-Radcliffe proposals aimed at ending the conflict took on a greater tendency towards federation and, thus, partition. This process ended with the so-called Zurich-London agreements (1959-60) – negotiated by the UK, Turkey and Greece and from which Cypriots were excluded.

These agreements, which provided for a highly circumscribed independence and precarious bicommunal constitution for Cyprus, quickly began to unravel and by 1963-4 collapsed in a convulsion of violence as Turkish Cypriots withdrew from government and retreated into armed enclaves from where they hoped to create partition on the ground. Again, Britain – which, as a result of the deal that brought independence to Cyprus, had retained two large sovereign military bases on the island and a role as a Guarantor Power dedicated to ensuring ‘ the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus’ – had a choice: work towards calming the deteriorating situation in Cyprus or exacerbate it by leaning towards partition.

Martin Packard says in his book, Getting it Wrong: Fragments from a Cyprus Diary 1964, that reconciliation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots was possible in 1964 and that Britain was committed to this at first, only for a sudden change in policy to occur, with the same circles that had argued for partition during the EOKA period gaining the upper hand over those in the British establishment opposed to it.

Britain’s increasing acquiescence to partition coincided with greater US involvement on the island. If the Americans had been skeptical of partition in the 1950s and warned the British colonial authorities against it, by 1964 they saw partition as the optimal solution for the island and, unlike the British, were not squeamish about bringing it about.

America's cynicism, British dereliction, Greece’s stupidity and Turkey’s opportunism converged in 1974 when the partition that had first been mooted by the British in 1956 as a bluff to appease the Turks and terrify the Greek Cypriots came to pass as a result of the Athens junta’s botched coup against the Cyprus government (the junta had by now come around to the idea of the partitioning Cyprus and intended to do so on Greek terms) and Turkey’s two-phased invasion of the island.

To end, and to bring us back to where we started, with Cyril Radcliffe, inextricably tied to Britain’s colonial legacy in India and Cyprus, both of which suffered the same calamity – partition, massacre, lost homelands, unresolved bitterness and pain – it’s worth pointing out how, in fact, while India’s dismemberment has been much written about and is a well-known part of the story of the end of empire, the catastrophe in Cyprus is largely ignored.

Christopher Hitchens says such a loss of memory in Cyprus’ case would be unforgivable.

‘It would mean,’ he says, ‘forgetting about the bad and dangerous precedent set by [Turkey’s] invasion; by a larger power suiting itself by altering geography and demography. It would mean overlooking the aspiration of a European people to make a passage from colonial rule to sovereignty in one generation. And it would mean ignoring an example, afforded by Cyprus, of the way in which small countries and peoples are discounted or disregarded by the superpowers (and, on occasion, by liberal commentators).’

Indeed, if we include in the discussion another British-empire-in-retreat partition, that of Palestine in 1948, we can see that  the partition of Cyprus finalised by the Turkish invasion of 1974 bears bitter comparison with the the Nakba as well as the Partition of India.

Thus, the Nakba (1948) saw 700,000 Palestinians out of a population of 1.1m in Mandatory Palestine (i.e. 70 percent of the Palestinians) ethnically cleansed, with the number of Palestinians killed 10,000 (i.e. one percent of the Palestinian population).

Indian partition (1947) resulted in 15m people out of a population of 340m (i.e. 4.4 percent of Indians) being made refugees, with 1-2m killed (i.e. 0.3-0.6 percent of Indians).

As for Cyprus, as a result of the Turkish invasion that brought about the partition of the island, 220,000 Cypriots – (180,000 Greek Cypriots and 40,000 Turkish Cypriots) – were, at the behest of the Turkish army and Turkish Cypriot militias, either expelled, in the Greek Cypriot case, or encouraged to move, in the Turkish Cypriot case, i.e. 33 percent of the population of 642,000. Seven thousand Cypriots were killed during partition – 6000 Greek Cypriots and 1000 Turkish Cypriots, i.e. 1.1 percent of the the island’s population.

British-inspired, Turkish-imposed partition had a devastating effect on Cyprus, equivalent to the Nakba and Indian partition in its human consequences, though Cypriots have had to shout louder to tell the story of the outrage done to their country, their voices drowned out by British colonial and Turkish expansionist narratives that put Cyprus’ fate down to a squabble between primeval and perennial ethnic rivals who needed to be separated from each other for their own good.

1. Crawshaw, Nancy: The Cyprus Revolt
2. Hitchens, Christopher: Cyprus: Hostage to History
3. Holland, Robert: Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus
4. Novo, Andrew: The EOKA Cause
5. Packard, Martin: Getting it Wrong
6. Soulioti, Stella: Cyprus: Fettered Independence
7. Time: Cyprus: Proposed Constitution

Review: Andrew Novo's ‘The EOKA Cause: Nationalism and the Failure of Cypriot Enosis’


This is a review, originally posted as a thread on Twitter, of Andrew Novo's ‘The EOKA Cause: Nationalism and the Failure of Cypriot Enosis’.

1/18 Very disappointing book. Superficial, naive, uninformed, full of misinterpretation and oversights that ends up excusing British colonialism, Turkish expansionism, Turkish Cypriot fanaticism and largely pins the blame for Cyprus' downfall on Greek Cypriots: 

2/18 Britain's expressed desire to deny Cyprus self-determination because it would mark further British retreat from the Middle East is taken at face value… 
3/18 Since Greece was prepared to satisfy British demands to maintain a military presence in Cyprus – something Novo doesn't mention – then we're left asking why did Britain really want to stay in Cyprus? 
4/18 The answer is ideological; that Britain couldn't stand the idea that it was a declining power and that people it regarded as nothing more than subjects had the audacity not to want to be ruled by them. If Britain was to leave Cyprus, it wanted to leave on its terms.
5/18 Novo downplays Britain's role in inciting Turkey and the TCs. He claims Britain was limited in what it could do for GCs because of reactions it might provoke in Turkey and the TCs. This is rubbish. Britain could have faced down Turkey and the TCs but chose not to do so.
6/18 Rather, Britain found it more useful to drag Turkey into Cyprus and indulge the more extreme Turkish Cypriots because Britain wanted to scare the GCs into maintaining the British presence. Bringing Turkey and the TCs into the equation was a choice not necessity.
7/18 Britain's supposed sensitivity to Turkish and TC interests was cynical and hypocritical. In the past, it hadn't prevented the British from offering Cyprus to Greece and leading GCs to believe that Cyprus uniting with Greece was the natural evolution of British rule.
8/18 Greek Cypriots were not, therefore, naive or hindered by fanaticism in wanting Enosis. It was a legitimate and natural demand that Britain had, previously, been willing to grant. Wariness of Turkish and TC objections had not swayed Britain's Cyprus policy before.
9/18 While Novo expends a lot of words doubting the legitimacy of the Enosis demand, he says nothing about the legitimacy or otherwise of the Turkish Cypriot objections to it, i.e. that it would lead to the annihilation of the TCs.
10/18 In fact, Turkish Cypriot objections – like the objections of ex-colonial rumps in South Africa and Ireland (i.e. the whites and Protestants) – weren't just to Enosis but any form of status for Cyprus that would leave them being 'ruled by Greeks'.
11/18 The logic of Turkish Cypriot objections was to thwart not only Enosis but any united, independent Cyprus in which the 80% majority had effective say in running the island.
12/18 Rather than recognising TC objections to Enosis and independence for what they are/were – a rallying call for ethnic cleansing – Novo dresses this up as legitimate concerns for security and identity and blames GCs for not recognising them as such.
13/18 Eventually, the British decided that if Greek Cypriots wanted self-determination, then it was only right that Turkish Cypriots should be allowed the same thing.
14/18 But self-determination for Greek Cypriots, which essentially meant Enosis, did not mean annihilation of the TCs; whereas self-determination for the TCs, which essentially meant partition, would have exactly that outcome for Greek Cypriots.
15/18 Throughout, GCs are blamed for not recognising the 'realities' of 'genuine' Turkish and Turkish Cypriot objections to Enosis and Britain's determination to maintain its – and the West's – strategic position in the East Med.
16/18 But Turkey's strategic objections to a Greek-dominated Cyprus are borne of Turkey's paranoid hyper-nationalism, the perception of Greece as a threat and Greeks as the eternal enemy. Greeks, in Cyprus and elsewhere, cannot curtail their freedom to satisfy Turkish delusions.
17/18 While Cyprus – independent or as part of Greece – would never have threatened the West's strategic position in the East Med.
18/18 At no point does Novo see Cyprus in the context of the end of the British and Ottoman empires, as an anti-colonial struggle for freedom and democracy. Uniquely, Cypriots, who'd lived under foreign rule for 800 yrs, should've put aside the desire to decide their own future.
Also, Novo, who declares the Enosis campaign a failure, has a narrow view of what that campaign meant. 
At some level, it did, of course, mean that Cyprus should be incorporated into the Greek state, that Cypriots would be Greek citizens and the island would be run from Athens…
However, on another level, Enosis meant GCs would be able, without interference, to express their Greek identity and defy British colonial policy that had gone from seeing Cypriots as Greek to the core to identifying that Greekness as a threat and trying to undermine and deny it.

Thus, as an assertion of Hellenic identity, in establishing the Republic of Cyprus in which Greeks predominate, and in making the Republic of Cyprus and the Hellenic Republic inseparable if not indistinguishable, Enosis fulfilled its task.