Cyprus Coup of 1974: a Greek-Australian Community Response in Brisbane

A tourist couple pass across the UN controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

By Stavros T. Stavridis

A recent declassified file from the National Archives of Australia showing Greek-Australian reactions to the Cyprus coup of 1974 will be of interest to our Greek-American compatriots.
There are four observations that emerge from examination of the documents found in Series A1838 item152/2/3/1 part 2 Cyprus-correspondence relating to the Coup 1974-1978 which are located in the Canberra Office of the Australian Archives.

First, a part of this of file has been digitized and can be found on the website of Australian Archives by using key search word or series number to locate it. At the present time, only the documents for 1974 are available online. There is a digital image showing some 100 pages/or 1 centimeter for 1975 currently unavailable.

Anyone can request the remainder of file to be declassified. In Australia, classified documents are released to the general public after 20 years. Some are withheld for national security reasons or could imperil Australia’s foreign relations with other states under the Archives Act.

Second, there are 15 telegrams sent by Greek-Australian organizations based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia to the Australian Prime Minister EG Whitlam at Australian Consular General in New York. The following names with member numbers are shown in brackets: Greek Orthodox Southside parish (1500), Greek Orthodox Community of St George (7000), Kytherian Association younger set (300), Cyprus brotherhood (1000), St. George Soccer Club (220), Pan Rhodian Society-Colossus (2000), Greek Orthodox Youth (600), Kytherian Association (1800), AHEPA Chapter Hellas & Grand Lodge (200) & (100), Society of Greeks from Egypt (600), AHEPA Daughters of Penelope (100) and Kastellorizian Association of Queensland (500).

Some of these organizations were established before the Second World War for example, Kytherians in 1935, AHEPA chapter of Queensland 1936, Pan-Rhodian Society and the Greek Orthodox Community of St George in 1929. They maintained their Greek culture and heritage in a white Anglo-Australian society which wasn’t very tolerant of Greeks in the first half of the 20th century.

All those groups are based in the Brisbane metropolitan area. There is a probability that some individuals were members of several organizations inflating the membership numbers in some of these organizations. For example, a person could have been a member of AHEPA, the Kytherian Association, and the Greek Orthodox community of St George simultaneously.

Third, all the telegrams sent to New York contain the same exact wording: “As loyal Australians of Greek origin we are very disappointed that Australia’s voice has not been heard of the United Nations debate in support of our suffering brothers in Cyprus we entreat you whilst in New York to require that the United Nations demand of the Turkish troops to withdraw and allow Greek Cypriots to return to their rightful and patriotical homes and lands.”

It shows the unanimity of the Greek-Australian organizations in Brisbane to make the Australian prime minister raise the Cyprus issue at the United Nations. Furthermore, Australian police have continued to serve as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force on Cyprus since 1964.

Finally there is a digital image of a debate in Australian Senate on October 16, 1974 regarding allegations raised in an article in the Greek-Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos that Australian Foreign Minister Senator Willesee did not raise the problems of Cyprus at the UN. The article further asserted that “the Greek Government was astounded by this lack of concern and that a protest had been made to the Australian Government.”

Senator Willesee used the floor of the Senate to refute the claims of Neos Kosmos. He informed the Senate that he discussed Cyprus in a general debate at a UN plenary session on October 7. His UN address raised four important issues. First, it was up to the two communities on Cyprus to find a solution for themselves without external interference. However the Cypriots could seek assistance from the UN Secretary-General and with the signatories to the 1960 agreements (United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey); second, Australia unequivocally supported the independence of Cyprus; third, Australia provided humanitarian assistance to the refugees; and finally, Australia would continue to fund a police contingent which had been on Cyprus since 1964 as part of the UN peacekeeping force.

Willesee stated that he spent more time with Greek Foreign Minister George Mavros than with any other Foreign Minister whilst in New York. He mentioned that Mavros was pleased with Australia’s concern over the Cyprus issue and that the Greek Government ignored the published article in Neos Kosmos. Furthermore Willesee was going to write to Neos Kosmos seeking a retraction of its front-page story. The remainder of this file is still closed to the public.