Guest Viewpoints

Cyprus’ Uneasy First 50 Years; What Comes Now?

July 19, 2020
By Dr. Dimitrios G. Kousoulas

The late and revered Professor Dimitrios G. Kousoulas marked the dark 50th anniversary establishment of the Republic of Cyprus with this thoughtful historical overview which retains its value and reprint today.

Certain dates have a mysterious impact on the life of nations. Such is the date of August 16 for Cyprus. On August 16, 1960, the treaties that ended the British rule on the island were signed, creating the Republic of Cyprus. On August 16, 1974, the Turkish Armies took over by force one-third of the Island. Each year, for the past 36 years, we have been condemning the forcible partition of the island. This time, on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cyprus, it may be fitting to look back on the highlights of those 50 years. Enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece, remained the fervent hope of the Greek-Cypriots ever since Greece became a free country in the 19th Century. When Britain gained control of the island from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, the Greek-Cypriots rejoiced, but the date for deliverance was far into future. After the end of WWII, and following the dismantling of Colonialism, the hopes for Enosis flared up. With India, the crown jewel of the British Empire gaining independence, Cyprus could not remain in bondage for long. But the Greek-Cypriots, under the leadership of Archbishop Makarios, were impatient and launched, under Gen. Grivas, an armed campaign (EOKA). This alienated the British who, in 1955, brought Turkey into the picture, claiming a strong interest for the Turk-Cypriot minority on the island. By 1959, after several verbal conformations in the United Nations, a compromise was struck among Britain, Greece and Turkey. It took the form of a complex set of treaties and constitutional provisions. The demand for Enosis with Greece was discarded, Makarios accepted the agreements under pressure, and the island became the Republic of Cyprus with Makarios as President.


It was not long before vexing political disagreements broke out between the Greek-Cypriots and the Turk-Cypriots. On November 13, 1963, Makarios took a bold step and called for several revisions of the Constitution. In retrospect one may argue that Makarios had acted unwisely. He did not prepare the ground adequately, bypassing the British and the Turks, while the Greek government was facing two elections in three months. The Makarios move met with strong resistance on part of Turkey, which threatened to invade the island while the United Nations tried to work out a resolution of the conflict. By summer, with Turkish planes flying over Nicosia, the American President Lyndon Johnson pressured the Turkish government to calm down, and in the United Nations, the Security Council approved the stationing on Cyprus a UN peacekeeping force. The crisis subsided but in the meantime the relations between the two communities were shattered. Soon, firebrands on both sides began to arm themselves. To prevent violent clashes, the Greek government of George Papandreou, (with Ankara’s tacit agreement), moved to Cyprus a division size force – armed but in civilian clothes. In the next two years, several efforts were made to solve the Cypriot Issue (including a proposal by Dean Acheson, calling for Enosis of the island with Greece in exchange of a military base in the north-east peninsula of Karpasia). A solution however could not be found since both sides equally intransigent.


The efforts to solve the impasse were overtaken in 1967 by the outbreak of intercommunal violence. In the summer, Turk-Cypriot irregulars tried to block the Nicosia-Limassol highway near the villages of Ayios Theodoros and Kophinou. With the intervention of the UN peacekeeping force (UNFICYP), the conflict temporarily subsided. In October, the UNFICYP set a timetable to run Greek patrols in the two

mixed-population villages under UN supervision. But in November 15, due to faulty coordination, Turk irregulars fired upon Greek patrols, whereupon General Grivas ordered an all-out attack of the National Guard. It became later known that Grivas had planned the operation to provoke a full-scale war between Greece and Turkey. Grivas, a life-long champion of Enosis, was convinced that Makarios had abandoned the old dream of Enosis in favor of an independent Cyprus. With Turkish aircraft again flying over Cyprus and an invasion force at Mersin preparing to invade the island, the United Nations and the American government stepped-in and eventually Turkey and Greece came to the negotiating table. In the end, Turkey called off the threat to go to war while Greece agreed to withdraw its “unauthorized” troops from Cyprus. Makarios was far from unhappy to see the troops go. When these troops came to Cyprus, their primary function was to protect the Greek-Cypriots from the threat of a Turkish invasion and also to avert intercommunal strife. But now that Greece was ruled by a military junta, their presence was potentially dangerous for Makarios, who was pursuing a non-aligned policy in the context of the Cold War. Grivas was removed as Commander of the National Guard but the force remained; ironically, it was the same force that, seven years later, engineered the fateful coup against Makarios.


In the aftermath of the 1967 crisis, the two sides made efforts to resolve their differences with the help of the United Nations. In February 1968, Makarios was re-elected as President, and in March he proposed steps for normalizing relation between the two communities. Direct talks were held in June and continued on and off for the next two years. Although there were some agreements on minor matters, the underlining problem was the perception each community had for itself and the political power each should hold. The Turk-Cypriots argued that the two communities had “won” their independence together and they were equal partners. The Greek-Cypriot position was that Greeks and Turks would have the same political rights, and that through constitutional arrangements they would enjoy autonomy on matters of education, culture, and religion, but that the Turkish community, comprising only 18% of the people, should respect the democratic majority principle. While the talks continued on the surface, other, ominous developments were threatening the future of the island. Grivas had returned secretly to the island and had begun rebuilding a guerrilla organization, EOKA B, (in imitation of the resistance campaign of the 1950’s.) In March 1970, an attempt to assassinate Makarios by attacking his helicopter failed, but the agitation continued. In February 1972, a crisis broke out between the military government in Athens and Makarios because of his decision to import from Czechoslovakia weapons for the Cypriot security forces. (These, of course, were the Cold War years.) Makarios had to surrender control of the weapons to the UN peace force but by then relations between Athens and Nicosia (never friendly) had entered a fateful stage. Upon the death of Grivas in January 1974, Brigadier General D. Ioannidis, one of the least visible members of the Greek junta, had taken control of EOKA B. Since the 1967 confrontation, Colonel G. Papadopoulos, the leader of the junta, had been cautious in his relations with Turkey. But in November 1973, Papadopoulos was overthrown and the secretive Ioannidis emerged as the real boss of the new regime. In the spring of 1974, he conceived a plan to eliminate Makarios by force, unite Cyprus to Greece, and then move to direct negotiations with Turkey. Since Ioannidis apparently did not clear matters with Turkey in advance, the plan was idiotic but also deadly.

In May and June, rumors were rampant about the imminent overthrow of the Cyprus government. Faced with this situation, Makarios on July 2 sent an audacious letter to the government in Athens, demanding the withdrawal of the Greek officers serving in the Cypriot National Guard. It was a risky move. On July 15, troops and tanks stormed the Presidential palace. Makarios escaped and sought refuge abroad. A puppet government was set put but it received no recognition. The following day, then U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, worried about the cohesion of NATO, sent Joseph Sisco to both Athens and Ankara in an effort to prevent war between Turkey and Greece. In a note to Britain, Turkey called for joint action under the treaty of guaranty but it made clear that Ankara was prepared to act unilaterally. The following day, July 18, the Turkish Prime Minister flew to London where he was urged, to no avail, to avoid military action.


On July 20, Turkish troops landed on the north coast of Cyprus. Within two days, both the puppet regime in Cyprus as well as the dictatorial government in Athens collapsed. The United Nations passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire while a conference in Geneva tried to reach a solution with the participation of Britain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and a delegation of Turk-Cypriots. At the conference, Turkey pressed for a geographical division the Greek-Cypriot delegation (Makarios) was not prepared to accept. This gave Turkey the excuse to launch a second major offensive seizing one-third of island. The date was August 16, 1974. Before Makarios died of a heart attack on August 3,1977, he had accepted the idea of a federation in talks with Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turk-Cypriots. But since then, the occupied area was turned into a “state” (recognized only by Turkey, so far), while thousands of mainland Turks came to north-Cyprus as settlers. In the meantime, many Greek-Cypriots have begun to have reservations about the idea of federation. In 2004, a U. N. plan (Annan) was rejected by two-thirds of the Greek-Cypriots. In 2008, direct talks about a federation started and continue to this day.

But as long a strong majority remains negative, we should be prepared to face the alternative of two states, preferably on the model of the Republic of Czech/Slovakia, with the two successor states as members of the European Union, and, of course, with appropriate territorial and other adjustments. In the past 50 years, we have witnessed a recurrent theme: solutions we rejected before, we embrace with nostalgia later, but it is too late.

Dr. Kousoulas was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was the author of several books, notably The Life and Times of Constantine the Great (1999), and numerous scholarly articles. He passed away in 2012. This article originally appeared in The National Herald in 2010.


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