CYPRUS: ISLAND OF SORROWS
When Disraeli acquired Cyprus from Turkey in 1878, the islands Greek Christian majority believed that the traditionally pro-Greek British would grant them Enosis - union -with Greece. But the presence of a Turkish Muslim minority, bitterly opposed to Greek rule, and the demands of British imperial strategy frustrated their hopes. Three quarters of a century later, British ministers insisted in a parliamentary debate that the island could never expect full independence. Greek Cypriots reacted by launching a savage guerrilla campaign. This led to independence - but also to civil war and continuing strife between the islands two communities.
“High and Low are delighted, except Mr. Gladstone,who is frantic.” So wrote Queen Victoria to her Prime Minister and favourite, Benjamin Disraeli, of public reaction to his acquisition of Cyprus from the Sultan of Turkey in 1878. By a secret convention, the Sultan leased the island to Britain as a place “of arms,” a base from which she would help to defend Turkey’s Asian provinces against Russian encroachment. Disraeli and the Sultan were alarmed by Russian intervention on behalf of the Christian Bulgars, whose revolt against Turkish over lordship had been suppressed with cruel but effective savagery.
With Russian forces at the gates of Constantinople, Disraeli was concerned to prevent any Russian advance that might threaten the overland route to the British Empire in India. Happily for Disraeli, it proved unnecessary to fight the Russians, and Britain found herself in undisputed possession of a sunny new territory. Disraeli, it seemed, had won a good bargain, though High and Low might have been less delighted had they been able to know of the bloodshed and sorrows that Cyprus would bring.
There was an earlier , short-lived connection with Cyprus. In 1191 Richard the Lionheart, on his way to a crusade in the Holy Land, seized the island from its ruling Byzantine prince. Richard married Princess Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre, in the Cypriot port of Limassol, where she was crowned Queen of England Cyprus thus became the only overseas territory to witness an English monarch’s wedding and an English coronation. Within less than a year Richard sold Cyprus to the Knights Templars, from whom it passed in 1194, to Guy de Lusignan, the first of 18 Norman-French rulers of the island.
The islands most important legacy from the Lusignans was eight centuries of Byzantine influence, which confirmed the cultural character of most Cypriots as Greek-speaking Christians who considered themselves part of the Hellenistic world. The seeds of another culture were implanted in 1571 when the Ottoman Turks ousted the Venetians from Cyprus and gained control of what has become the last Christian outpost in Muslim east. The Turkish sultans were content to leave Cyprus largely to its own devices , and, like other Christian communities in the Ottoman empire, the Greek Cypriots were given a considerable degree of autonomy under their arch-bishop. Nevertheless Ottoman rule brought an influx of Turkish Muslims into the island from the Turkish mainland, only 40 miles away.
For 2.5 centuries, Cyprus remained a neglected though peaceful corner of the Ottoman Empire. But, in 1821, the mainland Greeks rose against their Turkish overlords. The Greeks also embraced the “Megali Idea” or “Great Idea” of Hellenism. This involved the liberation of all Greeks everywhere and, ultimately, the recovery of Constantinople as the capital of a reunified and resurgent Byzantine Empire.
Britain's main objectives in becoming involved in the area were to support self-determination for peoples under Turkish rule, and, at the same time, to shore up Turkey’s position as a bulwark against a possible Russian advance into Asia Minor. Despite the fact that it was the second of these considerations which led Disraeli to prize Cyprus from Turkey in 12878, the British arrival in the island was welcomed by Greek Cypriots. The Cypriot majority had been moved by the “Megali Idea” and they believed the freedom-loving British would allow them Enosis - union with mainland Greece. They were soon to discover their mistake.
On July 8, 1878, Britain’s 82 year rule over the island began when an advance naval guard under Vic-Admiral Sir John Hay landed at Larnaca, a port on the southern coast. It was followed by 400 Indian troops from Malta and by the new British High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief, Lt.General Sir Garnet Wolseley.
Greek Cypriots were given fresh hopes of achieving reunion when Disraeli’s Conservative government was heavily defeated at the election of 1880 and Gladstone, after a torrent of ant-imperial speeches, was returned to power at the head of a large Liberal majority. Gladstone had already described the agreement with Turkey as an “act of duplicity not surpassed , and rarely equalled, in the history of nations,” but did not repudiate the agreement with Turkey, even when his occupation of Egypt in 1882 gave Britain control of Alexandria, a base superior to anything Cyprus could offer.
The occupation of Egypt, undertaken to safeguard British influence in the face of a nationalist revolt, proved, indeed to be a singular misfortune for Cyprus. It gave new scope and durability to the British presence in the Middle East and made Britain increasingly reluctant to give up any of her possessions in the area. Control of Egypt diminished the importance of Cyprus, and the island became a neglected backwater, Since Britain held the island on lease from Turkey, and was not certain how long she wanted to retain it, there was little incentive for British investment there.
British occupation of Cyprus brought the Greek Cypriots freedom from Turkish rule, which they might otherwise never have had , even with the help of Greece. It also brought them greater security and personal liberty. None of these benefits, however, could offset the three main grievances of the Greek Cypriots under British rule. The first being that an annual tribute, fixed at £92,799 was paid to Turkey for the lease, which the islanders had to pay back to Britain. The second was that Britain refused to grant the island a representative assembly. A legislative council of 12, (nine Greeks, three Turks)and 6 members appointed by the High Commissioner was set up in 1882. But the High Commissioner had the casting vote which he used to block every Greek demand. Above all Greek Cypriots were aggrieved by British reaction to their demand for Enosis
Although Cyprus was not declared a Crown colony until 1925, it was administered as such from 1880 onwards. But unlike other colonies, most of them less well developed, Cyprus was barred from aspiring towards eventual self-government and independence.
The outbreak of the First World War seemed to many Greek Cypriots to provide a grand opportunity for the realisation of their ideal. Cyprus was formally annexed by Britain on November 5, 1914, the same day it declared war on Turkey. A year later Britain tried to tempt Greece into joining the Allies by dangling the bait of Cyprus. But Greece refused the bait and was finally drawn into the war on the side of the Allies in 1917, there was no longer any need for the inducement.
Greek Cypriots were optimistic, however, that at the post war peace conference their island would be given the right to national self determination. But a Greek Cypriot delegation lobbied at Versailles for Enosis in vain. For both reek and British governments the question of Cyprus’s future was overshadowed by the titanic struggle developing in Asia Minor between Greek Hellenists led by the Greek Prime Minister, Eleutherios Venizelos, and supported by the British Prime minister, Lloyd George, and renascent Turkish nationalists under Kemal Ataturk. The Greeks were routed and the crisis was resolved in July 1923, by the Treaty of Lausanne. There was a vast exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The treaty included Turkish recognition of Britain’s sovereignty over the island.
The signatories to the Lausanne Treaty wrote an end to both the Ottoman Empire and the pan-Hellenic dream. But they also left Cyprus as the last unsettled territorial issue in the centuries-old struggle between Greeks and Turks.
In 1925, Britain made Cyprus a Crown colony, clearly demonstrating that the future of the island was entirely in her hands. The results of British rule were by no means discreditable. The large increase in the budget for justice led, for example, to a decline in cases of personal violence. Sanitation was vastly improved. Locusts, a recurring local menace, were brought under control. By 949 malaria had been extinguished and leprosy was almost wiped out, so that the island enjoyed one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. The island also derived great benefits from an administrative system that operated efficiently without destroying local cultural traditions.
It was, therefore, difficult for the British to understand why the Greek Cypriots should wish to exchange their easy freedoms under a uncorrupt British administration for the dubious privileges of military service, high taxes and inefficient administration under the Athens government 500 miles away. But nationalist sentiment cannot be measured by such things. “The Greekness of the Cypriots,” commented , the island’s governor from 1926 to 1932, “is in my opinion undisputable.”
Britain,s rejection of Enois just after the First World War was followed by a Greek Cypriot boycott of elections for the legislative council and local authorities in the island. In 1931 Greek Cypriot frustration erupted in violence. After the elections of that year - which the Greek Cypriots did contest - the Enotists strengthened their position on the legislative council and Nicodemus, the Bishop of Citium, issued an uncompromising Enotist manifesto urging that no obedience was due to the laws of a foreign ruler. Three days later Nicodemus made a speech inciting Cypriots to break the laws. The following evening - October 21 - rioting started in Nicosia. Dyonysios Kykkiotis, a chief priest, kissed the Greek flag, declared Enosis, and led the rioters to Government house, where they smashed windows and then threw in combustible materials, burning the building to the ground.
The rioting was halted with the arrival of two Royal Navy ships and the landing of troops from Egypt. The governor, Sir Ronal Storrs, then deported ten ringleaders, without warning, including Nicodemus and the Bishop of Kyrenia and two elected members of the legislative council. Six Cypriots had been killed and 30 wounded. The repression which followed was disproportionately severe. Two thousand islanders were imprisoned, the Greek Cypriots had to pay £66,000 for property destroyed in the main towns and 70 villages, the constitution was suspended, political parties were outlawed, the Press was censored, and the Governor ruled by decree.
It was under this authoritarian rule that Cyprus entered the Second World War. This demonstrated, as the First World War had done, the island’s limited importance as a military base compared with those available to Britain on the Middle East mainland. The German drive to the Levant through Greece and Crete was checked before it seriously threatened Cyprus , though the island provided a base for Allied commando raids on German and Italian occupied islands in the region, and 30,000 Cypriots served bravely in the British forces. The war also brought an economic boom to Cyprus, and Britain’s alliance with Greece, while Turkey remained neutral, improved relations between British officials and Greek Cypriots.
In 1941 the ban on political parties on the island was lifted and Greek Cypriots organised themselves in two groups: the Communist-controlled A.K.E.L and the K.E.K. (Cypriot National Party) a right-wing party in favour of Enosis. The Turkish minority was represented chiefly by the Turkish National Party
Many Greek Cypriots believed that their own and Greece’s wartime record and Allied declarations , such as the Atlantic Charter of 1941, in favour of national self-determination, would compel Britain to give her blessing to Enosis. But similar hopes had been dashed in 1918, and a Greek-Cypriot deputation which went to London in 1946, to press the familiar demand received the familiar reply.
The British Government, while reaffirming that there could be no change in Cyprus’s status as a Crown colony, did, however, offer some concessions to the Greek Cypriots. The leaders who had been exiled in 1931 were allowed to return to the island and in 1948 the new Governor, Lord Winster, presented fresh constitutional proposals. These envisaged an elected legislature in which the Greek Cypriots could win an effective majority. These proposals pleased no one.
The failure of the 1948 proposals led to a new and much grimmer phase in British-Cypriot relations and the 1950’s were to be a decade of intense and bitter political conflict in Cyprus. Ironically, the Greek Cypriot struggle against the British began to gather momentum at a time when Britain was ending her predominant role elsewhere in the region. Economically weakened by the Second World War, she was no longer able to sustain extensive overseas commitments and her withdrawal from India in 1947 removed an essential reason for her control of communications in the Middle East and one of the chief instruments for doing so, the Indian Army. Britain was also forced, in 1947 to relinquish her role as protector of Greece and Turkey to the United States.
There were still reasons however for British governments to persuade themselves that they ought to hold on to Cyprus. Turkey emerged as a bastion of the Western Alliance,eventually providing the vital link between the N.A.T.O.and the C.E.N.T.O. Groupings, and there was a determination not to offend her by handing Cyprus over to the Greeks. The British were also anxious to preserve Middle East oil supplies and to fend off Soviet military or political penetration. But the British withdrawal from Palestine in 1948 left Cyprus as the only territory in the eastern Mediterranean under British sovereignty. Elsewhere - in Egypt, Iraq and Jordan - the British military presence depended upon treaties which were the objects of increasing nationalist resentment.
Two men - a cleric and an army colonel - forged the instrument of Britain’s defeat. The Cleric - Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus - was born Michael Mouskos in 1913. The son of a poor shepherd, he came from the tiny inland village of Pano Panayia and as almost 8 before he travelled as far as the coast. After ordination as a priest in 1946, he won one of ten scholarships offered by the World Council of Churches and left Cyprus for the Methodist Theological College at the University of Boston. It was then that he began to earn his reputation as an ardent advocate of Enosis. He also met rich American Greeks who were later to help finance his campaigns in Cyprus. In 1950 he was elected Archbishop of Cyprus at the age of 37.
The army colonel - George Grivas - 15 years older than Makarios was born in 1898 at Trikomo. At the age of 18 he enrolled in the Greek Military Academy in Athens. When Italy invaded Greece in 1940, he became chief of staff to the 2nd Athens division and was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel. By the late 1940’ Grivas’s thoughts were turning to Cyprus. A fanatical Enotist and Greek nationalist, he was already laying plans for a guerrilla campaign to drive the British out of the island. In July 1951, he and Makarios met for the first time, in Cyprus, and discussed the best means of promoting the cause of Enosis. At first, Makarios was wary of committing himself to armed action, but by early 1952 he had agreed to become chairman of a revolutionary committee established by Grivas in Athens. Makarios’s decision may have been influenced by the intransigent line taken by the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, at a meeting with the Greek Foreign Under-Secretary, Evangelos Averoff in November 1951.
The British attitude was uncompromisingly restated by a government spokesman in the House of Commons on July 28, 1954, Eden announced that, under pressure from the Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser, Britain had agreed to evacuate the Suez Canal base and would be transferring her Middle East military headquarters to Cyprus. Henry Hopkinson, Minister of State for the Colonies, added that there were “certain territories in the Commonwealth which, owing to their particular circumstances, can never expect to be fully independent.” Rebuffed by Britain and pressured by Grivas, the reek government now decided to take the matter to the United Nations. At the Autumn session of 1954, Greece introduced a resolution calling for self-determination for Cyprus.
The British case was stated by Selwyn Lloyd, Minister of State at the Foreign Office. “Cyprus,” he said “was needed by Britain to fulfil her treaty obligations to Arab states, to N.A.T.O. And the the United Nations.” “There is no acceptable alternative in the circumstances to sovereignty.”
The British government under pressure from its own Conservative backbenchers was afraid that concessions over Cyprus would be seen as a sign of weakness by Arab countries and would offend Turkey. Turkey’s concern, however, as more for her own security than that of the Turkish community in Cyprus. She feared that if Cyprus joined Greece and a communist government took over in Athens, the island may be used as a springboard against her by a Russo-Greek alliance.
Eventually, Greece’s U.N. Resolution was shelved - and Greek-Cypriot frustrations erupted once more into violence. A general strike was proclaimed and the worst riots since 1931 flared up. It now remained only for Grivas to launch his campaign. In November 1954, Grivas arrived secretly in Cyprus and in January, 195, he met Makarios in Larnaca and heard from the Archbishop that the Athens government was now in full sympathy with their aims and had established a permanent liaison with their organisation.
This was the moment that Grivas had been waiting for. He called his movement E.O.K.A. The National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters - and in the early hours of April 1, 1955, the guerrilla war began. Bomb attacks all over the island wrecked government offices, police stations and military installations, and the radio transmitter in Nicosia was blown up. E.O.K.A. Announced its existence in pamphlets signed “Dighenis” the name of a legendary Greek Cypriot hero which Grivas took as a pseudonym. The attacked persuaded Eden, now Prime Minister, to back down from his original position that the Cyprus question did not exist and he invited both Greece and Turkey to the conference table. Talks between the three sides began on August 29, 1955.
Eden encouraged the Turks to adopt a strong line so that Britain could appear as the moderate arbiter between the two sides. The Turkish government took the hint. Not only did it lay claim to Cyprus in the event of a British withdrawal, but it also whipped up anti-Greece riots in Izmir and Istanbul. On the day of the riots, Harold Macmillan, Eden’s successor ‘s foreign Secretary, offered to give Cyprus a new constitution. This would have meant greater powers of self-government, but held out no prospect of a change in the islands international status.
The riots , however, ended the conference and Makarios rejected the British offer, calling on all Cypriots to mount a campaign of passive resistance. The campaign of armed resistance also resumed with a new wave of bomb attacks throughout the island
The British government was now facing what amounted virtually to a national rebellion. It decided that tough measures were called for . At the end of September, 1955, Field-Marshal Sir John Harding, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was appointed Governor General of Cyprus and given extra troops and police. A state of emergency was declared, providing for detention without trial and the death penalty for unauthorised possession of arms and explosives.
Although Harding pursued a tough policy against E.O.K.A. He also opened negotiations with Makarios hoping to reach agreement on a wide measure of self-government, with Britain in charge f defence and foreign affairs, provided eventually were not ruled out. In January 1956 Harding offered a concession on this point in the form of a double negative. In a letter to Makarios he said that it was not British policy that the principle of self-determination should never be applied to Cyprus. For the first time, there seemed to be the prospect of a peaceful settlement and on February 29, 1956, the colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, flew to Cyprus for direct talks with Makarios. But after only one meeting the talks collapsed and 12 days later Makarios, together with the Bishop of Kyrenia and two leader of E.O.K.A., was arrested and deported to the Seychelles in the Indian ocean.
What is the explanation for this sensational transformation? Certainly, the gap between Lennox-Boyd and Makarios remained wide. First, Makarios insisted that an amnesty should be extended to cover active members of E.O.K.A. As well as those found to be in illegal possession of arms and explosives. Secondly, he insisted that the Greek-Cypriot majority must be given control of the island’s affairs. Third, and most important, he demanded that self-government must include control of internal security. But, although Lennox-Boyd rejected all these demands , there appear to have been other motives behind the sudden collapse of his talks with Makarios and the Archbishop’s arrest and deportation just over a week later.
The official explanation as that Makarios had close links with E.O.K.A. And did not really want a compromise agreement.
The Archbishop’s deportation was, in fact, the prelude to a much tougher British policy in Cyprus and the Middle East generally, culminating in the Suez crisis and the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt eight month later. The battle with E.O.K.A. Intensified, reaching its pek in October and November 1956, when Britain used Cyprus as a base for the Suez war. In November there were 416 acts of E.O.K.A. Violence and 693 Cypriots were detained. This period also saw the first outbreak of fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and with secret help from Ankara, the Turkish Cypriots formed their own underground organisation Volkan, which took reprisals against the Greek community.
At the end of 1956 Britain made another futile attempt at a settlement. Constitutional proposals, drawn up by Lord Radcliffe, an eminent British judge , offered the Greek Cypriots more power than ever before, but made no mention of self-determination and were promptly rejected by them. The Turkish Cypriots , however, accepted them. In explaining the Radcliffe proposals to the House of Commons, Lennox-Boyd made the first public reference to partition of Cyprus, which, he said, would be the inevitable outcome of self-determination, since the Turkish Cypriots would vote to join Turkey. The Turkish government now adopted partition, or separate self-determination, as its official policy.
In March 1959, Greek Cypriots celebrated their island’s independence and hailed as national heroes Archbishop Makarios and Colonel George Grivas. For the first time in history - and after almost four years of guerrilla warfare - the island was free of foreign domination. The struggle had begun in 1955, when, after decades of appeals, petitions and delegations to London, Greek Cypriots lost patience and turned to the pistol and the bomb. On April 1 Cyprus’s main towns ere rocked by explosions and leaflets appeared throughout the island calling on patriots to fight for their independence: “Right and justice are on our side. We shall emerge victorious ....Forward together for the liberty of Cyprus.”
From the beginning of 1955 to the end of 1959,the British in Cyprus fought against a master of guerrilla warfare- Colonel George Grivas. His E.O.K.A. Organisation had only 300 full-time activists, but they were superbly drilled in the arts of sabotage ambush and execution. Against them, the British Forces - 37,000 at their peak - were, as Grivas said, like elephants chasing monkeys.
The British used heavy armoured cars, kept to the roads and avoided moving by night. Grivas’s men were always on the move, depending on speed, secrecy and surprise. But the Colonel’s greatest asset was the allegiance of his people. This grew stronger as a result of tough security measures, for although they cut down terrorism, they aroused Greek Cypriot resentment. “We all,” said the Mayor of Nicosia, “belong to E.O.K.A.”
In July 1955, British sappers erected a few wooden huts and a great barbed-wire pen on the harsh, bare tableland of Kokkinotrimithia. It was the first and most notorious of the British detention camps in Cyprus. Set up to accommodate suspected E.O.K.A. Terrorists against whom it was difficult to bring evidence, the camps eventually held nearly 2,000 inmates and were under strong guard.
Athens Radio called the camps “Britain’s Belsens,” though they had hot running water and inmates received allowances to spend at camp stores or to send home. Visitors could also bring food and gift parcels. There was concern, however, even among some British that the power to hold persons without trial was being abused. Charles Foley, editor of the “Times of Cyprus” recalls that, “The governor did not review every case personally and blank notes were being sent out to the towns : one had been filled in with the name of a dead man, another with that of a boy aged 13.”
In December 1957, Sir Hugh Foot arrived in Cyprus to succeed Field-Marshal Sir John Harding as Governor. Although anxious for a political solution, Harding had imposed stern security measures. But Foot was an outspoken liberal, in favour of easing the more rigorous security measures and suspected by some of favouring full independence for Cyprus. His arrival stiffened Turkey’s opposition to Enosis. The Turks in Cyprus were also alarmed and, with secret help from Ankara, a Turkish underground organisation - Volcan (Volcano) - launched a campaign of violence as a warning to Britain not to “betray” them.
Volcan struck early in December, fomenting rioting and arson in Nicosia. The following January security forces shot dead seven Turks in a riot at Famagusta - a higher death toll than any inflicted on Greek rioters at any time during the troubles.
In the summer of 1958 clashes between Greeks and Turkish Cypriots resulted in over 100 deaths. But all sides were now becoming anxious for a settlement and in December there was a cease fire followed by independence and special guarantees for the Turkish minority.
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