It’s been 45 years since an Athens backed coup ousted Archbishop Makarios’s apartheid regime (15 July 1974) with an aim to expedite Greece’s annexation of Cyprus.
The illegal usurpation of power, authority, and the transformation of the bi-national, 1960 Republic of Cyprus (RoC) into a solely ethnically Greek Cypriot entity from 1963 onward receives a disproportionately low level of attention. The focus, particularly in the West, is almost always on the consequential 20 July Turkish military operation that brought an abrupt end to irredentist Hellenic aspirations and resulted in the de facto partition of Cyprus into a Greek south and a Turkish north. Turkey’s military intervention also put an end to the Greek military junta and facilitated a return to democracy in Greece.
Anyone interested in objectively examining or contributing to a lasting resolution of the Cyprus conflict must take a hard look at the facts and accept realities. Simply put, there is no chance that the on-again off-again, UN sponsored settlement process will deliver tangible results or a mutually acceptable second RoC. Although Turkish Cyprus secured its independence following the summer of 1974, Greek Cyprus is the primary benefactor of the current status quo, because the Greek Cypriot Administration effectively legitimized its unconstitutional grip over all of Cyprus and manoeuvred to marginalize Cyprus’s Turks. A bi-national, united Cyprus, be it based on a central, federal, or confederation model, is not possible, because Cyprus’s Greeks and Turks have mutually exclusive and contradictory expectations for a settlement. As Greek Cyprus is not willing to accept the constitutional order embedded within the original bi-national RoC or a new compromise that reconfirms the equality of the original, bi-national RoC’s two founding nations, the only means to prudently resolve this age-old ethno-national conflict is by moving forward with divorce proceeding and accepting partition through some form of arbitration. This proposition differs greatly from recent ideas suggesting that two states within the European Union be the aim of settlement, because the latter still involves a purportedly united Cyprus that will not work as Greek Cyprus will not accept bi-nationality or any challenge to Greek Cyprus’s unquestioned hegemony. The alternative to recognized partition is another forced political marriage between Cyprus’s Greeks and Turks which would be disastrous. An inability to achieve a mutually acceptable agreement since December 1963 is a clear indication of what a second RoC’s would-be fate – another dysfunctional failed state and possibly war. In fact, Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities have grown further apart with the prospect of offshore natural gas exploitation, because the possibility to extract and capitalize on profitable resources provides bankrupt Greek Cyprus with greater incentive to not compromise. In addition to sovereign power, now billions of dollars are at stake so why would Greek Cyprus share power and wealth with an entity and people that it does not acknowledge or accept as a sovereign partner?
Cyprus has been in a cold war scenario since the end of the July – August 1974 hostilities. Yet the Green Line is a hard reminder of the conflict’s sensitivities that could relapse into a theatre of war. All one needs to do is look north-west to the Balkans or eastward to Syria and Iraq to see how dormant tensions can rapidly degenerate into chaos. After all, the Green Line hosts the longest ever UN Peace Keeping Mission on record and dates back to December 1963 when the original RoC lost its constitutional legitimacy. At that time, Cyprus’s numerically larger Greek community hijacked the island republic and coercively transformed the bi-nationally representative state into a homogenous Greek Cypriot entity. Cyprus’s Turks, representing 20 percent of the country’s population, were forced into segregated ghettos and isolated enclaves within less than three percent of the island’s territory – constantly under attack and at risk. This is when the once legitimate RoC genuinely lost its constitutional integrity and Cyprus’s formal division materialized. Between December 1963 and July 1974, Cyprus’s Greco-Turkish cleavage solidified into an irreversible point of contention between competing and conflicting ethno-national interests.
It is important to recall that Cyprus never constituted a homogenous entity or polity. The island’s Greeks and Turks lived intermingled with one another since the 1570s, but have always led separate lives. Inter-ethnic tension began in the 1820s with Greece’s anti-colonial independence movement. As the Ottoman system of governance was based on the constituent population’s millet (literally meaning nation, but effectively defined by religion), a singular national or state consciousness across the Ottoman Empire, including Cyprus, never developed. This meant that a “Cypriot” identity could not evolve as the local islanders aligned themselves with their larger, ethno-national members and bodies that were represented by Greece and Turkey (initially Ottoman Turkey and then Republican Turkey for Cyprus’s Turks). With the collapse of bi-national Cyprus in 1963, the term “Cypriot” evolved to only represent the island’s Greek community which sees itself as a part of a greater Hellenic consciousness and socio-political construct. These factors all contribute to why Cyprus is divided today. Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus’s divisions are further reinforced by the two people’s deeply entrenched mistrust (i.e. insecurity) of one another as the existence of Cyprus’s Turks was continuously at risk between December 1963 and the summer of 1974 with clashes and assaults resulting in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, whereas Turkey’s military operation of 1974 and the transformation of Cyprus into a de facto partitioned island forced Greek Cyprus to accept the direct presence of a significantly more powerful deterrent.
To be clear, Cyprus’s Greeks and Turks never aspired to create an independent, bi-national island republic. Prior to the establishment of the 1960 RoC, Cyprus’s Greeks demanded union with Greece and the island’s Turks responded with calls for partition. Cyprus’s Greeks even held a referendum in January 1950 on the matter; over 95 percent of the island’s Greeks voted in favor of uniting with Greece. The referendum was not accepted by Cyprus’s Turks, Britain (Cyprus’s colonial ruler at that time), and Turkey. The establishment of the 1960 bi-national island republic was henceforth an involuntary creation – a forced compromise due to the greater security stresses that prevailed as a consequence of the American – Soviet Cold War. The United States was not about to allow a local conflict between Greece and Turkey and Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities to compromise its containment strategy against the Soviet Union. Archbishop Makarios, an unapologetic and ardent unionist, was Greek Cyprus’s political and spiritual leader, and was forced to accept a bi-national, island republic under duress. British intelligence had accumulated a file that could have compromised Makarios’s leadership if he did not cooperate to enable the establishment of the original, bi-national RoC with Dr. Fazıl Küçük, his Turkish counterpart. The agreements created a neutral island republic whose independence and existence were guaranteed by the Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
The bi-national republic’s fate was doomed from conception as the system of community-based checks and balances were not fully implemented due to Greek Cyprus and Makarios’s reluctance; the 1960 bi-national, representative RoC became a failed state within four years. In this initial period of constitutional legitimacy, Makarios tried to force through 13 constitutional reforms that would negate the bi-national structure of the RoC’s government, including Turkish veto rights that were designed to maintain effective checks and balances and limit either side from usurping power. On 23 December 1963, a plot to neutralize Cyprus’s Turks was executed. Although Greek Cypriot paramilitaries, endorsed by Greek Cypriot parliamentarians, political parties, and blessed by Makarios himself were not successful, Cyprus’s Turks were forced out of government at gun-point, encroached into segregated ghettos and became isolated refugees within their homeland. For the next 10 years, whenever opportunities arose, Cyprus’s Turks were targeted. In response, the island Turks also reverted to arms under the united banner of the Turk Mukavemat Teşkilatı (TMT or Turkish Resistance Force) in order to defend Turkish ghettos, villages, and enclaves, and to deter further acts of aggression from Greek Cypriot paramilitaries and the subsequently illegally formed Greek Cypriot National Guard, including an officer corps that was directly drawn from Greece. Turkey supported Cyprus’s Turks and the TMT, while Greece supported Greek Cyprus and its forces; the key differentiating factor being that the RoC was now solely an illegitimate and unconstitutional Greek Cypriot construct and had the ability to purchase arms from global suppliers, whereas Turkish Cyprus and TMT had to utilize subversive means to acquire weapons and munitions from Turkey.
The Cyprus conflict is therefore part-and-parcel of broader Greco-Turkish competing state and ethno-national interests and should not be taken out of this context of competing Greek and Turkish interests that involves four states: Greece and Greek Cyprus to one side, and Turkey and Turkish Cyprus on the other. Similarly, the Cyprus conflict should not be approached through revisionist misinterpretations or social re-engineering conspiracy theories (e.g. Cyprus’s Turks are not really Turks, but Greek converts) intended to negate the existence of Cyprus’s Turks. Everyone should know that ethnicity is a social construct and we all learn to become who we are from an ethnic or civic perspective. Just as important, we have to recognize that no ethno-national or civic construct remains static; they all evolve and develop with time, including enrichment and strengthening through migrants and immigration. To argue contrary to this fact, would be ignorant and racist.
If interested parties want to contribute to greater stability across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean, then they need to give-up on the idea of forcing the creation of another bi-national, Greco-Turkish island republic. On an aside, as I was returning to the UK from France last week, while still in France and going through customs checks and UK immigration, there were a number of posters on the walls clearly publicizing that forced marriages in the UK were illegal. This is also the case in all Western and democratic societies, yet for some unexplainable reason the West is fixated on forcing Cyprus’s Greeks and Turks to unite unwillingly and solely on Greek Cyprus’s terms. The first RoC experiment was an abysmal failure and a second would suffer the same fate as the stakes are still very high; arguably higher, because of the prospect of offshore gas exploitation which has added a substantial financial variable into the equation. Another forced second marriage, when the two parties have never been able to reconcile and genuinely share power can only end horribly and cause greater instability and volatility across the numerous Greco-Turkish fault lines.
When we look back over almost 60 years of conflict in Cyprus, we see plenty of discord and minimal concurrence on matters of substance. A forced, bi-national island republic was established in 1960, only to fail following the Greek Cypriot leadership’s attempt to remove the bi-national, legally entrenched checks and balances through constitutional amendments and then to coercively appropriate power which delegitimized the regime. The Greek Cypriot House of Representatives even unanimously approved an Enosis resolution in 1967; this resolution has never been revoked and remains intact today. Throughout this period, there have been continuous failures and a consistent inability to reach a mutually acceptable solution that settles the Cyprus conflict. In summary, we have had:
- The Acheson Plan (1964) – Failed – Greece and Turkey almost go to war twice in the 1960s due to the ethnic conflict in Cyprus and the further militarization and deterioration of the situation on the island;
- Denktaş – Makarios (1967 – 1974, 1975 – 1977) – Failed – a High Level Agreement reached to pursue a settlement based on a bi-communal federal republic, but no substance or actual agreement achieved;
- Denktaş – Kyprianou (1977 – 1988) – Failed – a second High Level Agreement reached in May 1979, but no concurrence and agreement reached on a settlement due to opposing positions on both sides;
- Denktaş – Vassiliou (1998 – 1993) – Failed – Notwithstanding the Boutros-Ghali’s Set of Ideas (1992), no progress is made on a settlement;
- Denktaş – Clerides (1993 – 2003) – regular discussions held; Annan Plan process begins;
- Denktaş – Papadopoulos (2003 – 2004);
- Talat – Papadopoulos (2004 – 2008) – Annan Plan Failed;
- Talat – Christofias (2008 – 2010) – Regular engagements held to no avail – Failed;
- Eroğlu – Christofias (2010 – 2013);
- Eroğlu – Anastasiades (2013 – 2015) – Joint Declaration made for the basis of renewed UN negotiations; and
- Akıncı – Anastasiades (2015 – Present) – Failed, including Geneva Conference in January 2017 and Crons-Montana in July 2017.
Throughout this period, there have been politicians from all sides of the political spectrum in both Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus, yet nobody, party, or political movement was able to reach an acceptable agreement for one simple fact: the two sides have mutually opposing and exclusive views, expectations, and assumptions which cannot be bridged as one side contradicts the other and vice-versa. There is therefore only one sensible and prudent approach to achieve just and lasting solution: Taksim, that is, recognized partition. A second forced marriage can only produce another failed state-experiment and add greater instability to an already volatile Eastern Mediterranean. It is also critical to recognize that a Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus can easily spill over to engulf a conflict between Greece and Turkey. The risks are too high to jeopardize the peace achieved since the de facto partition of Cyprus into a Turkish north and a Greek south in 1974. To solidify and establish a permanent settlement that resolves the age-old Greco-Turkish conflict, we must therefore recognize the existence of two sovereign, equal, mutually independent and separate republics in Cyprus.