Vol. 30 No. 10 · 22 May 2008

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The Divisions of Cyprus

Perry Anderson’s ‘The Divisions of Cyprus’ is a skilful synthesis, but his account should be corrected on a number of points (LRB, 24 April). To say that Cyprus ‘remained unaffected by the national awakening that produced’ Greek independence is wide of the mark. In 1821, on a charge of conspiring with the insurgents in Greece, the Ottomans hanged Archbishop Kyprianos, beheaded his archdeacon and three bishops, then proceeded to indulge in some ‘collateral damage’; General Thomas Gordon wrote a few years later that the whole of Cyprus was subjected to rape and bloodshed. By the 1890s, the Colonial Office had given up trying to ignore demands for union with Greece: ‘It is only rational,’ Winston Churchill said in 1907, ‘that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what can be called their mother country as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished.’

Indeed, during the Greek Civil War of 1947-49, Britain was considering uniting Cyprus and Greece to strengthen Greece in the fight against Communism. A senior under-secretary in the Foreign Office, Oliver Harvey, wrote in 1947:

The action of HM Government in India and Burma has enormously impressed opinion throughout the world. Our proposed evacuation policy in Palestine and the possibility that we may propose independence for Cyrenaica, when coupled with what we have done in India and Burma, makes our continued presence in Cyprus indefensible.

I understand that Cyprus has been rejected by the Chiefs of Staff as unsuitable for any long-term strategic purpose … It can hardly be questioned that Greece, who has governed Crete effectively, and has now been given the Dodecanese, can equally well govern Cyprus (there is a small Turkish minority there whose rights would be secured) … it would be the greatest possible contribution to Greek morale and British influence … I would strongly advocate that consideration be given to the very early cession of Cyprus to Greece, before the Cypriot campaign is embittered by violence and before cession can be represented as yielding to force.

Another senior official responded: ‘In more normal circumstances, the early cession of Cyprus to Greece might well be a wise policy, justified by considerations not only of justice, but also of expediency. But present circumstances are not normal.’ The FO remained intransigent, despite Harvey’s arguments (and those of the British ambassador in Athens), and, while the Civil War grew increasingly bitter, Britain opted for confrontation in Cyprus, the essential reason being its fear of Russian power in the Eastern Mediterranean, which dated from the end of the 1700s.

Like Robert Holland in Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-59, Anderson refers only fleetingly to the 1955 three-power conference in London (in which Turkey should not have been allowed to participate, as is evident from Article 16 of the Treaty of Lausanne), whose purpose the permanent under-secretary at the FO, Ivone Kirkpatrick, made abundantly clear:

I have always been attracted by the idea of a three-power conference, simply because I believe that it would seriously embarrass the Greek Government. And if any such conference were held, I should not produce any British plan or proposal until a Greek-Turkish deadlock has been defined.

The foreign secretary, Harold Macmillan, told the cabinet: ‘Throughout the negotiations our aim would be to bring the Greeks up against the Turkish refusal to accept Enosis and so condition them to accept a solution which would leave sovereignty in our hands.’ This was ‘divide and rule’ at its crudest.

Turning to the role of the US after Cyprus gained independence in 1960, Anderson writes that Turkey’s threats to invade the island in 1964 were quashed by a blunt message from President Johnson. In fact what the documents show is that Britain and the US would not have resisted a Turkish invasion; it was a Russian threat to intervene that caused the US to change its mind. The following extract from a telegram from the British Embassy in Washington to the FO in July 1964 reveals the true picture:

The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion … We could not agree to UNFICYP [UN forces in Cyprus] being used for the purpose of repelling external invasion, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFICYP are to withdraw into the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.

Ten years later, when Makarios was overthrown by the Greek Colonels, there were no comparable threats from the Soviet Union, which had little reason to feel friendly towards the junta in Athens, the anglophile acting president in Nicosia, Glafkos Clerides, or the subsequent Karamanlis government in Greece, and the Turkish invasion went ahead unimpeded.

So far as the British part in the 1974 crisis goes, I recently discovered that Callaghan (aided and abetted by three FO minders) lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about his foreknowledge of the invasion, denying that he knew of any Turkish plans to invade. Yet shortly before the Turkish landing the Joint Intelligence Committee had already informed Callaghan’s private secretary that Turkey had plans to invade Cyprus within a few days. Then, while the Turkish army continued to advance (in defiance of the ceasefire), and during Callaghan’s frenetic talks with Greek and Turkish leaders in Geneva, the assistant chief of defence staff informed Callaghan of the ‘likely Turkish plans’ to take over more than one third of the island, even specifying the areas to be taken.

How far was British policy influenced by the Sovereign Base Areas and the 1960 treaties that established the semi-independent Republic of Cyprus? Britain’s position on the bases was much more equivocal than comes across in Anderson’s article. In the late 1960s, the FO and the Law Lords were admitting that the Treaty of Guarantee was completely overridden by Article 103 of the UN Charter and contrary to Article 2.4. At various points, indeed, Britain tried to withdraw from its bases altogether. In 1975, an FO paper stated: ‘Although our preferred policy is for a complete British military withdrawal from Cyprus, we recognise that we cannot do so at present given the global importance of working closely with the Americans.’ The same paper gave prominence to Kissinger’s view that Britain must ‘hang onto this square of the world chequerboard’. Subsequent papers reveal that Britain continued, at the highest levels, to try to give up its bases but always succumbed to US pressure not to do so. There was even an idea that the US might finance the bases.

Finally, the Annan Plan. Anderson might have noted that not only were the illegal Turkish settlers allowed to vote on it: so were the occupying troops of the Turkish army. Still more farcically, the full plan was only released onto the UN website one minute before midnight on the day of the referendum. The plan was simply another ploy to keep Cyprus out of mainstream EU security structures: hence the desperation during the fraught negotiation process to have the Greek and Turkish governments sign a ‘foundation agreement’ resuscitating the failed 1960 treaties, and obliging the Greek and Cypriot governments to support Turkey’s accession to the EU. Britain, and its foreign policy master, the United States, wish to use Cyprus to hinder Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, just as Britain has always done.

William Mallinson
Ionian University, Corfu

Perry Anderson’s ‘The Divisions of Cyprus’ contained many perceptive comments and it was valuable to have such a succinct overview of the modern history of, and recent efforts to, resolve the Cyprus dispute, now, happily, about to be resumed. There was, however, a good deal of invective, some of it distinctly overdone. To describe Alvaro De Soto, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Cyprus, who put together the Annan Plan (yes, he did it, not me), as a ‘dim Peruvian functionary’, without even referring to his role as a successful mediator in the resolution of the Civil War in El Salvador and his many years of distinguished service as a UN official, is plain ungracious. To refer to Didier Pfirter, De Soto’s legal adviser, as ‘an obscure scrivener from the crannies of Swiss diplomacy’, while in the best tradition of Graham Greene’s Harry Lime, is to overlook his remarkable skill in drafting a large number of complex legal instruments which, for the first time in the long history of the Cyprus dispute, comprised a comprehensive basis for a settlement, albeit one then rejected in the Greek Cypriot referendum. And to insult Günther Verheugen as a ‘German Widmerpool’, when he pulled off the most significant and transformational enlargement in the European Union’s history, is trivial. I will not dwell on the somewhat less virulent barbs directed towards me except to say that, if Perry Anderson had read my memoir on Cyprus more carefully, he would have seen that I explicitly criticised Britain’s performance in the colonial and post-colonial period; I do not therefore consider it justified to call me a ‘lineal successor’ of those who directed British policy in those days.

More seriously, ‘The Divisions of Cyprus’ takes an exceedingly partisan (Greek Cypriot) view of recent events. It is thus another in a long tradition whereby non-Cypriot academic commentators on the Cyprus Problem seem to become even more parti pris than the Cypriots themselves. The fact that Anderson’s two heroes are Theo Pangalos and Tassos Papadopoulos, two men who, together with Rauf Denktash, probably did more than anyone else in recent times to prevent negotiation of a solution to the Cyprus Problem is surely a tell-tale indicator.

What is needed now, in the somewhat more promising atmosphere created by the election of a new Greek Cypriot president and the resumption of direct contact between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, is to give the protagonists the time and space to work together on a solution, to get away from the zero-sum mentality which regards any move to help one side as necessarily detrimental to the other, and for outsiders, including academic commentators, to exercise the greatest care and reticence when it comes to describing and characterising the recent past.

David Hannay
London W4

Perry Anderson writes that the British government manipulated Turkish fears in the 1950s to produce ‘the intractable reality of a community that felt itself entitled as of right to a disproportionate share of power on the island, yet continually lived on its nerves as if under imminent siege’. He goes on to say that the constitution handed to Cyprus in 1960 ‘had inflated the Turkish position in the state far beyond what a minority of its size could in normal circumstances have claimed’. While the intractable reality may be fairly described in this way, it did not originate from British manipulation of Turkish fears nor did it derive from the provisions of the 1960 constitution. The sense of entitlement in the Turkish Cypriot community developed much earlier. The Turks ruled Cyprus for three centuries and they have never become accustomed to being treated as a minority. In 1882, for example, shortly after the British took over the administration of the island they proposed the creation of a legislative council based on proportional representation, comprising nine Greeks and three Turks. (Cyprus was not ‘acquired by Britain from the Ottoman Empire’ in 1878, as Anderson claims: Turkey maintained sovereignty over the island until Britain annexed Cyprus in 1914.) The Turks protested because they saw it as undermining their rightful position and status as former rulers. ‘The project of proportional representation in the Legislative Council is in every respect detrimental to our rights and destructive of the safety we enjoy,’ they said.

To this day Turkish Cypriots bridle at the use of the term ‘minority group’. Their refusal to be treated as such is anchored in geography and politics. Turkey is forty miles away and is the stronger and more strategically valued member of Nato. The true intractable reality is that the Turkish Cypriots are a minority on the island but belong to a majority group in the region, while the Greek Cypriots are a majority on the island but a minority in the region. This situation gives rise to fears in both communities.

Reed Coughlan
State University of New York, Utica

Perry Anderson castigates Britain somewhat more than the US. This is unfair. Since the end of the Second World War, especially where Eastern Mediterranean policies were concerned, Britain was (and remains) effectively a dependent colony of the US imperium. It is true that in early 1974 there was a small window of opportunity when Nixon was engulfed by Watergate. A courageous and decisive prime minister could have prevented the Turkish invasion: it was Wilson’s threat to send in jet aircraft superior to anything the Turks possessed that prevented them occupying Nicosia airport. But Callaghan’s love-in with Kissinger didn’t help (Callaghan was then foreign secretary), and Wilson also had a second general election coming up and felt, probably wrongly, that military entanglement abroad was not the way to win it. The behaviour of the UN in consenting to imperial realpolitik in the Annan Plan was far more scandalous than anything the UK ever failed to do.

The plans of Hannay and the US collapsed at Burgenstock because of a diplomatic faux pas. The Russian delegation’s humiliation – they were banished to a small hotel outside the secure zone while the Americans lived it up by pretending to be part of the British delegation – was partly responsible for the Russian veto that has now resulted in the Cypriot government having both unfettered membership of the EU and a veto over Turkish entry to it. With canny socialists like Christofias and Talat in power, that should be enough to ensure a deal with Ankara one day.

Christopher Price
London SE21

Who’s Hectoring Now?

Audiotapes of the interviews with Leonid Saltykov, carried out by Memorial in Perm, do not show any evidence of the hectoring that Lewis Siegelbaum imputes from extracts of the transcripts available on orlandofiges.com (LRB, 10 April). Nor is there any evidence that Saltykov was interrupted or that the transcript was edited to cut out information that does not fit a particular political viewpoint, as Siegelbaum also suggests. When it is indicated on the transcripts that ‘no substantive information’ was forthcoming, it simply means that the interviewee ceased to talk about the subject of the interview, talked ‘off-microphone’, made some trivial remark, mumbled, coughed etc.

Siegelbaum voluntarily or involuntarily misinforms your readers about the circumstances of the project Figes carried out with the Memorial Society. He applauds Memorial for the ‘self-sacrificing public deed’ of interviewing survivors of the Stalinist regime but attacks Figes for ‘self-promotion’ in posting these interviews on his website. We are grateful for these words, as we have been engaged in this work for many years, but we do not agree with his criticism of Figes. Siegelbaum’s suggestion is that Figes merely used materials collected by Memorial. In fact, Figes initiated the project, put the research on a scientific basis, organised training for interviews and oversaw the collection of the family archives. We feel that he has performed a valuable public service by making these materials available on his website, and merits the gratitude of repression victims and Memorial researchers.

Robert Latypov and Aleksander Kalikh
Memorial Society, Perm

I will leave it to readers of my review to determine whether the portions of the transcript of Saltykov’s interview that it cited contain evidence of hectoring. I also wrote of ‘incomprehension’ on the part of that particular interviewer, a characterisation that I would now extend to Robert Latypov and Aleksander Kalikh. Nobody could deny that Memorial has honourably represented the victims of repression in the former Soviet Union. But one of my main contentions was that not everyone whom Memorial has so identified would wish to be seen as a victim. Here I would refer readers to Jochen Hellbeck’s Revolution on My Mind (2006), a sensitive and sympathetic reading of Soviet citizens’ diaries from the Stalin era that Orlando Figes breezily dismisses. In the case of Saltykov too much of his self-identity was bound up with having been a hard and successful worker to accept that he was victimised. Neither the interviewer from Memorial nor Figes seems able to comprehend this.

I did not attribute – or even suggest – a sinister motive to the indication on the transcripts that ‘no substantive information’ was forthcoming, but rather tried to point out that oral history is tricky because what the interviewer thinks is the subject of the interview may not coincide with what the interviewee understands it to be. Likewise, what may seem a ‘trivial remark’ to the interviewer might be terribly important to the interviewee and vice versa. Such differences of intention and comprehension make it difficult sometimes to determine exactly whose story is being told. And all this is aside from the point that what someone says in an interview about events sixty or seventy years in the past needs to be treated with the greatest of caution.

Finally, in response to Alyona Kozlova (Letters, 24 April), whose letter now reappears, barely amended, as Lapytov and Kalikh’s second paragraph, I never questioned whether Orlando Figes initiated the project, organised the interviews and otherwise did what historians typically do when engaged in research for their books. What struck me as odd was the decision to display the interview transcripts on his personal website along with encomia culled from reviews of The Whisperers and advertisements for his other books, rather than storing the transcripts (which, after all, are in Russian) on Memorial’s website and directing interested readers there. But the alacrity with which Memorial’s staff has come to Figes’s defence is touching.

Lewis Siegelbaum
Wassenaar, The Netherlands

Language of Occupation

Yael Lotan’s trifling linguistic comment (Letters, 10 April) on Yonatan Mendel’s article unwittingly reaffirms Mendel’s point: namely, that the Israeli media and military seek to remould the collective consciousness of the Israeli public (as well as international opinion) by using terminology that masks the reality of the occupation and discounts the Palestinian narrative.

Close examination of Lotan’s remark, which was presumably intended to undermine Mendel’s cogent analysis, does not stand up to scrutiny. The authoritative Hebrew dictionary by Reuben Alcalay confirms Mendel’s assertion that the Hebrew military term for ‘siege’, or ‘encirclement’, kitor, originates from the noun keter (‘crown’). However, more significant is Mendel’s argument that in order to obscure the true meaning of ‘occupation’ the word has disappeared altogether from the current vocabulary of the Israeli media and army. Mendel makes the point that in the past the Occupied Territories were referred to as the Administered Territories, but nowadays they are simply called the Territories: only the Israeli left still refers to them as the Occupied Territories.

The Jewish right in Israel and in the diaspora employs the term ‘disputed territories’, or the more extreme term ‘liberated territories’. But even the world ‘occupied’ in Hebrew has a heroic connotation originating from the biblical term kibbush, meaning ‘conquest’. Indeed, the Zionist founders of the state and the first Israeli premier, David Ben-Gurion, employed the term ‘the conquest of the desert’ (kibbush hashemama), implying that the land of Israel was a barren and unpopulated desert before it was rehabilitated ‘through projects of reclamation, settlements etc’, as the Zionism and Israel Information Centre puts it in its online dictionary.

Ruth Tenne
London NW6

What Really Happened

Roger James would have us believe that Jesus needed an ass for his final entry into Jerusalem because of his medical condition (Letters, 10 April). I think he needed an ass because of Zechariah 9.9: ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.’ As has been remarked before, the New Testament is latent in the language of the Old.

Alan Rudrum
Galiano Island, Canada


Michael Dobson’s assertion that ‘Cordelia is called Cordelia after the cord that will choke her’ is striking, not least for the darkly rich associations it brings to ‘those cords’ (familial bonds) bitten by ‘rats’, that Kent mentions in the Quarto King Lear of 1608, and which were subsequently beatified as ‘the holy cords’ in the 1623 Folio (LRB, 8 May). May Cordelia’s name not have carried a more immediately auspicious burden? Her invasion of England, at the head of a French army, is a famously ticklish piece of plotting, but one that I had always assumed was tempered by the implicit patriotism of her name. Richard I, Coeur de Lion, is repeatedly spelled ‘Cordelion’ throughout the Folio-only texts of King John and Henry VI Part 1, as it is in Henslowe’s Diary for the summer of 1598 (‘a boocke called the funerall of Richard cordelion’). Might it not be the case that Cordelia is called Cordelia after Richard I? Leonine or not, hearts, and their breaking, feature repeatedly through the play. It is ‘as a stranger to my heart and me’ that Lear banishes his daughter in Act One, ‘as here I give/Her father’s heart from her’; and at their reunion, we hear, Cordelia – or Coeur-de-Lear? – ‘heaved the name of “father"/ Pantingly forth as if it press’d her heart’.

Nick de Somogyi

Awful Sketches

Peter Campbell discusses Andrew Saint’s study of the rivalry between the architect and the engineer but doesn’t mention the most important difference in their contributions to the design process (LRB, 10 April). The architect always has the finished product in mind, while the engineer is concerned with the process of construction. When I worked as an architect on the Pavilion of the Future for the Seville Expo in 1992, architects and engineers started out together. We, as architects, took great care with our pencil sketches, adding colour when appropriate, as we struggled to define the aspect of the building, while the engineer, the late Peter Rice, scribbled awful sketches with a biro on a school notebook.

Our objective was to design a building with only one façade and a lean-to roof, for climatic reasons. Peter, who believed that the future of structural design lay in using computers to calculate the performance of traditional materials, pointed out that because stone sustains compressive forces better than reinforced concrete, it made possible the use of smaller, more delicate sections. This reminded us of the thin stone tracery of the windows in the great Gothic cathedrals, which together formed what we would today call a curtain wall of glass. After much scribbling, Peter came up with the notion of a bicycle wheel transmitting tensile forces through its spokes and proposed suspending the lean-to roof beneath the arch to give it stability; he then added a triangular steel tube structure to resist wind pressure. His approach was different from ours, but there was no rivalry.

Dave MacKay


If further proof were needed that Marxist men remain incorrigibly pre-feminist, T.J. Clark has provided it with his remark that the vagina is the ‘perfect figure’ of something ‘within our reach, constantly waiting to be touched, to be handled and entered’ (LRB, 24 April) – no doubt, as the title suggests, with a ‘special motion of the hand’.

Leslie Jackson

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