Passionate Purposes

Keith Kyle

  • Cyprus by Christopher Hitchens
    Quartet, 192 pp, £8.95, June 1984, ISBN 0 7043 2436 9
  • The Cyprus Dispute and the Birth of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by Necati Ertekun
    K. Rustem, Nicosia, PO Box 239, Lefkosa, via Mersin 10, Turkey, 507 pp, £12.50

There used to be a type of book known as the ‘Secret History’ of some international problem. With some passion, extensive citation of material, and a somewhat self-regarding manner, such books made it apparent that there was a great deal in the way of conspiracy and intrigue that ought to be told. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was a great practitioner of the art in the last century and in this short, sparkling and committed essay Christopher Hitchens writes in somewhat the same tradition. He is a radical British journalist living in the United States who is married to a Greek Cypriot and has an understanding of and love for this unfortunately-placed island. For him, enjoyment of the great beauty of Cyprus, Aphrodite’s putative birthplace, is spoiled by recollection of the ugly things done there during the last thirty years, and he writes in hot refutation of the message he sees in Nancy Crawshaw’s major study The Cyprus Revolt – that it was primarily the victim’s fault. What he calls the axis of his book is the summer of 1974 when a Turkish invasion transformed the demography of the island – a third of the 80 per cent Greek population of Cyprus abandoning their homes in the north and about half of the 18 per cent Turkish population heading from the south to the north. For this, Hitchens maintains, four countries – Britain, Greece, Turkey and the United States – are principally to blame.

The argument, though attractive, is somewhat artificial. The passionate purpose of the majority on Cyprus to become Greek citizens rather than independent Cypriots meant that Greece could scarcely be regarded as, in any true sense, an intruder. It was this demand that had held back political advance during British colonial rule; and Cyprus’s independence as a binational state with an immutable constitution was the price that had to be paid for the island’s geostrategic location: just off two major Turkish harbours and five hundred miles from mainland Greece. Any reasonable calculation by the Greek Cypriots of their own self-interest at the time of independence might have suggested the need to show in anything affecting the Turks an extra degree of circumspection. This they manifestly failed to do. Most of them regarded the affirmative action and quotas that were written into the constitution in favour of the Turkish community as preposterous and they chose a very early moment to propose their abolition. It is a tribute to Hitchens’s wish to be fair, while writing a polemic, that he substantially refutes his preface in the last few pages of his conclusion. ‘The Turks who were a minority but whose leaders talked as a majority were economic inferiors,’ he says: but Greek Cypriots in power begrudged resources to this under-privileged community. And they failed to take sufficient note of the fact that although the Turks are a minority in Cyprus, ‘they are a Turkish minority,’ which makes them ‘the heirs of a very strong and distinct national identity’. The Makarios Government, Hitchens points out, failed to govern Cyprus in ways that reflected these realities. He thinks the presence of a Greek ethnarch as head of state made it that much more difficult for the Turkish Cypriots to identify with the new order, and recalls that Archbishop Makarios had told him that his greatest error was in permitting Greek military forces to establish themselves permanently on the island.

It is true that Cyprus’s history has been heavily influenced by external circumstances. As the colonial power, Britain could if she had so wished have handed Cyprus over to Greece without effective Turkish opposition at the end of either of the world wars. In 1921 Count Sforza, the Italian Foreign Minister, offered to give up Rhodes if Britain would simultaneously yield Cyprus; and in 1945 the Foreign Office strongly recommended the transfer of Cyprus to strengthen the position of the Athens Government. The move was blocked by the Colonial Office and the Chiefs of Staff, leading Sir Oliver Harvey, Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, to comment two years later: ‘When the Greeks in desperation turn to the methods of the Irish, the Jews, the Hindus, and the Egyptians, then, I suspect, the British people will rise and compel the Government to evacuate.’

But by the time that happened the Turks were once more on the scene, partially summoned there by Sir Anthony Eden. Eden has been much blamed for ‘artificially setting up Turkey as an interested party’, in the words of Makarios. In a legal sense, this is true. But with Turkey an ally in Nato there would have been something artificial in Britain’s behaving as if the Turks had no interest in the fate of Cyprus and in the prospect of the Turkish one-fifth of the island’s population becoming a tiny minority inside Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, too, had had their illusions. As Dr Fazil Kucuk, their leading figure, had written in his newspaper Halkin Sesi in August 1954, ‘they have never taken the Greek campaign for enosis’ – union with Greece – ‘seriously because they believed that Great Britain’s decision not to quit the island was an unassailable answer to the whole question.’ If that answer were ever to be assailed, Dr Kucuk went on to say, Turkey would almost certainly take Cyprus over again. Later he modified this to half the island. The Eoka revolt against British rule was of course a Greek Cypriot affair. The Turkish Cypriots were available for service on the British side. When Britain, Greece and Turkey agreed to impose a settlement on the island, they had to require these two now hostile and mutually reproachful communities to operate a binational state.

The antecedents for such a system succeeding were not encouraging. The very ideas for what are sometimes called consociational systems of government – those that attach more importance to consensus between different communities than to undiluted democratic majorities – originated in the pre-1914 writings of Karl Renner and other Austro-Hungarian liberals who were anxious to design solutions to the nationalities problem that would somehow keep the Empire in one piece. Born in failure, the consociational idea remains alive because the problems presented by plural societies are very real ones. But apart from Switzerland (where the French-speaking portion of the population bears roughly the same proportion to the whole as do Turkish-speakers in Cyprus), the record is bleak. It is a sobering thought that when this issue was being discussed fifteen years or more ago, the Lebanon would be cited among the few instances of success. And in Northern Ireland a consociational system, although supported by all the main political parties in Britain and the Irish Republic, lasted in 1974 for months – and in this case it was only being tried in respect of a devolved, not a sovereign government.

A consociational form of government requires a continuation in perpetuity of mutual restraint, if it is to stand a chance of lasting, which in turn requires a vivid awareness of the unpleasantness of all likely alternatives. That the peoples of Cyprus – and especially the four-fifths Greek-speaking majority who had not wanted independence anyway but participation in Greece – were distinctly defective in this quality in the first few years of independence need not be altogether surprising. They were asked to operate a complex political mechanism which incorporated a degree of bargaining power, and indeed veto power, for the Turkish Cypriots which they never considered fair, and to do so with zero political training. They behaved in a way characteristic of an ex-colony wishing to throw off constitutional restraints, as Kenya was shortly to do. But it was extremely unfortunate nevertheless. The other party to independence, the Turkish Cypriots, considered the binational constitution a substantial concession on their part since it had involved waiving their previous claim to partition. That claim might have seemed to lack all credibility because of the absence of a territorial basis for it. The northern part of the island, apart from being the nearest to Turkey, was no more Turkish in population than the rest. Indeed one of the largest concentrations of Turkish-speaking people was around Paphos, in the south. Turkish villages and mixed Greek-and-Turkish villages were to be found all over the island and any clearcut division between Turks and Greeks would have to involve massive migrations which could only be brought about by force or the threat of it. But the British, in the person of the Colonial Secretary, had appeared to give the idea legitimacy by saying that if the Greek Cypriots were ever to enjoy self-determination the Turkish Cypriots should do the same. Then, in 1960, at the time of independence, Turkey as well as Britain and Greece was involved in signing the Treaty of Guarantee to uphold the state of affairs established and regulated by the Basic Articles of the constitution. If the Treaty were breached and common action proved impossible, any one of the parties was authorised to take individual action ‘with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the present Treaty’.

That could only mean that if the Greek Cypriots put too much pressure on the Turkish Cypriots there were circumstances in which the Turkish Army would consider itself entitled to come in. It would have been well for the Greek Cypriots if that thought had put more restraint on their behaviour in the first half of 1964, when repeated large-scale attacks were made on Turkish property and many Turks driven to take refuge in the ‘enclaves’ where they lived in penury for the next decade. What is also true is that the Turkish Cypriots soon abandoned any idea of asking for the binational constitution, in whose viability they had perhaps only half-believed, to be restored by the external guarantors, and published a plan for a federal system of government under which the Turkish Cypriot state would be in the north and get 37 per cent of the land: the massive transfer of populations required for this was calmly contemplated. The plan was pure fantasy unless the Turkish Army were to intervene, and the Turkish Army was supposed to intervene, if at all, solely to restore the binational constitution.

In fact, the Turkish Army did not march either in 1964 or when there was another crisis in 1967 (though the Turkish Air Force did, to a limited extent, intervene on both occasions), primarily because of heavy American pressure. This affected the climate of 1974, with Greeks expecting a repeat performance from the Americans and the Turks determined never to endure such rough treatment again.

It should be said of American policymakers in general that in their order of priorities the maintenance of the independence of Cyprus did not rank high, and this was especially so as long as Archbishop Makarios was in office. ‘I have sat across the table from that pious-looking replica of Jesus Christ and if you saw him with his beard shaved and a push-cart you would recall the old saying that there hasn’t been an honest thief since Barabbas’ was how Adlai Stevenson commended him to his friend Under-Secretary of State George Ball in 1964. The Americans wanted to eliminate any danger of war between two of their allies and to ensure that Cyprus should not fall into hands that were hostile to Nato. They were keenly aware of the strength of Akel, the Cyprus Communist Party, and of the Archbishop’s energetic cultivation of his standing among the non-aligned powers. Plans worked out by the former Secretary of State Dean Acheson would have provided for another bargain between Greeks and Turks over the heads of the two Cypriot communities, under which most of the island would have gone to Greece, with some protection or compensation for the Turkish community, in return for a Turkish sovereign base in the north-eastern peninsula. Despite his general air of distaste for American policies, Hitchens concedes that ‘the Acheson-Ball partition might, if implemented to the strict letter, have been less outrageously inconsistent with demography’ than the present position. Makarios ensured that in the end Greece turned down the idea. Hitchens latches onto an enigmatic passage in Ball’s memoirs indicating that he had at one time thought that General Grivas, the former Eoka commander against the British, would be easier to work with than Makarios, with the result that an ‘underground contact’ had been established with him. It is certainly a reference that was worth following up. But it is unclear whether Hitchens has done so. He strengthens Ball’s tantalising clue by having Grivas endorse the full Acheson plan, and goes so far as to say that Grivas ordered the bombardment of Turkish Cypriot villages because he ‘had to convince his followers that they were fighting for Hellenism instead of the backstairs deal that was being readied’. No jot of evidence is supplied other than the original quotation from Ball.

After the military coup in Greece which established the colonels in power it was quite widely speculated that one possible compensation for the loss of democracy might be that a settlement could more easily be made with Turkey. The idea certainly occurred to Colonel George Papadopoulos, which explains the abrupt Greek-Turkish conference which took place at Kesan and Alexandroupolis on the Thracian border in September 1967. The poorly planned attempt ended in fiasco, but this did not stop the junta from plotting for the elimination of Makarios in order to simplify any future arrangements. Papadopoulos told a Turkish newspaper in May 1971 that the two countries ‘should convince our communities’ – in Cyprus – ‘that we are not disposed to spoil the relations between us and quarrel for their sake,’ while in Cyprus the influence of the junta and the presence of a large Greek officer corps were used to undermine Makarios on the grounds that he had abandoned enosis for independence. As Hitchens points out, there was indeed the possibility of a shadowy alliance between the Greek junta, the Americans and the Turks for the removal of the Archbishop and his state and its partition between Greece and Turkey on some basis roughly similar to Acheson’s. He refers to a book on the subject by Constantine Panayotakos, who was successively the junta’s ambasador in Cyprus and in Washington, but beyond the intimation that it is ‘tremendously unattractive’ there is not much discussion of its content. It is possible that the junta’s policies were entirely nonsensical, but until greater access has been obtained to them it will not be possible to offer any convincing explanation of the course of events.

Colonel Papadopoulos was overthrown by the sinister but inane head of the Greek military police, Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides, in November 1973. It is still unclear what exactly Ioannides thought he was doing by energetically executing the plans that already existed to overthrow Makarios (and to kill him, though this was botched) on 15 July 1974. They seem to have been co-ordinated with no one, neither with the Americans nor with the Turks, and they led to the ultimate insanity of the elevation to the Presidency of Cyprus of Nicos Sampson, intended perhaps as the Seyss Inquhart of the new Anschluss. It was this series of events that unleashed the Turkish invasion, which in two instalments defeated the not very robust efforts of Henry Kissinger and James Callaghan to call a halt, and which had the effect of precipitating that vast shift in populations that was the requisite preliminary to the achievement of the Turkish Cypriot programme of 1964.

The Cyprus crisis of 1974 was not a very glorious chapter in the careers of either Kissinger or Callaghan; they each gave the impression of waiting for the other to move. Hitchens’s two main informants in Washington, Thomas Boyatt, who was at the time the Director of Cypriot Affairs at the Department of State, and Elias Demetracopoulos, who was an immensely energetic one-man lobby in favour of the democratic opposition to the Greek junta, are obviously highly indignant at Kissinger’s inertia when confronted with evidence that a Greek coup in Cyprus was in course of preparation. But it must be remembered that at this time the American Government was virtually in abeyance as the Nixon Presidency, destroyed by Watergate, drifted towards its end on 8 August. Hitchens prints several pages of ‘unresolved questions’ of a Watergate-like character that suggest connections between Nixon’s entourage and that of the junta, leaving the suggestion in the air that the American lack of official encouragement for the democratic opposition in Greece was not coincidental. But the relation of this to what happened to Cyprus is not pursued.

Callaghan’s role was a difficult one. After the Sampson ‘coup’ Turkey had invited Britain to take action under the Treaty of Guarantee and only when she declined had ordered in the Turkish Army. Greek Cypriots now say that if she had sent only a small force into Nicosia from the sovereign bases to uphold President Makarios, her troops would have encountered no resistance from the Greek National Guard. It is conceivable that a bold operation of this kind would have succeeded and thus pre-empted any Turkish landing. But it would have been a risky undertaking which could easily have gone wrong, with the result that Britain would once again have become involved in the tears and fury of Cypriot politics. If Britain had opted to intervene jointly with the Turks, the chances of a misrepresentation of British motives among the Greek Cypriots would have been infinite. There was a second occasion when Britain might have intervened. After a cease-fire and a conference at Geneva, when democratic regimes had been restored in Athens and in Nicosia, the Turks abruptly attacked again. Then a proposal was made that British troops should at least protect Famagusta, since the Turks would scarcely dare to attack them. Hitchens does not pursue that thought, for which there is a clue in Callaghan’s appearance before the House of Commons Select Committee on Cyprus in February 1976, eighteen months after the event. This Hitchens treats satirically. A passage which had already appeared in his The Road to Number Ten is reprinted: in it the occasions are listed one after the other in which the Foreign Secretary pleaded ignorance or incomplete grasp of what had happened in Cyprus. He misses the more interesting clue where the Foreign Secretary suggested that when he had allocated extra British troops from the sovereign bases to the United Nations forces he had expected them to be used to prevent the Turks from advancing as far as they did. ‘One of the difficulties of Security Council resolutions is as to how they are interpreted,’ Callaghan told the Select Committee. ‘I allocated [British forces to the UN] in good faith and hope.’ If the Turks had crossed an agreed line, ‘I would have expected them to resist.’ But the final cease-fire line, so close to that suggested by the Turkish Cypriot document of 1964, incorporated the whole of Famagusta in the north.

For the last decade, and especially since the Makarios-Denktash guidelines of 1977, negotiations have been based on the principle that Cyprus should be a federation of two parts. They have been concerned with where the boundary should run between the two parts, how the functions of government should be distributed between the federal centre and the provinces or states, and to what extent the two parts should (regardless of population) be treated as equals within the federal institutions. The Turkish Cypriot case on these and other matters is clearly set out in a volume, mainly of documents, compiled by the Foreign Minister of the unrecognised Government of North Cyprus, Necati Ertekun, who was the last Solicitor-General of colonial Cyprus. The book, though edited from the Turkish point of view, contains important material drawn from both sides.

The logic of the Turkish Cypriots’ case rests on the proposition that they are not a minority in Cyprus asking for minority rights, but a separate community with separate history and traditions bargaining at an equal level with another community with whom they had been (from 1955-59) in sharp conflict. They point out that in 1960 the new nation was defined as ‘an independent and sovereign republic, the President being Greek and the Vice-President being Turkish, elected by the Greek and Turkish communities respectively’, and that all the documents of the settlement, including the accompanying treaties, were signed separately by President Makarios and Vice-President Kucuk. Following the breakdown of December 1963, so the thesis goes, there was no more Republic and the two ‘co-founder partners’ resumed their former characters as separate entities. Appendix 49 is the key document in this volume. Drafted by Ertekun, it sets out with great ability the underlying argument of the Turkish Cypriot case. The case for equality, he says, arises from the fact that the number of states to be federated is only two, but this increases enormously the opportunities for deadlock (as was noted, for instance, when the subject of federation came up for discussion recently in the New Ireland Forum in Dublin). This in turn, argues Ertekun, makes it essential to reduce the number of functions to be carried out by the federal organs so as to reduce the occasions for deadlock. However, Ertekun is a believer in the virtues of ‘federation by evolution’.

The Greek Cypriots, in despair of being able otherwise ever to reunite the island, have in their current ‘framework proposals’ gone a considerable way to meet the Turkish Cypriot case, feeling all the same that 18 per cent is only able to speak to 80 per cent in this presumptuous way on account of the logic of the substantial garrison maintained by Turkey in the north. The Turkish Cypriots have further complicated the matter by proclaiming last November the independence of their own Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. This development, which occurred just before the book’s publication, has forced the last-minute addition of a new subtitle and the spatchcocking of an extra appendix into the middle. The claim is made, of course, that this new (and, except by Turkey, unrecognised) status of independence will actually make it easier to negotiate a federation (Turkish-style) because it will bring everyone in line with Turkish logic. When one sees in North Cyprus the apparatus and symbolism of the new state being assembled, however, the unity of this lovely little island seems to recede still further into the shimmering distance.