1960s >> 1964 >> no-723-november-1964

Cyprus Report

It is now almost a year since Cyprus’ Black Christmas erupted into the headlines. Since then, frequent murders and incidents of vandalism have kept the inter-communal mistrust simmering; a lasting settlement between the Greek and Turkish populations seems almost impossible.

The dispute between the Greek and Turkish factions centres round the island’s Constitution. This, in its first article, prohibits activities aimed at promoting the union of Cyprus with any other country or at the partition of the island. The Turks have insisted on the inviolability of the Constitution as their best hope of defeating enosis; by the same token, the Greeks have tried to amend it. In fact, in a population openly divided by national allegiances, the Constitution has proved unworkable.

Whichever side started the fighting last December, it is a fact that both had been spoiling for it for a long time. The Turkish underground (TMT) had secretly landed arms and EOKA was still in organised existence. When the flare-up came, nobody should have been surprised.

The Turks probably erred in walking out of the Cypriot government. Although in theory this made illegal any decision by the Greek side, in fact it left the Greeks to perform all the necessary state business, including sending a delegation to UNO. This in turn made the Turkish Cypriots appear to be an insurgent minority; the whole weight of the state forces was turned against them. The police force (minus its disaffected Turkish members), the Army and the Greek vigilante groups (transformed by some propaganda alchemy into “Security Forces”) were used in the fighting.

The Greeks also took over the organs of propaganda. Mr. Yiorgadjis took charge at the Ministry of Defence and in his other capacity of Minister of the Interior dictated policy to the press, radio and Public Information Office. The Turks erected their “Bayrak” radio station but this was quickly jammed. Revolting atrocities committed by the “legally established State Security Forces” lighting the “insurgent illegally armed Turks’’ were either not mentioned, or reported only when given prominent publicity in the foreign press. This is not to say that the Turks were innocent of committing atrocities, but the Greeks’ control of the official propaganda channels enabled them to distort the news in their own favour.

Television and radio appeals by Makarios and Küçük for an end to the fighting were ignored. The arrival of the British troops and the Red Cross workers brought a lull, but. the fighting soon broke out again on the news of more atrocities. A press campaign against the British troops (who were themselves guilty of acts of vandalism) was supported by demonstrations of school children shouting for the return of General Grivas. Such demonstrations, with their inculcation of nationalism into young minds, were one of the most frightening and disgusting aspects of the crisis. I saw the logical consequences of it all, as a small group of young Greeks watched with callous disregard the shot and still bleeding body of an unarmed Turkish driver, lying beside his NAAFI vehicle.

What is the background to the bloody struggle? in Cyprus the class structure has not yet hardened into the classical capitalist form. The majority of the subject part of the islands’ population are not proletariat, landless and propertyless in the means of production. Agriculture accounts for over half the labour force and in both Greek and Turkish communities there are many peasant farmers, often struggling in debt. In this situation official decisions on matters like the provision of irrigation become not only a subject of husbandry but also of politics, with many only too ready to suspect officialdom of partisan bias. This makes the nationalists’ exhortations more readily accepted.

The official Turkish attitude, according to the press, lay in conformity to the strict letter of the Constitution. But that was not the whole story. The Turkish Cypriot aim, based on their claims to be a separate community, is Taksim, or perhaps federation. The statement of their leaders Küçük and Denktash, backed by the voice of Ankara, leave no doubt on this point. The Turkish suffering at the hands of Greek terrorists created sympathy for their aims but should not persuade anyone that these are any better than the other so-called solutions to the Cyprus crisis.

The apparent Greek aim of a unitary and independent state can see nothing strange in a strategically important island of half a million people trying to steer its own course through the tortuous channels of big power line ups. American intervention now seems to indicate that, if enosis comes, it will do so on some sort of compromise. For sure, the Turkish desire for partition would cut across the complex Cypriot landholding system, since most of the land, livestock and industry is in Greek hands.

The Greeks, who make up 80 per cent, of Cyprus’ population, say that they will not be thwarted. They make much play of what they call ancient Greek democracy, overlooking the fact that 80 per cent. of that society’s population—the chattel slaves—were ruled by the other 20 per cent. Enosis remains the real object of the Greek struggle; their spokesmen have often referred to the London and Zurich agreements as stepping stones to this end. The demands for enosis were noticeably absent from Cypriot government functions after the Spring of 1963, which led some people to conclude that the idea had been shelved. Now all that is changed.

The Greek faction in Cyprus is now faced with a considerable problem, of its own making. Legalising the bands of gunmen in the “Security Force” meant condoning the private armies of men like Nicos Samson. These men had wielded considerable power, and caused the Greek Cypriot leaders much embarrassment. The Conscription Bill passed in June, ostensibly “to defend the country from aggression from without, or subversion . . .  was in fact designed to regularise the State Forces and to disarm and outlaw the volunteers.” In this way, apprehensive Greek ministers hoped to neutralise the power of the private armies.

Inevitably, the businessmen of Cyprus are concerned to procure political and economic stability. Some have suffered heavy financial losses and in private will admit indifference to enosis. For them, self determination is one thing, enosis another. Characteristically, the Cyprus Employers Consultative Association, during the crisis, called on all employers and workers to return to work, as the best way of solving the problem.

If only because it is numerically strong, and stands an outside chance of coming to power, we should mention the Communist Party. Almost exclusively Greek, and not having studied such foreign vote-catching plans as Home Rule for Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, etc., it regards the Turkish advocacy of partition as subversive. As usual, the Communists are hunting with the hounds while also being prepared to run with the hare.

But hypocrisy does not end with the Communist Party. With the return of Grivas—now probably on his way back to respectability—and the apparent United States support for enosis, things seem to be going Athens’ way. Behind the cloak of legal arguments, and in the name of self-determination, enosis, federation, taksim and the rest, thousands of people have been killed, have been made homeless, have suffered in a multitude of ways.

That is not the end of the tragedy. The young man next door who takes up a gun in the Cyprus struggle is not a barbarian. He exists, in one way or another, all over the world. Ignorant as yet of the real nature of the inhuman society of sovereign states, political and economic blocs, nationalism and the rest, be blindly follows his leader, if necessary to kill and be killed.

In that fact, and in no other, is to be found the ultimate cause of the suffering in Cyprus and in the rest of the world.

W. Robertson