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Turkey, Greece and the Tragedy of Cyprus

My colleague, Alex Christoforou, has written a fine piece drawing attention to the fact that today is the anniversary of one of modern Europe’s tragedies, which however the governments and media of the West dislike being reminded of.  That is the Turkish invasion and subsequent partition of Cyprus.

This is for me a particularly distressing episode, not just because as a Greek I share in the tragedy of the Greek people of Cyprus who were the victims of the invasion but because as a Greek I feel guilt and shame for the role my country – Greece – played in the affair.

The pretext for the Turkish invasion (though not the real reason) was a fascist military coup that took place in Cyprus and which overthrew the democratically and constitutionally elected government of Cyprus’s President, Archbishop Makarios.

This coup did not have its origins in Cyprus itself.  Instead it was ordered from abroad by Dimitrios Ioannides, leader of the fascist military government of Greece, which had seized power in Greece in 1967 by way of a US backed coup.  By 1974 the fascist government in Greece sensed power was slipping away as it faced popular protests in Greece and was itself becoming subject to internal divisions and infighting.  As a way to bolster its support in Greece it used certain fascist Greek army officers seconded to the Cypriot army to carry out a coup in Cyprus with the eventual aim of uniting Cyprus to Greece.

It is important to stress that the coup in Cyprus was only a pretext for the Turkish invasion.  The coup had almost no support in Cyprus and was overwhelmingly opposed by the Cypriot people.  Anyone who knows Cyprus and its people at all well knows that they are not the sort of people to take a coup lying down.  For historic and cultural reasons they are also highly organised and in 1974 were also well-armed.  In the 1950s they fought a highly effective insurgency against the British army.  It would have been just a matter of days or weeks at most before the coup appointed government would have faced overwhelming resistance and would have collapsed.

This was a fact fully known by all the outside powers that mattered: the US, the UK (the former colonial power which to this day still has bases on the island) and Turkey.  In fact the only government that did not understand it was the extremely stupid and ill-informed fascist government in Greece.

The coup nonetheless provided Turkey with the perfect pretext to invade Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority on the island, as it duly did. 

The sequel was that the Turkish army occupied 40% of the island (what was historically the richest and most fertile part, closest to Turkey, in the island’s north), the Greek population was driven from there, and a Turkish controlled statelet was created there, with Cyprus for the first time in its long history partitioned on ethnic and sectarian lines.  Alex Christoforou in his article sets out the details.  The Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and the resulting division of the island continues to this day, making Cyprus Europe’s oldest frozen conflict, though one that the Western powers would prefer we all forget.

As for Greece, the debacle in Cyprus caused the collapse of the fascist government there and led to the restoration of democracy.  In other words the price of restoring democracy in Greece was paid for in blood and ruin by the people of Cyprus.  As a 13 year old exile in London I followed closely all these events, filled with guilt and shame.

I would make one final observation.  In 1974 Turkey, a US friend and NATO ally, did in Cyprus what Russia is falsely accused of doing in eastern Ukraine: invade another country on the pretext of protecting people of its own nationality supposedly threatened by an ultra-nationalist government brought to power through an unconstitutional coup.

Turkey has however never faced much criticism in the West for what it did in Cyprus in 1974.  Of course any idea of any sustained Western boycotts or sanctions of Turkey because of its invasion of Cyprus were and are out of the question.  Turkey continued to be the US’s friend and NATO ally after the invasion took place, and remains so – at least in theory – to this day.  By contrast the Western campaign against Russia has been hysterical and relentless. 

No one need look for any logic or consistency here.  Nor, I suspect, will that absence of logic or consistency surprise anyone.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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