What Caused the Cyprus War? - Cold War DOCUMENTARY
When we last looked at Cyprus, it had just achieved a reluctant independence from the British, under a power-sharing agreement between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island. But peace was not in the cards and it only took a few years for intercommunal fighting to break out, eventually leading to an invasion and informal partition. The years between 1960 and 1974 are incredibly busy ones in Cypriot, and Greek and Turkish, history, so we are going to split this story up over a few episodes. I’m your host David and this week, we are looking at Cypriot history between 1960 and 1967. Grab your halloumi and buckle up…this is…The Cold War. So, before we talk about the events themselves, we need to try and understand the historical context of the region, which itself is quite complex. The Zurich-London Agreements that came
into effect in 1960 creating an independent Cyprus were the results of compromise between the visions of Enosis, the complete union of Cyprus with Greece, and Taksim, the partition of the island between Greece and Turkey. Under the agreement, the President of Cyprus was to be a Greek-Cypriot while the Vice-President would be a Turkish-Cypriot. In addition, a 70:30 ratio between Greeks and Turks was instituted for parliament and the civil service, while a 60:40 split was established for the military and the police. Parliament was elected separately by each community, as was the President and the Vice-President. For important matters national matters like taxation and defence, there needed to be separate majorities from each community, and the President and Vice-President could each veto the other. What could possibly go wrong, right? In terms of defense and security, Cyprus ceded territory in Akrotiri and Dhekelia as sovereign British soil which the Brits would use as military bases.
Greece and Turkey were to send contingents of 950 and 650 soldiers respectively to the island, and Greece, Turkey and Britain were made to be guarantor powers, who in the event of trouble could ‘intervene and restore order’. In an unofficial ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between Konstantinos Karamanlis, the Greek Prime-Minister, and Adnan Menderes, the Turkish Prime-Minister, they also agreed to pressure their local cousins to ban AKEL, the communist party in Cyprus. As a side note, the three minorities living on the island, the Maronites Christian community, the Armenian community and the Latin community, the descendants of Crusaders and Venetians from the Medieval Kingdom, received special status as ‘religious’ communities, but they had to officially choose between Greek and Turkish ‘ethnicity’. By the way, the Cypriot Romani community who were majority Muslim, did not even receive this meager recognition. Britain, satisfied with what it had gained from the Agreements, felt quite secure in their position. This feeling was shared by the United States, who felt they had achieved relative
balance between two key NATO partners who each shared border with nations of the Warsaw Pact. Both Menderes and Karamanlis, who were both very keen on negotiation, and very pro-NATO, were also happy with this arrangement. But, as the decade would go on, both Greece and Turkey would become increasingly more hawkish, both towards each other, but also to their Cypriot cousins. In Cyprus itself, things were more complicated. The Turkish Cypriot community felt a certain level of security due to its guaranteed participation in government, and Vice-President Fazil Kuchuk was keen to maintain that role. However, many nationalists like the lawyer and President of the Turkish Communal Chamber, the community-specific parliament dealing with cultural affairs, Rauf Denktash, were not happy and would continue to agitate for partition. In a somewhat hilarious
meeting between Denktash and the Turkish attaché to Cyprus, Emin Dirvana, Denktash raised a toast by hoping that Dirvana would leave as governor of Cyprus. In response Dirvana angrily chastised the Cypriot. Not exactly the response that Denktash hoped for but let’s remember that name for later as he becomes rather important to the story. In the Greek Cypriot community, things were no less complicated. The Greek Cypriots were, to a large extent, resentful that they had to share power with the Turkish Cypriots, seeing themselves as the rightful majority and therefore leaders of the island. George Grivas, who was a maximalist on the issue of Enosis, left the island after a deal,
while Archbishop Makarios III maintained his hegemony amongst the Greek Cypriots. While he remained a nationalist, Makarios also had an independent streak. Karamanlis had counselled Makarios to join NATO, but he instead joined the Non-Aligned Movement, a policy that brought him closer to the USSR and the Third World, as well as allowing him some geopolitical leeway.
The communist movement on the island, for its part, was against the Zurich-London Agreements, seeing them as imperialist in nature. However, under the leadership of Ezekias Papaioannou, they accepted independence and began working on some form of bicommunal cooperation. However, they had already begun to have rifts in 1958, as both EOKA and TMT hunted down and executed suspected traitors, mostly communists, usually on flimsy to non-existent charges. They therefore were trailing behind their respective nationalist elites in their ability to establish political legitimacy, and basically accepted politics on nationalist terms. This would hinder cooperation between the Turkish and Greek communist wings, however they would also cooperate and help each other in times of need. So, the period from 1960 to 1963 was peaceful, albeit tense. The two communities worked together in parliament sometimes,
like clamping down on fake dentists, but they would often have arguments about specific issues, including things like local taxation in 1962. According to Cypriot historian Niyazi Kizilyurek, the nationalist elites who dominated politics, began to cooperate with the Greek and Turkish contingents to train paramilitaries to continue their nationalist goals, while accusing each other of trying to undermine the independent Republic. Kucuk was distraught with Makarios, who often acted independently, including joining the Non-Aligned Movement without consultation. Now, the Greek Cypriot side, with the knowledge of Makarios, had conceived of a plan code–named ‘Akritas’ in which they would unilaterally abolish the constitution and the Treaty of Guarantees, and declare Enosis, merger with Greece. In the event of resistance from Turkish Cypriots,
they would enforce their will by force. Cypriot paramilitaries were gathering weapons at an alarming rate. This was accompanied by incidents of bombings of churches and mosques, as well as national monuments belonging to each community. Some of these attacks were actually false flag attacks, meant to scare the average Cypriot into sticking with their community rather than seeking bilateral cooperation. Some Cypriots, particularly moderate liberals
and communists, did agitate for co-existence, but faced violence and intimidation as a result. One gruesome case is that of Ayhan Hikmet and Ahmet Muzaffer Giirkan, two Turkish Cypriots who found out about paramilitaries run by Denktash. They presented the information to the Greek Cypriot Minister of the Interior, Polykarpos Yiorkadjis, who recorded their conversation. He then gave the recording to Denktash, who subsequently ordered the murder of the two men. This wouldn’t be the last time ultranationalists in Cyprus would cooperate, either willingly or accidentally. Eventually, in late 1963, Makarios proposed the so-called 13 Points, constitutional amendments he claimed would improve the governance of the island. These points were:
1. The right of veto of the President and the Vice-President to be abandoned. 2. The Vice-President of the Republic to deputise for the President of the Republic in case of his temporary absence or incapacity. 3. The Greek President of the House of Representatives and the Turkish Vice-President to be elected by the House and not separately. 4. The Vice-President of the House of Representatives to deputise for the President of the House in case of his temporary absence or incapacity.
5. The constitutional provisions regarding separate majorities for enactment of certain laws to be abolished. 6. Unified Municipalities to be established. 7. The administration of Justice to be unified. 8. The division of the Security Forces into Police and Gendarmerie to be abolished.
9. The numerical strength of the Security Forces and of the Defence Forces to be determined by a Law. 10. The proportion of the participation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the composition of the Public Service and the Forces of the Republic to be modified in proportion to their population numbers. 11. The number of the Members of the Public Service Commission to be reduced from ten to five.
12. All decisions of the Public Service Commission to be taken by simple majority. 13. The Greek Communal Chamber to be abolished. The fact that these were unilaterally proposed, and that they infringed upon what Turkish Cypriots saw as their autonomy in government, meant that Fazil Kucuk was very much angered. The Ministerial Council, full of former EOKA and TMT members, began to fight. Tensions began to boil over. One of the Turkish Cypriot Ministers also commented
in the last pre-violence meeting how the press was fanning the flames of nationalism. Things boiled over on the 21st of December 1963 when two Greek Cypriot police officers attempted to stop a car being used by Turkish Cypriots on the border between the Greek and Turkish quarters of Nicosia. The Turkish Cypriots refused to stop and the police fired upon the fleeing vehicle, killing one person. The Turkish Cypriot quarter in Nicosia immediately began rioting and paramilitaries began to mobilise. Fazil Kucuk announced that the Turkish Cypriots were leaving government, as they felt they were under an existential threat from the Greek Cypriots. We should note here that the Greek Cypriots, until recently, referred to these events as ‘Tourkoantarsia’ or Turkish Revolt. This
is highly inaccurate though as both communities mobilised their militias and during this phase of the conflict, more Turkish Cypriots died than Greek Cypriots. Now, both sides committed atrocities against each other with incidents of ethnic cleansing occurring in villages throughout the island, including the mass grave of Turkish Cypriots at Ayios Vasilios and at Omorfita near Nicosia. There, a certain Nikos Sampson committed atrocities against the Turkish Cypriot inhabitants of the island. This isn’t the last time we hear about Sampson either, as he becomes President after a coup in 1974. Over 25,000 Turkish Cypriots fled from mixed villages and into enclaves that composed about 7% of the island’s landmass. There, they were under military control by the TMT and
the Turkish contingent but they couldn’t leave as the Greek Cypriots had blockaded the enclaves. If you were a Turkish Cypriot communist though, your luck was doubly bad, as you were stuck with your ideological enemies inside that small space surrounded by your sectarian enemies. It is for this reason that many chose to flee abroad, largely to the UK. As an intriguing side note, Cypriot historian Nikos Moudouros notes on how every May 1st, Turkish Cypriot communists would dress up and do silent marches around these enclaves in a form of silent protest. I have it on good authority that they would then go to restaurants and order food because any Cypriot celebration, or protest, always includes food. The Greek Cypriots were now in full control of the official government of the island, something which they felt then gave them a monopoly over international representation.
The various Greek Cypriot militias, which interestingly did not include Grivas supporters, began to be incorporated into the Cypriot National Guard, a conscript army composed of Greek Cypriot and Greek officers, designed to isolate the Turkish Cypriots. These paramilitaries were run by well known Greek Cypriot politicians like Polykarpos Yiorkadjis and Vasos Lyssarides. Violence continued through 1964, with incidents which included the killing of three Greek Cypriot and Greek police officers after getting into the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Famagusta/Gazimagusa. This resulted in the Greek Cypriots blockading the Turkish enclaves. Grivas returned in July 1964 to lead the National Guard and one of his immediate concerns was cutting off the supply of military material coming from Turkey. While the Turkish
contingent had provided some material, heavy weapons came through the coastal enclave of Kokkina or Erenköy. The Greek Cypriots blockaded the coast and began to advance slowly into the enclave starting on August 8th 1964. On August 10th, the Turkish Air Force bombed Greek Cypriot positions, causing them to retreat. Now, Turkey would have most likely invaded at this point had it not been for two factors; the United States and the USSR. President Johnson
is said to have called the Turkish government and to have ordered them not to invade, while Nikita Khrushchev made proclamations in defence of Makarios, who he saw as a Non-Aligned partner. Soviet foreign policy towards Cyprus was friendly, due to the presence of AKEL and the island’s Non-Aligned status. However, they understood that Cyprus would never “go communist” as a result of rampant nationalism and the presence of three NATO armies on the island, so they were never keen to intervene heavily. But the issue remained that Greece, Turkey and the United States were terrified of both Makarios and AKEL, and Soviet proclamations only heightened the fear of ‘communist threats.’ In reality, the communists were effectively 2nd class citizens, only backing Makarios due to his pro-independence stance. For the Turkish Cypriots, Kokkina/Erenkoy is a tale of heroic defence, though many felt dismayed by what they saw as Turkey’s delay in providing assistance. Some of the defenders
would even go on to found leftist opposition parties, such as Alpay Durduran, the founder of the Communal Liberation Party, the TKP. On the Greek Cypriot side, AKEL which now was almost exclusively run by Greek Cypriots, had decided to back Makarios, just as the Turkish Cypriot communists in their enclaves had done with Kucuk. However, instead of backing complete alignment with Greece, they instead backed Makarios’ Non-Aligned foreign policy route as a means of having autonomy from what they saw as NATO imperialism. This seeming paradox of supporting nationalism while trying to maneuver is common for leftists throughout Cypriot history. Some voices within the party and their Turkish Cypriot comrades even openly agitated for peaceful coexistence. Two of these were the Greek Cypriot Kostas Misiaoulis and the Turkish Cypriot Dervish
Ali Kavazoglu. They were both agitators for peaceful coexistence, and Kavazoglu had even stayed in AKEL. This caused the ire of ultranationalists, which forced Kavazoglu into hiding. On 11th April 1965, as they were driving to a political meeting, they were ambushed by the TMT and shot to death in their car. As a result, they became an example of both bicommunal solidarity as well as communist solidarity. They are also emblematic of many anecdotal occasions where Greek and Turkish civilians would help each other escape persecution, such as in the mixed villages of Pyla. 1. So what was happening on across the water?
Well, in both Greece and Turkey, nationalism and the desire to defend who they saw as their respective provincial cousins, was on the rise. This resulted in momentum going against more moderate NATO-backed forces. This also extended to leftist parties, such as the Workers’ Party in Turkey, and the United Democratic Left in Greece. Denktash and Demirel 1960s Ironically, the deep states in both Greece and Turkey which were backed by NATO, were also the most militant. Denktash…remember him? He had fled to Turkey
in 1963 and had begun to further his connections to the Turkish deep state, particularly as the Justice Party of Suleyman Demirel became more entrenched. At the same time, just across the Aegean, the Centre Union run by Giorgos Papandreou, began to formulate the idea of the National Centre, through which Greece would make decisions and the Greek Cypriots would follow. This made Makarios unhappy, as he had been steadily moving towards a more independent, albeit-Greek Cypriot centred approach. This was despite his public support for Enosis. In 1964,
the Greek government secretly sent over an entire division of Greek troopers to the island, allegedly to defend against a Turkish invasion but it was also there to keep an eye on Makarios. The UN, which was asked to establish a peacekeeping force starting 1964, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus or UNFICYP, had made some proposals for peace, but with little progress to show for it. We should note that Kucuk had organised a temporary Turkish Cypriot General Committee to continue their political organisation within the enclaves, and used these to continue his operations. At the same time, as Greece and Turkey continued to send further troops
clandestinely to the island, their involvement which had begun in the 1950s began to increase. In 1965, with no end to the strife in sight, a U.S. diplomat…well actually none other than former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, attempted to form a plan that could satisfy everyone and keep both Greece and Turkey’s interests in mind. Initially, he proposed 25%-27% of Cyprus to be given to Turkey as a base, and for the rest of the island to be given to Greece. He later reduced it to a loaned 21% after the Finnish UN-Mediator Sakari Tuomioja said the Greek Cypriots would never accept a Turkish base.
Turkish Cypriots would be moved to the location of the bases or to highly autonomous cantons. Makarios categorically rejected the first Acheson plan, and Acheson later reduced it to 5% and for Greece to give its easternmost island of Kastellorizo to Turkey. This plan was rejected by Makarios even though Papandreou was somewhat receptive. Within the Greek Cypriot community,
the Acheson plan was considered a form of ‘Double Enosis’, or a covert way to partition the island. Kucuk was very much involved in matters as well on the Turkish side, but he had begun to lose some of his power base as Denktash posed himself as a leader of the Turkish Cypriots while he was in Turkey and urged Ankara to intervene. Grivas, though a maximalist in favour of full Enosis, actually considered the Acheson Plan to be a reasonable one. It might seem paradoxical
that Makarios was against the plan and Grivas in favour, but we must understand that the Archbishop represented the independence of the entire island while Grivas wanted union with Greece. In November 1967, Grivas decided to attack a Turkish Cypriot enclave on the south of the island, Kofinou, which he claimed would be used to block the highway between Limassol and Nicosia. This had happened previously on the highway in the north between Nicosia and Kyrenia/Girne with the help of Turkish troops. Grivas organised troops and raided Kofinou. This attack resulted in the deaths of 24 Turkish Cypriots, including unarmed civilians. Turkey was furious and openly threatened to invade the island. Makarios, who had been arguing over
tactics with Grivas since EOKA’s campaigns, and who had already changed his political course, ordered Grivas to leave Cyprus for Greece. In the meantime, the hidden Greek division had been discovered by the Greek Cypriots and it was also gradually being withdrawn. Grivas returned to a somewhat different Greece, the result of a NATO-backed coup in April of 1967 which saw the installation of a military junta. But as Grivas was leaving Cyprus, Denktash had returned to the island, despite a travel ban and was in hiding. He was discovered
by Greek Cypriots in October and arrested. He was imprisoned in Nicosia before being released and sent back to Turkey. He would return after the ban was lifted in 1968 taking up a spot as a Turkish Cypriot negotiator opposite Glafkos Clerides, a prominent moderate Greek Cypriot politician. So as you can see, Cyprus in 1967 was very different from 1960; still under an uneasy peace, but now with even more blood being spilled since the intercommunal violence of 1958. Geopolitical and domestic developments in both Greece and Turkey were also making the situation more tense. The island was still a long way from the explosions and invasion of 1974, but many more events would continue to take place until then. Nationalism and ideology combined with differing
visions within each of these factors combined with the geopolitical ambitions of both Greece and Turkey to destabilize a fragile situation. Western enablement of the worst elements of the respective deep states in Athens and Ankara would only make things worse. The communists on the island, from both communities, would continue to be second class citizens but it was the internal conflicts between nationalists in both communities that fanned the flames even further leading to the Coup and Invasion in 1974. More on that in a coming episode looking on Cyprus.
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