The Cyprus Question:
The History Explained – Part 1.
Compiled by Chris Green
The United Nations have recently resolved to extend the deployment of peacekeeping forces for a further 6-month period on the island of Cyprus, until January 30th 2014. There is plenty of precedent to reinforce the prediction that a further extension may be granted, which would make this a deployment of half a century, a record for such utilisation of UN resources. A peaceful status quo has existed on Cyprus since the completion of Operation Attila, the Turkish Intervention, on August 18th 1974, thanks entirely to the continuance of the presence of up to 40,000 Turkish troops (TSK) rather than those of the UN.
Many outside observers have been led to believe, over the ensuing decades, that the ‘Cyprus Problem’ was created by a sudden ‘invasion’ by Turkey with neither warning nor justification. This article marks the first of a six-episode series of the political history of Cyprus, dating from the early part of the 19th century, until more recent times. It is designed to enlighten those on all sides of the divide in as an objective a form as is possible. Most accounts dealing with matters to do with Cyprus are heavily laden with Greek propaganda. This series is free from polemic views as such, but it does allow the reader to see things from a different perspective.
The simplest definition of the Cyprus conflict is that there are two distinct communities living on the island, namely, the Turkish and the Greek Cypriot communities, both with deep historical roots directly involving their respective motherlands, Turkey and Greece. The conflict emanates from the Greek and Greek-Cypriot aspirations and acts aiming for the annexation of the island to Greece after the annihilation of the Turkish-Cypriot community. The Turks are, naturally, determined to prevent such treatment of ethnic Turks and the annexation of the island to Greece.
In this context, the Cyprus problem is intimately connected with the so-called Greek “great idea” (megali), aiming at recreating the Byzantine Empire. As such, the Cyprus problem has its roots in the Greek rebellion in Morea against the Ottoman Government in 1821. In those days a certain Dimitrios Ipatros worked with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Kiprianos, enrolling him as a member of the Greek rebel organization Haeteria Philiki, obtaining monetary and moral support for the rebellion.
Whilst Turkey was confronted by the Greek rebellion, assistance was requested from the autonomy-seeking Governor of Egypt, Mohamed Ali of Kavala, and Cyprus was left under his control – to be retaken by the Sublime Port in 1840. Later, the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-78 resulted in an Ottoman disaster, and in the Berlin Congress of 1878. The administration of Cyprus was left to Great Britain to be used as a base, on condition that Great Britain would cooperate with the Ottoman Empire if Russia attacked once again.
The document relevant to the British occupation of the island was the Cyprus Convention of 1st July 1878, explicitly stating that the British presence was provisional, because in an annex to the said Convention it was stipulated that, if Russia restored to Turkey the Turkish provinces of Kars, Ardahan and the other Russian conquests in Eastern Anatolia made during the 1877-78 war, then Cyprus would also be evacuated by Britain and the Cyprus Convention would be terminated.
In the meantime, the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus connected itself to the newly-established Greek nationalist/expansionist underground organization, Etniki Haeteria, espousing the championship of Enosis (‘at one with’) or annexation of the island by Greece. Britain never intended to return Cyprus to the Turks because of British strategic and other interests and it was within this framework, that Greek Orthodox Bishop Kiprianos of Kitium received Sir Garnet Wolseley, the first British High Commissioner to Cyprus, on his arrival to the island in early July 1878, with the following plea: “We accept the change of government in as much as we trust that Great Britain will help Cyprus, as it did the Ionian (or, in other words, Aegean) islands to be united with mother Greece with which it is naturally connected”.
This plea of Kiprianos was sympathetically received and, for instance, the Liberal Party leader Gladstone (later Prime Minister) remarked in March 1897 in the following way: “I subjoin the satisfaction I should feel, were it granted to me before the close of my long life, to see the population of that Hellenic island placed by friendly arrangement in organic union with their brethren of the Kingdom of Greece and Crete.”. Similarly, Winston Churchill, visiting the island in 1907, stated: “I think it only natural that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what may be called their motherland as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished”. Encouraged by such statements, in 1898, a patriotic Cypriot league was founded in Athens, with the object of effecting in Cyprus the same revolution as had taken place in Crete, and aiming at instilling into the minds of the Greek youth of the island that their great object in life was to advance the cause of Enosis.
Consequently the Turkish Cypriots were subjected to an onslaught by the Greeks on every occasion – in 1882, in 1895, during the Turkic-Greek war of 1897, the Cretan crisis of 1898 and again in 1902 and 1912. When eventually the First World War started in 1914, and the Ottoman Empire joined the Axis together with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, the British unilaterally declared the 1878 Cyprus Convention null and void, and annexed Cyprus. This announcement resulted in a further onslaught of the Turkish-Cypriot community by the Greek Cypriots, leading to wholesale emigration of the Turkish Cypriots to Anatolia.
Furthermore, Britain promulgated a Royal Decree on 27th November 1917 requesting the islanders to opt for British citizenship within two years. When the Russians had to evacuate Kars, Ardahan, Batumi and other Turkish Eastern territories, following the Bolshevik revolution, still abiding by the stipulations of the Cyprus Convention of 1878, Turkey requested the return of Cyprus, as this was a provision that was mutually agreed upon. The British, however, overlooking their treaty obligations rejected this request.
The next episode takes the story onwards from 1931 into the volatile, bloody period on Cyprus, of the 1950’s.
This article is the first in a mini-series of four which sets out the Cyprus History from the early 19th Century to nearer to the present day and is a compilation by Chris Green, a long-standing columnist for the Star Media Group and who also publishes through his own Beşparmak Media Services company.
This series was first published in Cyprus Star during 2012.