In July 1974 Cyprus was invaded. Almost 42 years later huge areas of the country are still under foreign occupation. In these areas Cypriot law does not apply, and people are tried by a foreign court.
Cyprus was invaded by Greece in July 1974. The fascist Colonels in Athens arranged a coup against the Cypriot government and imposed a new leader, Nicos Sampson, with the purpose of ethnically cleansing the whole island of Turkish-Cypriots and annexing the island to Greece. The palace of Archbishop Makarios, President of Cyprus, was bombed, but he escaped, went to the UN General Assembly in New York and in a speech which has been forgotten by all but Turkey, it seems, pleaded for help saying: ‘Greece has invaded my country’.
The island is still partly occupied, and has been since so-called ‘independence’. Britain maintains two huge ‘sovereign bases’ on the island. These are, in effect, two huge areas of colonial rule; areas of Cyprus under permanent British occupation. It includes villages, and public roads, and any Cypriot arrested in these areas comes under the authority of British law and courts, not Cypriot ones.
Yet with thousands of troops permanently stationed on the island in these occupied areas, Britain refused to enact its role as guarantor of the independence of the rest of Cyprus when Greece invaded by means of the Nicos Sampson coup. Turkey appealed to Britain to act to save the Turkish-Cypriot population, but Britain did not respond. Turkey then had no option other than to send troops to the island to create a safe haven for Turkish-Cypriots in the northern part of the island.
In the South the Sampson coup collapsed, the junta in Athens was eventually overthrown. Makarios returned as President of the largely Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus in the south (ethnically cleansed of Turkish-Cypriots), but died in 1977, some may say rather conveniently. My own view is that the Sampson coup was organized by NATO to rid the island of Makarios who was thought to be too pro-Soviet. I suspect they felt he might allow Soviet military ships access to Cypriot ports and therefore to the Mediterranean. My father, a Greek-Cypriot who was in Cyprus at the time of the coup, came back to UK afterwards, removed a picture of Makarios from his mantelpiece and declared: ‘Makarios is a Communist’. My father seemed to know quite a lot of secrets , so this is perhaps an insight into how those who supported the Sampson coup saw Makarios. My father also said nuclear weapons were stored in Cyprus under a green hill in one of the British occupied areas (so-called ‘sovereign bases’).
In the northern part of Cyprus the Turkish Federative State of Cyprus was established under Denktash with the long-term goal of achieving a federal solution to the eternal Cyprus problem of accommodating both Greek and Turkish-Cypriots. Even before the fascist Sampson coup to annex the island to Greece (Enosis) the power-sharing agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities had broken down. Denktash had been Vice President in name only, as the Turkish-Cypriots had been marginalized.
When it became apparent that the Greek-Cypriots had no intention of forming a federation with the Turkish-Cypriot state, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus was declared. However when years later the Kofi Annan plan to re-unite the island under a federal solution was put to the electorates of the two Cypriot republics, the majority of Turkish-Cypriots voted in favor of the plan, while the Greek-Cypriots rejected it. So we now have the ironic situation whereby the Greek-Cypriots are responsible for the continued division of the island, yet have been rewarded with EU membership. The Turkish-Cypriots, who voted for reunification, are denied EU membership and their Republic is unrecognized by any state except Turkey.
Of course not all the blame can be put on Greece, the Greek-Cypriots or the British. Atrocities were carried out by both Turkish and Greek Cypriots before, during and after the tragic events of July 1974. Greek-Cypriots fled for their lives to the Southern part of the island, and the Turkish-Cypriots fled North for the same reason. Turkish mainland troops remain on the island 41 years later, and many mainland Turkish settlers live in the TRNC, as do many British settlers in both Cypriot republics. Famagusta is a particularly sore point, with the tourist area in mothballs since 1974. I suspect this area was taken by the Turkish army as a bargaining chip in the event of any settlement of the Cyprus question. It has never been developed as a tourist center of the TRNC, though the rest of Famagusta is a Turkish-Cypriot town.
Some progress has been made since 1974. For years the ‘Attilla Line’ divided the island completely. A no-man’s land policed by the UN, which ran right through the capital Nicosia, and which only foreign tourists could cross. A ‘Berlin Wall’ ran across Nicosia, and fences separated the rural borders between the two Cypriot states. In recent years, however, the border has been opened and Greek and Turkish Cypriots can now cross the line and visit the other parts of the island.
There remains one village in the UN buffer zone where Greek and Turkish Cypriots still live together, though when I visited they lived largely apart, with their own clubs and cafes, etc., and of course the Greek-Cypriot Orthodox church and the Turkish-Cypriot mosque. Despite the differences in language and religion, the two Cypriot communities are remarkably alike in their culture, the men spending much of their time in the coffee shops drinking Turkish/Greek coffee and playing backgammon while the women seem to do most of the work. A foreigner would be hard pressed to differentiate between a Greek and Turkish Cypriot. What saddened me in 1977 when I first visited the troubled island, was a Greek-Cypriot boy in my father’s village, who had just done his national service, said the only Turkish-Cypriots he had ever seen had been through the eyesights of his military rifle. In divided Nicosia, however, I saw Turkish and Greek Cypriots waving to each other across the line that divided the two communities, the Turkish-Cypriots high up on the ancient walls of the city by one of the gates. Now at least they can visit each other.
The tragedy of Cyprus may never be resolved, since it seems to suit both Cypriot states to maintain the status quo, particularly for the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus which has international recognition and EU membership. They have little to gain from a federation with the TRNC. Nevertheless they should reach out to their Turkish-Cypriot fellow-countrymen and women and come to a mutually acceptable formula for a federation, and the British areas of occupation (‘sovereign bases’) which did nothing to protect Cypriot independence during the events of July 1974 should be kicked out.