The short-lived independence of Cyprus was always a standing reproach to the capacity of the great powers to order events. When Disraeli contrived to acquire it from the Sultan of Turkey in 1878, in exchange for some very dubious guarantees against Tsarist incursion, Gladstone described the transaction as ‘an act of duplicity not surpassed and rarely equalled in the history of nations’. Its subsequent history has provided numerous and varied illustrations of the same point—a small island with a radical and democratic tradition has been cursed by its geography and its politics, until now it has been dismembered and subordinated completely.

If, like Rhodes and the rest of the Dodecanese, it had been united with Greece in 1945 and shared the vicissitudes of the Helladic as well as Hellenic world, Cyprus would have avoided the brutal experience of a British occupation which saw her as a convenient base for the Suez adventure and a fall-back position for the Baghdad pact. The necessity of waging such an elemental and elementary struggle for independence saddled the Cypriots with three crucial post-colonial facts, all of which have been used in different alignments by imperial power. The first of these is an ethnarchy dominated by Archbishop Makarios, which could only maintain its own position on the island, and the position of the island in world politics, by a series of almost Byzantine deals between different power groups, and which proved itself fatally incapable of action at critical points. The second was the lasting enmity of Turkey, which resented the loss of a prosperous and strategic island to a venal British administration, and which regarded the aspirations of the Greek majority as a stalking horse for Athens within striking distance of the Turkish mainland. The most immediate result of this was a sullen Turkish minority which had done yeoman service in the British-dominated police force, but only as a foil against enosis, and which led to a familiar post-divide-and-rule picture of inter-communal hostility. The third was a fanatical Hellenic political faction which came in due time to exemplify the outer limits of petty nationalism, and become the creature of an undeclared outside interest.

The importance and durability of the ethnarchy in Cyprus had been tested over a long period in which it had formed the political as well as spiritual leadership of the Greek Cypriots. It had maintained their identity as Greeks under the Ottoman Empire, and initiated the military as well as civil struggle against the British. During the war of liberation in the fifties, it proved itself as adept at providing cover for eoka as it was at organizing an unofficial referendum on enosis (union with Greece). For these reasons Archbishop Makarios dominated Cypriot politics at independence; in the 1968 Presidential election he was to receive 95 per cent of the vote against 5 per cent for the right-wing candidate Dr Evdokas. Makarios’s opposition to NATO-sponsored solutions to the island’s dilemmas brought him the loyal support of the left against any opponents—the workers’ parties only stood at times and in places where they would not weaken his position. However at no point did Makarios use his predominant position to lay the basis for a permanent independence in Cyprus by reaching a settlement with the Turkish minority and openly renouncing union with Greece as the ultimate aspiration of Greek Cypriots. The very powerful left on the island similarly allowed itself to be trapped by communal mythology.

For a considerable period, which coincided with the first flush of colonial emancipation, a relative stability in the Middle East, and an unwritten non-aggression pact in the Mediterranean, Cyprus looked like becoming a thriving independent state. The appeal of enosis was diminished after the 1960 agreements between Britain, Greece and Turkey, with most Cypriots correctly assuming that a union with Greece would bleed them white. A number of Greek-Cypriots still took Makarios at his face value when he declared that the goal of enosis was still ‘ultimate’ and began to grumble about his ‘betrayal’. They were inspired by General George Grivas, whose military and political teeth had been cut during his leadership of the notorious ‘X’ commando which formed a spearhead against the Athens Communists during the revolt of 1944. But the prosperity and growth of the island sufficed to neutralize such sentiment, and the former eoka zealots like Nikos Sampson retired to the publication of romantic and reactionary newspapers in which they retold their own exploits and began to make derogatory references to Makarios as ‘Mouskos’ (his original peasant name). The Turks, too, were conciliated by the general affluence, and for the first few years of independence were able to live and work outside their former enclaves. This lasted until the bitter inter-communal fighting of 1963–4, which though largely restricted to the reactionary nationalists of both sides was to have very large implications. Inflamed by Turkish Cypriot intransigence on negotiations for a new constitution (which was almost certainly supported by Ankara) extreme enotists carried out sectarian attacks on exposed Turkish communities and drew a harsh response from the mainland Turkish airforce, which strafed and bombed Greek Cypriot villages. The scene for this had in a sense been set two years previously when Hikmet and Gurkan, two Turkish politicians favourable to inter-communal harmony, had been shot down by the TMT (Turkish underground). But it was Prime Minister Inönü who later shed light on the 1964 confrontation. ‘The invasion of Cyprus was fixed for 4 June 1964 but one day before I was warned by Washington not to use American arms for purposes not approved by America. Mr Johnson said that if the Russians took action, our nato guarantees might not hold . . . in half an hour, we would be left without an ally.’ The Russians at this stage were indeed very sensitive about Cyprus, and nato designs on it. They supplied Makarios with arms and fairly consistent diplomatic support. The Americans meanwhile had not developed any firm view on the island’s future, but were confident that both Greece and Turkey were compliant states. The fact that America’s sponsored powers in the region have outgrown their patron in some respects is one of the keys to subsequent events. Later in the same year, perhaps realizing that Ankara and Athens could not be kept apart indefinitely, Dean Acheson put forward a us plan for what became known as ‘double enosis’. It provided for the cession of Cyprus to Greece, with a Turkish network of bases in the north and a cantonal division of the island into communities. Makarios repudiated the plan with ease, realizing that it would mean the end of any independence. Shortly after, he visited Moscow and received support for his stand. From that point onwards, American strategy towards him became distrustful, and both Greek and Turkish governments struck attitudes which made communal reconciliation very much more difficult.

In general, however, the island republic prospered far better than most of its analogous post-colonial relatives. As one after another of the heroes of Bandung fell victim to corruption, inflation, subversion or all three, Makarios walked his tightrope. His Patriotic Front party was unbeatable at the polls, and the extreme right was outmanoeuvred at every turn, eventually adopting a policy of boycotting elections. The economy was able to attract foreign aid and investment, and there was very little unemployment. Exports of fruit, wine, carobs and potatoes were rising. Tourism was becoming a growth industry. Light manufacturing of tobacco, canning and cement was also stable. And the geography of the island made it an ideal entrepot between the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Church, which was and is the main holder of land and equity on Cyprus, operating through various subsidiary companies, did not obstruct the development of an entrepreneurial class, nor did it range itself against the trade unions which, under the aegis of the Communist party, had played a certain role in backing the ethnarchy’s struggle for national independence. The unions, though run by Greek organizers, were at this period also able to attract Turkish members and activists, with dockworkers in Famagusta and Limassol able to work side by side even during the 1964 disturbances.