The communal fighting which broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on December 21st, 1963, seems, at the moment of writing, to have reached a stalemate. Of the 104,000 Turks, some 60,000 are crowded, either into their own quarter of Nicosia, or in the strip of land running northwards towards the Kyrenia range where the Turkish Army Contingent is dug in. Elsewhere there are similarly embattled concentrations; the result of evacuations (not always voluntary) of Turkish Cypriots in vulnerable areas, carried out in the January lull in hostilities. In other towns like Limassol, the Turkish minorities grimly sit it out, dependent for their safety on the patrolling un Force and, more importantly, on a certain Greek reluctance to recommence battle with their exfriends and neighbours. The United Nations Force (unficyp) has had some success in dismantling strongpoints, reopening communications, and preventing outbreaks of violence. Its individual members have shown, with one or two exceptions, a commendable restraint in the face of golden opportunities for gunrunning. Yet the political outlook is almost as gloomy as ever. So many conflicting interests are involved that a solution satisfactory to all parties can be ruled out. But it is clear that any effort to resolve the present impasse which does not take into account the sequence of events which led up to it must be rejected, or, worse, create conditions for yet another crisis in a year or two’s time. It is the purpose of this article to put the situation into some kind of historical perspective.
There is a widely held belief, which has formed the basis for many ‘solutions’ of the Cyprus crisis, that Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been at loggerheads ever since the Turks moved into the island, 350 years ago. In fact, the extreme smallness of the country (about half the size of Wales) precludes such hostility unless there is a geographical division of the communities. Of this not only has there been no sign (until, that is, the 1964 evacuations) but a review of the population distribution will show that the opposite is the case. There are 121 townships and villages inhabited by Turkish Cypriots, and these are scattered all over the island, without any significant concentration of population. There are, or rather were, 114 towns and villages inhabited by both Greeks and Turks engaged in identical occupations and, in many cases, inextricably inter-mingled. In some villages the proportion of Greeks to Turks is far greater than their overall majority of 80 per cent. There is only one all-Turkish town, Lefka, where a small Greek minority lived until the inter-communal rioting of 1958. There are even cases of miscegenation, rare indeed between Christians and Moslems. It seems, then, that on the social plane there was no segregation of the two races. Of course, religion and divergent ethnic aspirations prevented assimilation, as it has in the case of the Turkish community in Rhodes and of the Syrian Maronite, Armenian and Latin minorities in Cyprus; but in practical affairs it is hard to find instances of friction before 1955. Whenever the Greek Cypriots have called on the British Government to allow them union with Greece (Enosis), an event which has taken place—sometimes with violence— on a number of occasions during the last 60 years, there have been counter-petitions from the Turkish Cypriot leadership calling for a retention of the status quo or a return of the island to Turkey; but the general response of the Turkish Cypriot people has been conspicuously passive. In 1931 there was widespread pro-Enosis rioting, in the course of which Government House was burned down, but this inflammatory action led to little anti-Greek activity from the Turkish Cypriots. It seems likely that, had Cyprus been handed over to Greece then, Turkish Cypriots would have viewed the situation with the same equanimity shown by other Turkish communities in Greece, such as those in Western Thrace and Rhodes.
The hardening of feeling between the two communities may be dated to 1955, when Eoka began its anti-British Campaign. The leader of this organization, Colonel George Grivas, was a Cypriot who, like many others, had chosen to make a career for himself in his mother country. He showed himself to be a resourceful soldier who played an important part in the Greek Resistance. After the War he organized a terrorist group (the Khi) notorious for its hunting down and suppression of Left-wing elements in Greece. Makarios proposed that Grivas should lead a terrorist operation against the British because, first, he was a Cypriot and keenly interested in Cypriot affairs, and secondly because he was experienced in this kind of warfare. It should be emphasized that Makarios did not share the Colonel’s political
Grivas used Eoka fighters to attack prominent leftists as well as to dislodge the British. In January 1958 two trade unionists were killed, and there were many other instances of beatings and victimization which brought Greek Cyprus near to civil war. Makarios (who was not allowed to set foot in Cyprus at this time) secretly criticized this policy, but was unable openly to attack Grivas, for the latter was his instrument in the battle against the British—the man who could instil a sense of discipline into courageous but unmilitary bands and thereby bring about Makarios’ real aim: self-determination. Grivas and Makarios were not joined in a political but a military alliance. This is clear, I think, from the speed with which, once independence was achieved, Makarios neutralized Grivas as a political force in Cyprus. During the Emergency, however, Akel was forced to submerge its political detestation of Eoka in support for the aim, fervently shared by all Greek Cypriots, of self-determination.
The Turks, it goes without saying, were opposed to union with Greece. As fellow-subjects under British rule, their standing vis-mvis the Greek community was assured; and it was to them that the British turned. As the Greek police became more and more reluctant to act against what was now understood as a movement of national liberation, Turkish auxiliaries were increasingly appointed to take their places. Early in 1956 a Turkish policeman was shot in Paphos. Immediately, bands of Turkish Cypriots stormed through Nicosia, burning and looting. The Nicosia Commissioner ordered an enquiry into the disturbances and announced that he was considering the imposition of a fine on the Turks, but in fact no more was heard of the matter. From then on anti-Greek disturbances, treated with leniency by the British authorities, continued to break out until, in June and July 1958, full-scale inter-communal battles took place at Nicosia in which over a hundred people were killed.
It is misleading, however, to treat these anti-Greek outbursts in Cyprus as the spontaneous reaction of Turkish Cypriots against Eoka. They must be seen in close conjunction with, almost as part of, the foreign policy of the Menderes government in Turkey. In the late summer of 1955 a conference was called between Britain, Greece and Turkey to discuss the Cyprus problem. On the day that Britain announced her proposals—September 6th—violent rioting broke out in Istanbul and Ankara. The nature of this riot is remarkable for three reasons: first, its extreme violence, millions of pounds worth of damage was done and hundreds of dwellings gutted. Secondly, the high degree of organization shown by the rioters, who went through the city systematically
Turkey was then, and still is, in a state of potential revolution. In the Eastern provinces an unofficial war was being carried on against the Kurdish minority. On the Anatolian plateau and elsewhere the bulk of the rural population lived at or below subsistence level. The government was corrupt and repressive, and the country depended for its financial existence on large and frequent grants from the usa, in return for which it allowed rockets and early warning systems to be sited on its territory. Xenophobia has often been used by incompetent governments as an outlet for unrest due to unsatisfactory conditions at home. Menderes apologized to Greece for the Istanbul-Ankara riots, and put the blame on ‘communist elements’, but by then the damage had been done and the attention of the Turkish people was firmly fixed on the plight of their fellow countrymen in Cyprus rather than on their own.