CYPRUS AND PARTITION: DIFFICULT BEDFELLOWS
Once more, Cyprus is on the international agenda, with the powers that be again telling the world that now is the last chance to solve the island’s problems, and the inherent threat that doom is the only alternative to agreement. That the island has been for hundreds of years a cat’s paw of competing outside powers, spitting out their fingernails of ambition onto the island, not always with happy results, is hardly open to dispute. Described by Henry Kissinger as a ‘staging-post’ and an ‘important piece of the world chequer-board’, Cyprus has for centuries been invaded, or passed from hand to hand, from English to French to Venetians to Ottoman Turks to Britain, and finally in 1960, in flawed form, to its own inhabitants, via a messy and divisive constitution. This constitution was based on positive discrimination, in favour of the Turkish Cypriots, and catered for the rights of outsiders, with almost three per cent of its territory going to Britain, along with associated rights. The treaties of 1960 that established the Republic of Cyprus were but an anachronistic extension of Britain’s colonial ethno-religious administration, dressed up in semantic sugar, but nevertheless a monkey on the back of the island’s mythical sovereignty. Few sane observers really believed that the 1960 constitution would work, particularly since the crucial question of communal boundaries in the big towns was not even agreed before independence. It took three years of bickering before the constitution collapsed in a spate of fighting and recrimination, which included the auto-ghettoisation of most of the Turkish Cypriots. Bizarrely, the collapse resulted from Foreign Office support for President Makarios’ suggested changes to the unworkable constitution. Eleven years later, following an Athens junta-inspired coup against President Makarios, Turkey invaded, and nearly all the Greek Cypriots were shoved south, becoming refugees in their own land. Even the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in 1987 that ‘the 1960 Constitution proved to be a cumbersome and frustrating instrument of government for all concerned’, while the Law Lords and Foreign Office legal advisors recognised that the Treaty of Guarantee conflicted with the UN Charter. Today the world is faced with the surrealistic situation of Turkey occupying part of the European Union, while trying itself to become a member. At present, the island’s fate seems to be divided between two main schools of thought, one partitionist, and the other integrationist. The present de facto partition looks like a historical anomaly, given that the inhabitants of the island, whether Greek-, Turkish-, Maronite- or Armenian Cypriot, had lived side by side, scattered throughout the island, for hundreds of years. Then the British came. Before demonstrating why separation is not the solution for Cyprus, and why we are at the present impasse, let us look at the phenomenon of partition itself.
The Expedient Panacea of Partition
The term ‘ partition’ is a fairly recent addition to the semantic baggage of international relations terminology, creeping into respectable academic and political language at the same as the term ‘geopolitics’ was making its Cold War comeback, along with political realism/power politics. This is no accident, since the imposition of artificial ‘business borders’ on weak areas of the world has increased exponentially since the Great War, and has been accompanied by various forms of partition. Perhaps the two most infamous cases of forced partition are those of India and Palestine, which have resulted in huge numbers of deaths.
Partition, it must be said, is a word with negative connotations, to the extent that it is often cloaked in different terminology. For its victims, it can conjure up images of apartheid, bantustanism, annexation, dismemberment, and even vivisection. For its advocates, it can serve as a convenient semantic panacea, a way of preventing people from fighting, or of liberating oppressed minorities in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a term currently in vogue. Supporters of partition will rarely use the term straightforwardly, but latch onto words like ‘federation’, confederation’ and ‘zonality’, attached to words such as ‘pragmatic, or ‘realistic’. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines partition as ‘division into parts, especially political; of a country with separate areas of government’. The definition is perhaps of necessity vague, and as such could imply for some condominium, cantonisation, federalism and confederalism. At an extreme, and using perhaps an excess of logic, partition could even be construed as applying to the United States, since federal states could be seen as separate areas of government. But no outsiders forced the federal system on America. Another, but very different, case of unforced partition, is that of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Conversely, following the last war, outsiders forced partition on Germany, but it lasted only as long as the post-war order did, essentially because it was artificial. It can be reasonably said that all manner of difficult situations are attached to the catch-all word ‘partition’, which has even become an expedient hegemonolinguistic panacea for annexation, secession, and civil war, apart from being possibly the lowest common denominator of international relations. The big debate is whether partition engenders strife, or vice-versa, or which is the chicken, and which the egg. In the case of Cyprus, unnatural division has been imposed on the island, which has in turn engendered creeping, and then enforced, de facto partition. To understand why, it is history that explains effectively, rather than the quagmire of competing IR theories.
Divide et Impera
When the British rented Cyprus from the Ottomans in 1878, to control Russian power in the Eastern Mediterranean, and to watch over ‘an unstable Analolia’, they found a peaceful society, albeit one in which the majority Greek-speaking Christians were second class citizens, as elsewhere in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. British even-handedness was therefore welcomed, as the ‘underdogs’ found themselves with the same rights as the Turkish-speaking Moslems. Christians no longer had to get off their donkeys when approaching a Moslem. As calls among the 82% majority for union with Greece grew, the British recognised that the Church of Cyprus (which the Ottomans, in line with their policy of non-interference in cultural and religious life, had allowed to thrive) needed to be cut down to size. Cyprus’ new masters interfered with education, which was jealously guarded by the Church, prompting some newspapers to compare British control unfavourably with that of the Ottomans, for all the latter’s despotism. In governing, the British also ensured that in the Legislative Council, British and the minority Moslem representatives could outvote the majority Christians. ‘Divide and rule’ had begun. When in 1931 a Moslem (who became known as the ‘thirteenth Greek’) voted with the Christians in a tax matter, London simply rescinded the vote, whereupon Government House was burnt down in mass rioting, and the colonial constitution was revoked. Owing to the then Greek leader, Venizelos’, policy of friendship towards Britain and Turkey, the union movement went underground, only to emerge with a vengeance towards the end of the war, with the UN-promoted pressure for self-determination, the impending return of India to the Indians (or at least most of it), the British pull-out from Palestine, and the return of the Dodecanese islands to Greece. Britain’s strategic obsessions in controlling the Middle East, and therefore Cyprus, in fear of the old Russian bugbear, put paid to any hope of freedom for the Cypriots. This was despite the fact that the Foreign Office had written that the Soviet Union had no interest in spreading communism in Greece, and despite Churchill’s agreement with Stalin that Greece would be 10% Russian and 90% English. There was even American and some high-level Foreign Office pressure to give Cyprus to Greece. Nevertheless, it was the Cold War and Colonial and Foreign Office hawks who won the day. The Greek government was initially nonplussed, and then angered, when the British refused even to discuss Cyprus. As pressure on Britain increased, the government turned to ‘divide and rule’ tactics. The British government worked secretly with Turkey, helping it with its propaganda. Hostilities broke out on 1 April 1955, and the following year, Britain called a conference of itself, Greece and Turkey, with the express aim of bringing in Turkey to an already complicated equation, in defiance of the Treaty of Lausanne, which forbade Turkey from having any responsibilities whatsoever in former Ottoman territories. The head of the Foreign Office called the conference to, in his own words, ‘seriously embarrass the Greek Government’ and to ‘define’ and ‘expose’ Greek and Turkish differences. As the Foreign Office predicted, the conference blew up almost at the start, and was followed by massive anti-Greek rioting in Turkey, and the end of not only Greek- and Turkish Cypriot friendship but, more ominously, the end of the correct Greek-Turkish relations that Venizelos and the Turkish leader, Ataturk, had established in 1930. Greek and Turkish relations have never recovered from the event, which was compounded when most of the remaining Greek citizens and Turkish citizens of Greek stock and religion were hounded out of Istanbul in 1964.
As the Greek Cypriots fought the British, pinning down up to thirty thousand soldiers, the Greek Cypriot leader, Archbishop Makarios, was deported to the Seychelles, and Britain hired hundreds of auxiliary police, who, of course, happened to be Turkish Cypriot. It was mainly American pressure that forced the British to give way. The British, with the Greek and Turkish leaders of the time, came to an agreement, whereby Cyprus would gain independence, with no partition or union allowed. The Greek Cypriots were hardly allowed to participate, with Archbishop Makarios and a small team being allowed in towards the end of the negotiations. As we have seen above, the whole pack of cards collapsed in 1963.
By this time, and especially because of the Suez debâcle of 1956, Cyprus had assumed considerable importance for the USA, as well as Britain. Indeed, perhaps the main reason for Britain’s de facto annexation of two bits of the island in 1960 (Britain would, rather, claim that she had generously given most of Cyprus back) was the electronic intelligence-gathering facilities that had been moved to Cyprus. The age of Britain as one of the USA’s Middle East proxies had begun. Following the outbreak of violence in 1963, the Americans decided that the only solution to keep Cyprus from becoming too independent, and trying to reclaim the British territories, was partition. Thus, just as a hard-working British naval commander was bringing the Greek- and Turkish Cypriots together again, an American Assistant Secretary of State, George Ball, told him: ‘ Very impressive, but you’ve got it all wrong, son. Hasn’t anyone told you that our objective here is partition, not re-integration?’ The resulting Ball/Acheson plan was roundly rejected by Archbishop Makarios, since it would have meant the end of the republic, and quite possibly have led to more strife in the future, as has often happened with forced partition. But the Archbishop’s stance earned him the American government’s enmity, and the wholly incorrect epithet of the ‘Red Bishop’. Ever since then, partition has never been off the agenda.
Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1967, and the return of around twelve thousand Greek troops to Greece, the writing was on the wall, as extremists in the US-supported Greek junta, and in Cyprus, did their utmost to get rid of Archbishop Makarios. It was the coup against Makarios, in July 1974, that gave Turkey the excuse it had been seeking to invoke Article IV of the Treaty of Guarantee, and intervene, ostensibly ‘to re-establish the state of affairs created by the present Treaty [of Guarantee]’. Britain’s refusal to honour its treaty obligations made it easier for the Turks to act with impunity. The fact that Kissinger (who by that time was running a one-man show in American foreign policy, as Watergate was coming to a head) did not denounce the coup, delayed recognising Makarios as the rightful leader, and did not call for the return to Greece of the Greek officers in the Cypriot National Guard (and pressured the British not to), was extremely useful to the Turks, who thus had an excuse to intervene. They landed in Cyprus on 20 July. Far from re-establishing the previous state of affairs, the Turkish army began a creeping invasion, during frenetic negotiations in Geneva between the British, Turks and the new Greek government. The British Ambassador in Washington wrote that ‘the Turks could reasonably gamble that American disapproval would not be so forceful as to compel them to stop.’ To compound matters, when the Turks began their second, massive invasion and takeover of over one third of the island on 14 August, Kissinger refused to attend a NATO meeting before the 19th, thus affording the Turkish armed forces the time they needed to consolidate their occupation. The bandied-about Turkish justification for intervening was to protect the Turkish Cypriot community. This has however been shown to false, since the High Commission and the Commander of British forces in Cyprus made it plain that the Turkish Cypriots were in no danger, and that Turkey was simply seeking to invade. During the Geneva negotiations, Kissinger had already refused to see the new Greek Foreign Minister, Mavros, even though the latter was prepared to come to Washington. It would obviously have made it difficult for the Turks to take over, while their chief overseas supporter was parleying with the Greeks. It is hardly surprising that Kissinger wrote later that the Cyprus problem was solved in 1974. One does not need to read the rumbustious and journalistic screeds of Christopher Hitchens to understand that Kissinger’s role was not honourable. The diplomatic documents of the supine Wilson government suffice to demonstrate this. Even as far back as 1971, a senior British diplomat had written: ‘It is impossible to square Kissinger’s expressed views with reality… it is rather his manner of conceiving foreign policy without reference to, or knowledge of, the State Department or anyone else which is most worrying. It leaves one with the fear that any day something could go seriously wrong because the normal sources of advice, restraint and executions are wholly by-passed.’ More tellingly, Kissinger said in 1974 that Cyprus was important in the Arab/Israel dispute, meaning that he considered the Britsh bases important to the defence of the Jewish State.
The Annan Scheme
Since the invasion and occupation, partition has never been off the agenda, only now the problem for those in favour of partition is more about how to legitimise the illegal and forced partition that exists, but using less cruel words. Just before he left the US Administration, Kissinger threw in his solution, which included the vague phrase; ‘the establishment of a federal system on a bizonal basis with relatively autonomous zones’. Makarios later bit the bullet, agreeing in early 1977, six months before his untimely death, to an ‘independent, non-aligned and bi-communal Cyporus’. But it made, and until now, has made no difference to Turkey’s aims of establishing a separate entity on Cyprus, through their forty thousand occupation troops and the importing of, at the last count, 160,000 illegal settlers, who now outnumber the dwindling (and slowly emigrating) original Turkish Cypriots by two to one.
The latest concerted attempt to subtly legalise the Turkish invasion a fortiori, prevent genuine integration, and ensure that Cyprus remains an object of external powers, without an independent foreign policy, was the so-called Annan Plan. The scheme was triggered by Cyprus’s impending membership of the European Union in 2004. With a member state occupied by an applicant, it would have been ridiculous to expect Cyprus, or indeed any member other than Britain, to support Turkey’s application. The first reason for the scheme’s introduction was that Cyprus’s EU membership posed a perceived threat to Anglo-American interests, which centre on the electronic intelligence gathering stations and Turkey having a strong strategic stake in Cyprus, particularly important given its (albeit currently shaky) military co-operation with Israel. Second, was the planned attack on Iraq, where the US and Britain needed to keep Turkey as sweet as they could. Third, was that by weakening the idea of an integrated state with a single independent foreign policy, and perpetuating institutional divisions, the scheme would keep Cyprus out of mainstream European security structures, since this would infuriate Turkey. This explains the flurry by Britain and the USA to sign with Turkey the so-called ‘Ankara Agreements’ in 2001, whereby it was agreed that Turkey would have a say in any putative ESDP operations in the Aegean and around Cyprus. The agreement was signed without EU authorisation, which annoyed Brussels, even if the ESDP only operates ‘when NATO is otherwise engaged’. An angry Greece then secured additions to the agreement whereby, somewhat farcically, it was agreed that no NATO member would threaten the use of, or use, force against another NATO member. In short, with US and British support, the Turkish military was using Cyprus to keep the EU out of the Eastern Aegean, and away from Greek islands which it periodically threatens with military overflights. Fourth, were Turkey’s membership aspirations per se. Had the plan been agreed, it would have smoothed Turkey’s path into the EU, and removed Greek Cypriot property claims from the ambit of European justice. The most blatant, yet curiously overlooked, evidence of this, was Britain and America’s persistent attempts to have Greece, Cyprus and Turkey (as well as Britain itself) sign a so-called ‘Foundation Agreement’ which, apart from perpetuating some of the most divisive aspects of the1960 treaties, entailed them agreeing a priori to support Turkey’s accession to the European Union. This was a complete infringement of sovereignty and would have weakened the EU’s very raison d’être.
Most bizarrely, the complete plan, of some ten thousand pages, was not put onto the UN website until one minute to midnight, on 23 April, the day before the referendum. It is hardly surprising that it was massively rejected by the Greek Cypriots, yet accepted by the Turkish Cypriots, but we shall never know the true vote of the latter, since the illegal settlers were allowed to vote. It has been said that even the occupation troops were allowed to vote, but I have not yet been able to verify this. If the plan had been accepted, it would have perpetuated the inherently unstable parts of the 1960 treaties, including the divisive aspects and the positive discrimination, which had been the institutional cause of the 1963 breakdown in the first place. By allowing a large proportion of illegal settlers to remain, further seeds of division would have been sown. Importantly, it would have weakened EU cohesion yet more than at present, by undermining EU law.
Then is Now
Guicciardini, considered the founder of modern historical research methods (i.e. recourse to original documents) wrote that things have always been the same, the past sheds light on the future, and that the same things return with different colours. Cyprus is a prime example of this. Just as Britain obtained it for strategic reasons, so the USA and Britain now need it for similar ones. Even if Britain did try to give up the bases following the invasion, and continued trying for at least three years afterwards, the USA simply said no, although a secret suggestion was made that the US would finance them, with discussions taking place. Today, British Middle East policy is part and parcel of America’s, and any attempt to relinquish its territories would be met with strong US resistance. The de facto partition continues, while Turkey continues to use the island as a hostage to gain entry to the EU, and advantages (political rather than legal) in the Aegean. The thought of two entirely independent states is unacceptable to the outside power-brokers, since a new international border would render the 1960 treaties, and therefore the bases, even shakier in terms of UN and EU law than they are at present. Better, they secretly say, to keep Cyprus as a de facto protectorate, but disguise this in a semantic overcoat, while maintaining the modus vivendi, to prevent all-out war between Greece and Turkey, which would weaken the NATO alliance to Russia’s benefit. In the sixties and seventies, the Foreign Office itself questioned the legality of the Treaty of Guarantee, admitted that the three treaties were interdependent, and wrote that anything which called the 1960 settlement as a whole into question could expose Britain to pressure to hang on to the bases, and that they would become increasingly anachronistic in world public opinion. It is these very treaties that have been a monkey on the back of the idea of a properly united island, where every inhabitant, of whatever persuasion, is protected by EU law, which would render the unnatural and forced separation untenable. It is clear that Cyprus has always been coveted by outside powers, and still is, whatever the lip service paid to self-determination. The case of Cyprus is interesting in that dissection came very late to the island, the result of outside interference, against the grain of its natural economic and cultural development over centuries. Extremist forces in Britain, Greece and Turkey caused radicalisation among extremist sections of the population, leading to the present impasse. It is often tempting to outside pundits to compare Cyprus to successful cases of division, such as the former Czechoslovakia, and then say, as the Turkish government does, that a Czech solution would work. This is ingeniously ingenuous (inadvertently or otherwise), however, since Turkey would not permit a new international Greece-friendly border so near to Turkey itself. Moreover, Czechoslovakia managed its divorce amicably, with very little outside interference. In the case of Cyprus, foreign interference, and particularly Turkish control over its occupied zone, would not permit the legal inhabitants themselves to work out their own destiny. Nor would they take kindly to an EU effort to enforce the acquis communautaire throughout the whole island, since this would threaten, from their point of view, their security. EU foreign policy cohesion is in any case virtually non-existent, one reason being the massive enlargement that has made decision-making so cumbersome, bedeviling a serious Common Foreign and Security Policy, as envisaged at Maastricht.
Although Cyprus and other cases of partition can be juxtaposed, actual comparison is difficult in detail. But some general lessons can be drawn. First is the fact that external involvement is often a factor. Former Ottoman territories in the Balkans, in particular, show us the danger of implanting alien populations in conquered territories, since they are themselves potential future seeds of partition, even generations later, usually because of externally influenced radicalisation. Kosovo is a case in point. Sri Lanka is an even more poignant example. During the colonial era, Britain brought in hundreds of thousands of Hindu Tamils to Buddhist Ceylon, with dreadful results generations later. Even Ireland cannot escape from a modicum of comparison, in that at around the same time as the Ottoman empire was settling Moslem Anatolians, and Janissaries, in Cyprus, so the English were settling radical Protestants in Roman Catholic Ireland. The partition of almost one hundred years ago did not solve the problem, and it is difficult to be certain that there will not be future strife, despite the enormous help of the USA, which has consistently pressured the British government behind the scenes to be more accommodating.
Cyprus’s fate can only be properly comprehended within the context of the interests of NATO, the EU, Turkey and Israel. As such, a clear-cut solution is a tough target. Too many people want a piece of the cake. A genuine federation, agreed in 1977, and confirmed in numerous UN resolutions since then is, at least theoretically, and hopefully in practice, the only viable basis for a solution. But it can only be achieved without the self-interested meddling of outside stakeholders, without reverting to outdated treaties that have proven to be the institutional worm in the apple. The EU, for its own self-respect, needs to adopt a more active position in the interests of all Cypriots, through its own soft power. Without this, Cyprus will continue to be a cat’s paw, rather than a fully-fledged sovereign state, a state in which Greek- and Turkish Cypriot alike would have the same individual rights as Moslems and Christians in the USA. Let us conclude by quoting from Galo Plaza’s 1965 report to the United Nations: ‘If the purpose of a settlement of the Cyprus question is to be the preservation rather than the destruction of the state and if it is to foster rather than militate against the development of a peacefully united people, I cannot help wondering whether the physical division of the minority from the majority should not be considered a desperate step in the wrong direction’.
William Mallinson, a former British diplomat, is Lecturer in British history, literature and culture at the Ionian University. He was awarded his doctorate, in international history, by the London School of Economics. He has numerous academic (and some media) publications. His books are: Public Lies and Private Truths: an Anatomy of Public Relations (Cassell, London, 1996 and Leader Books, Athens, 2000), Portrait of an Ambassador: the Life, Times and Writings of Themistocles Chrysanthopoulos (Attica Tradition Educational Foundation, Athens, 1998), Cyprus: a Modern History, published in Greek and English (I.B. Tauris, London and New York, Papazissis, Athens), Partition Through Foreign Aggression ( University of Minnesota, 2010), From Neutrality to Commitment: Dutch Foreign Policy, NATO and European Integration (I.B. Tauris, 2010); Cyprus: Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations (I.B.Tauris, 2010, and, in Greek, Estia, Athens, 2010); and Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents since World War Two (I.B. Tauris, 2011) .
His speciality is archival research into post-World War Two diplomatic relations, with particular reference to Anglo-Greek-US relations, and European defence policy.