This article featured in the World section of our third (May) print issue, and has been reproduced online to commemorate the event’s anniversary.
On the 20th July 1974, Turkish troops began the invasion of Cyprus. Since then, little progress has been made in rectifying the situation, with over one third of the island still under occupation and a large number of displaced Cypriots that have never been able to return to their homes. Many of them now think there is no way to redress the problem anymore.
Cyprus had gained independence from Great Britain in 1959, after ethnic clashes sparked between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots of the island who had lived in relative peace since the Ottoman conquest in 1571. Both the Greek and Turkish sides had committed atrocities in these clashes. In this period before independence, Greek Cypriot nationalists formed EOKA to combat British rule, later developing to EOKA-B with the objective of eventual union with Greece, ‘Enosis’.
By 1974, nationalists had performed a coup d’état, with the backing of Greece’s military junta, and had overthrown the government of President Makarios of the Republic of Cyprus. Shortly after, the Turkish army launched its invasion and captured a small enclave in the north, in Kyrenia, before a ceasefire was declared. By August, they had pushed further and occupied 40% of Cypriot territory, which they hold to this day. At the time, 82% of Cypriots were Greek and the rest Turkish.
At the time of the invasion, Henry Kissinger was the US Secretary of State. Kissinger claimed Watergate had meant he had been too distracted to involve the US in preventing the partition of the island, of which it could easily have done with the power it had in the region. Yet Christopher Hitchens in his book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, disputes this by showing Kissinger instead used the scandal to gain power. Kissinger retained his posts as National Security Adviser and chairman of the National Security Council after becoming Secretary of State – Kissinger’s former NSC aide
Roger Morris has since claimed Kissinger was ‘no less than acting chief for national security’, particularly because of President Nixon’s erosion of power at the time. As well, the proximity of Cyprus to the Middle East is too important for the US to have been forgotten about.
Kissinger, in his book Years of Upheaval, had blamed Cyprus’ President, Makarios, for causing the events which culminated into the invasion. Bear this in mind: Makarios was democratically elected in a ‘virtually unarmed republic’ (according to Hitchens), whose rule was challenged by a military dictatorship in Athens (which supported the coup and was also closely tied to the
CIA) and a highly militarised Turkish government who saw an opportunity for expansion. Kissinger’s dislike for Makarios, and sympathy for the dictatorship in Greece, was also shown when he refused to say the Makarios government was the legitimate government in Cyprus after the coup (which every other country bar the failing dictatorship in Greece had done), and did not give his condolences when the world briefly thought Makarios had been assassinated.
Furthermore, Kissinger had claimed ‘shock’ at the Turkish invasion. Hitchens also disputes this, explaining that Thomas Boyatt (head of Kissinger’s state department Cyprus desk) had told Kissinger in May a coup was imminent, which would give the Turkish government an excuse to invade.
Kissinger had also, according to Sir Tom McNally who was formerly chief political adviser to Britain’s then Foreign Secretary and future Prime Minister James Callaghan, ‘vetoed’ at least one British military action to pre-empt a Turkish landing: Britain was a guarantor power with treaty obligations and had troops in place on Cyprus.
The partition of the island had resulted in two hundred thousand refugees, thousands of deaths, and the loss of property for many.
In July of 1976, the European Commission on Human Rights adopted a report by eighteen distinguished jurists and chaired by Professor J. E. S. Fawcett, made after 1 year of research. It showed the Turkish army had: deliberately killed civilians, executed prisoners, tortured or inflicted illtreatment on detainees, enforced arbitrary punishment and detention on civilians and had performed systematic acts of rape, torture, and looting. As well, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, Turkey settled thousands of mainland Turks (many were unwanted minorities) into the lands once occupied by Greek Cypriots – much to the annoyance of Turkish Cypriots as well.
To get some scope of the damage the invasion has done, look at pictures of the once booming city of Famagusta which now lies deserted on the occupied side of the island after many apartment blocks and offices where directly bombed by the Turkish army. Four fifths of the population there were Greek, who were then expelled from the city or killed. As a result, large empty buildings lie dormant on the beach side.
The United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus, known as the Green Line, separates the occupied territory in the north from the rest of the island. In there lies abandoned homes, businesses and even an airport. Churches across the occupied north have been desecrated and looted, with many being turned into mosques.
Of course, as an important NATO ally in helping the US exert its power in the geopolitical sphere, Turkey faces little to no consequences for its actions. As summed up by Kissinger himself at the time of the invasion,
‘there is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus’.
Well, perhaps there was a Cypriot one.
Photo by Krzysztof Belczyński on Flickr.