Vol. 8, #11, November 2000

pp. 28-31

Torturing Cypriot History
Hostile Environment of Yesteryear Still Remembered

by Matthew J. Stowell

As an American with no Cypriot or Greek ancestry, I understand how Cyprus' complex and, to most Americans, obscure past can make many easy prey to the disinformation fed our press by the Turkish government.

A common propaganda bite used by the Turkish state to legitimize its 1974 invasion of Cyprus is that "The Greek Cypriots then unleashed a campaign of extermination and eviction that killed or wounded thousands and drove a frightening percentage of Turkish Cypriots into besieged enclaves.." (Insight Magazine, "Fences Might Be the Right Thing for Multiethnic Nation of Cyprus", Ahmet Erdengiz, Feb. 7).

This claim has been refuted by findings of impartial sources such as the UN Secretary General's report No. S/5950, para. 142 which confirms that as a result of the brief but turbulent period of hostilities between Greek and Turkish-Cypriot extremists from December 21, 1963 to June 8, 1964, a total of 43 Greek Cypriots and 232 Turkish Cypriots are missing and presumed dead. Clearly, this was no "campaign of extermination".

Moreover, these deaths were a direct result of Britain's documented policy of arming Turkish separatists and encouraging Greco-Turkish conflict to facilitate its control over Cyprus.

While extremists of both communities are to blame for intercommunal violence, fueled by British attempts to prevent this overwhelmingly Greek island-nation from achieving its self-determination, history is clear that Turkish extremists initiated the cycle of violence that claimed victims on both sides.

In June of 1958, a bomb explosion outside the information office of the Turkish Consulate-- later shown to have been planted by Turkish extremists (the "TMT")--set off the first intercommunal clashes on Cyprus. As noted by British author Christopher Hitchens in his highly acclaimed work on Cyprus, Hostage to History, the self-proclaimed president of Cyprus' occupation regime, Rauf Denktash, admitted in a 1984 interview that it was a Turkish Cypriot friend who planted the bomb. As a result, "Turkish Cypriots promptly burned out a neighboring district of Greek shops and homes, in what was to be the first Greek-Turkish physical confrontation on the island. A curfew was imposed, and Greek guerrillas [were] blamed [by British authorities] for the bomb as they were for everything else."

Next the British released from jail eight Greek Cypriot EOKA fighters, forcing them to walk through the Turkish village of Guenyeli, where they were quickly set upon and murdered. Thus began two months of violence by extremists on both sides, killing 56 Greeks and 53 Turks. Tellingly, the British arrested 2,000 Greeks, but only 60 Turks.

In addition to the hostile environment that was created by combatants on both sides, there was a second factor that led to the polarization of both communities: with a view toward partition, the Turks withdrew from predominantly Greek areas and evicted Greeks from areas where Turks were in the majority. In a single week over 600 families, two-thirds of them Greek, left their homes, and many Turks who left Greek areas did so under intense pressure from Turkish separatists.

Turkish Cypriots who favored compromise or a close relationship between the two ethnic communities were targets of TMT violence. Turks caught smoking Greek cigarettes or visiting Greek shops were beaten, and Turkish gangs forced some Turkish Cypriots to resign from Greek Cypriot trade unions. In Limassol, a Turkish Cypriot owner of a restaurant popular with Greeks was threatened and later murdered by the TMT. Two progressive-thinking, London-educated Turkish barristers who spoke against partition were killed outright by these same Turkish gangs.

Turkish extremists forced several thousand Turkish peasants to abandon their farms and animals and move into an overcrowded Turkish enclave in Nicosia. "Thus the aim of partition, camouflaged by Turkish propaganda as `federation,' was relentlessly pursued regardless of loss of human life and the human misery created. However, this so-called `first phase' of the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey only partly succeeded, since well over half of its brethren refused to obey instructions to abandon their homes for the predetermined enclaves" (The Making of Modern Cyprus, Panteli). On December 23, 1963, Turkish gangs also moved through the Armenian quarter of Nicosia and forced the inhabitants at gunpoint to leave their houses, shops, church, school and clubs to make room for more Turks.

This forced population transfer continues in occupied Cyprus today. Since 1974, Turkey has relocated over 125,000 mainland Turks to northern Cyprus. In this clearly illegal, Soviet-style effort to alter the demographics of northern Cyprus, one which the UN has condemned, Turkey has displaced not only the few remaining Greek Cypriots but also Turkish Cypriots, who are often treated as second-class citizens and denied the rights and privileges of the alien settlers from Turkey.

As a result, a diminishing number of Cyprus' indigenous Turks remain. Turkey has made it easy for them to obtain visas to emigrate, and they have left en masse, mostly for Britain and Turkey as well as other Mideast countries; some have even escaped through the Green Line and returned to the Greek south.

Apologists for Turkey's invasion disingenuously omit the imperative fact that it is the Greek Cypriot community that bore the overwhelming brunt of violence on Cyprus. As a result of Turkey's 1974 invasion, fittingly codenamed "Operation Attila", Turkish troops perpetrated more than 6,000 killings, widespread rape, torture, the systematic obliteration of cultural property including the destruction of churches, and the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 Greek Cypriots--making them refugees in their own country and bringing twenty-six years of heartbreak for the families of more than 1,500 missing persons.

Placing Turkey's invasion of neighboring Cyprus in a contemporary context, four times as many Greek Cypriots were killed by Turkish troops as Albanians were killed in Kosovo prior to NATO's intervention--and in one-sixth the time frame. Yet Serbia was bombed back to the Stone Age, while Turkey's occupation of Cyprus continues to enjoy tacit US support.

In numerous applications to the European Human Rights Commission, Turkey was found guilty of widespread violations of human rights in Cyprus. Although the European Court of Human Rights has ordered the Turkish government to compensate Greek Cypriot Titina Loizidou for the loss of her property seized during its invasion, Turkey remains the only member of the 40-nation Council of Europe to refuse compliance with a compensation order from its human rights court -- a breach that could lead to Turkey's expulsion from the Council.

The 1963 constitution forced on the Cypriots by the British in a take-it-or-leave-it standoff--with the alternative being partition--was known as "the most rigid, inflexible, and probably the most complicated in the world" (S.A. DeSmith, The New Commonwealth and Its Constituents). The president, a Greek Cypriot, and the vice president, a Turkish Cypriot, could each veto legislation. Despite comprising only 18% of the population, Turkish Cypriots were granted three of the ten seats in the Council of Ministers and thirty percent of the deputy positions in the House of Representatives. A Turkish Cypriot was to be made minister of defense, foreign affairs and finance. Turkish Cypriots were allotted 30% of the civil service jobs and 40% of the command positions in the Army. Any change to the constitution required a two-thirds majority of representatives from both communities. Even the most rudimentary of governmental functions became impracticable--for example the Turkish Cypriot leadership's voting against income and other taxes had placed the government in danger of bankruptcy. In short, the government was hog-tied; Cyprus' very undoing was written into its own constitution.

Other assertions by the Turkish government, that "President Makarios craved union with Greece and the subjugation of Turkish Cypriots . and proposed amendments to the constitution to achieve these objectives" (Insight Magazine, Feb. 7), are patently false. By the time this ill-conceived marriage of a government and its unworkable constitution was imposed on Cyprus, Makarios was opposed to union with Greece. He sought complete independence for Cyprus and a unified sovereign state that protected the rights of all Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish.

It was precisely because Makarios opposed union with Greece that Greek extremists shelled the presidential palace and twice attempted to assassinate him. The amendments he proposed to the constitution were designed to make the government (which has been described by legal experts as "the first in the world to be denied majority rule by its own constitution") somewhat workable and to reflect a closer approximation of the true ratio of Greeks to Turks in Cyprus. Makarios submitted these proposals to the Vice President, a Turkish Cypriot, who did not respond. Instead, the Turkish government, reflecting its dominant role in separatist efforts, answered for him: Turkey rejected the proposals out of hand and forbade the Turkish Cypriots from even discussing them. Shortly thereafter, the Turkish Cypriots abandoned the government completely.

Turkey's 1974 assault on Cyprus is commonly referred to by many in the media as a "landing", a "dispatch of troops" or as anything other than what it was: a brutal invasion. Turkey also misleadingly argues that the invasion was authorized by the Treaty of Guarantee. The Treaty of Guarantee provided that one of the guarantor powers (England, Greece or Turkey) could intervene in an emergency but only in order to restore the country to its original (unified) state, and certainly not to partition, ethnically cleanse or occupy it. And under the U.S.-Turkey Agreement of July 1947, American consent was required for the use of military force by Turkey because virtually all of Turkey's military equipment, weapons, tanks and fighter jets, was supplied by the U.S. This consent was never given. On the very day of the invasion, July 20, 1974, the United Nations Security Council condemned Turkey for its aggression, demanding that Turkey withdraw all troops and allow the displaced Greek Cypriots to return to their confiscated homes.

There have been at least three further UN resolutions since 1974 demanding the same, but Turkey has ignored them all. This is why the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," the TRNC, is not recognized by any country in the world except for Turkey and has no legitimate international standing.

The continuing insistence on partition by Turkey, using the protection of the Turkish-Cypriot community as a pretext, is merely part of Turkey's long-held expansionist plans for the island. According to Professor John L. Scherer, in Blocking the Sun: The Cyprus Conflict, "Since the 1950s, [Turkey's] plan had been to turn northern Cyprus into a Turkish-run province. Ankara needed an excuse to intervene, and that was provided by George Grivas and EOKA fighters. If there had been no EOKA, however, the Turks and Turkish Cypriots would have found another pretext. They would have planted their own bombs in Turkish-Cypriot areas and blamed the Greek Cypriots in order to justify the Turkish invasion."

Attempts are also made to minimize the 80% Greek majority's cultural and historical claim to the island through assertions like: "Turkish and Greek Cypriots occupied the island for centuries under a succession of sovereigns before the Republic of Cyprus was established in 1960" (Insight Magazine, Feb. 7).

Because of its geo-strategic position in the Mediterranean and the bounty of its natural resources, Cyprus has been invaded and intermittently ruled over by many: Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, English, Lusignans, Genoese, Marmelukes, Venetians, Ottomans, and again the English. The Ottomans invaded in 1571 and controlled Cyprus for three hundred years (its longest period of cultural stagnation), but through all of its decidedly civilized history it has remained a Greek nation in language, architecture, art, music, culture and spirit.

As noted by Christopher Hitchens in Hostage to History, "the complexity and variety of Cypriot history cannot efface, any more than could its numerous owners and rulers, one striking fact. The island has been, since the Bronze Age, unmistakably Greek." Out of 7,000 years of history, the Turks have been in Cyprus a mere 300 years. Based on this and an 18% minority, Turkey's military establishment, with a seemingly truncated memory, believes that Cyprus should be part of Turkey.

Most troubling for the future of Cyprus is the apartheid-like creed, parroted by some journalists covering the issue, that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will never be able to live in harmony (although they did so for three hundred years), therefore let's maintain the Attila Line that has been imposed on both communities by the Turkish military and forget about finding a solution. It is no accident that this is identical to the argument used by Turkish extremists in the 1950s to promote the idea of partition-one separate state for Turkish Cypriots, another for Greeks.

It is this very separatist objective-engineered by Turkey's ruling military establishment to achieve its goal of taksim, or the partition of Cyprus (and further exacerbated by Britain, America and the Greek junta's disastrous intrigues in Cyprus)-that initiated the cycle of violence by extremists of both communities in 1963 after centuries of peaceful coexistence.

While Turkey has refused to allow Greek Cypriot refugees to return to their homes in the occupied north, the Cypriot Government has kept Turkish-Cypriot homes in trust for them in the hope that they will one day return when Cyprus is united.

Situated in the UN-controlled buffer-zone, Pyla serves as an example of what can be achieved when the divisive effect of Turkey's occupation regime is removed. It is one of the few villages on the island where Greek and Turkish Cypriots still live together peacefully as they had done for centuries.

A recent mobilization by Turkish Cypriots to find a blood donor for a 6-year-old Greek Cypriot boy with leukemia further underscores the speciousness of the myth, propagated for the very purpose of keeping Cyprus divided, that both communities are somehow inherently incapable of living together.

Another disinformation bite promoted by the Turkish government and its spindoctors here is that the Turkish-occupied part of the island functions as a democracy.

As confirmed by the State Department's most recent Human Rights Report and by independent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Turkey is among the worst human rights violators on earth, where torture and extra-judicial killings remain a part of its political landscape. For the fifth consecutive year the Turkish state has led the world in imprisoned journalists ahead of China and Syria, and has recently admitted to using death squads to kill as many as 14,000 people since the 1980's.

As the TRNC is in reality a puppet administration that answers directly to the Turkish state, the same authoritarian repression that afflicts Turkey also pervades occupied Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots critical of Denktash's occupation regime have asked that their identities be kept confidential, as one economics professor did, for example, when interviewed by the BBC ("the fact that she didn't want to be identified was significant", BBC News, 9/1/98).

The assassination of prominent Turkish Cypriot journalist Kutlu Adali in 1996 is instructive--his assassination is widely attributed to extremists working on behalf of the Turkish state. According to Professor Claire Palley, a British constitutional law expert, Adali was murdered six days after the European Human Rights Commission declared Cyprus' application against Turkey admissible and "after it became obvious he would have been a witness" in the case. Adali's writings had been extensively quoted in the application, and Palley stated that Adali "proved Turkey's colonisation of Cyprus . . . [and its] compelling Turkish Cypriots to emigrate"

Anyone who wants to believe that the TRNC is a democracy will soon be disappointed upon visiting occupied Cyprus, and taking note of the square-helmeted, goose-stepping soldiers wielding machine guns on every corner. Cross the Green Line in Nicosia into the Turkish sector and try to photograph any building or videotape any street scene and you will soon find yourself camera-less, in jail, or both.

That apologists of the occupation regime are under the misperception that this is how a democracy should function is indeed part of the problem. And, much like the situation with the former Berlin Wall, now there are Turkish Cypriots from the north escaping to the south to return to their old neighborhoods among the Greeks; their homes, as guaranteed by Cypriot law, still waiting for them.

As was recently reported by Gregory Copley of The International Strategic Studies Association in Washington DC, "[t]he Turkish Cypriots' standard of living has declined compared with that of their Greek Cypriot neighbors since 1974. Turkish Cypriots, with 37 percent of the land and the best agricultural and tourist areas of the island, earn only 30 percent of the average wage of the Greek Cypriots."

European Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek protested that the Turkish Cypriot community was being "victimized" and withheld from "a better and more prosperous future" as a result of Turkey's insistence on an occupied and divided Cyprus.

An increasing number of Turkish Cypriots have realized that the future of a prosperous Cyprus is a united one without Turkish troops. Rejecting the hard-line partitionist stand of the occupation regime, in October 1999 an influential bloc of 23 Turkish-Cypriot trade unions and professional organizations appealed directly to visiting U.S. envoy Alfred Moses to work for the reunification of war-divided Cyprus on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions that call for a unified Cyprus and a withdrawal of occupation troops.

The TRNC's occupation regime has trapped Turkish Cypriots in a political and economic black hole, all the while importing Turks from the depths of Anatolia to wrest control from Cyprus' native Turkish population. As a result, as many as half of all Turkish-Cypriots have fled their own homeland in search of greater economic and political freedom elsewhere.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that there were extremists on both sides of the Cyprus conflict, while power-brokering by colonial-minded Britain and interventionist violence by junta-era Greece clearly added fuel to the Cypriot powder keg. But insiders know that it was Turkish designs for partition that ultimately caused the breakdown in government and the terrible tragedy of 1974, the repercussions of which all indigenous Cypriots, both Greek and Turk, are still suffering today.

Cyprus is Berlin all over again, with one difference. Rather than taking the side of civilian-controlled governments, pluralistic societies, and democratic values, our own government has instead decided to ratify invasion, occupation, and transnational aggression in order to sustain an alliance of increasingly questionable value.

About the author: Matthew J. Stowell is an Associate with the American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP), a non-profit think-tank created to address bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism. Commentaries, letters and opinion/editorials by AHMP have been published in The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News, The Detroit News, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes Global, The Miami Herald, The New York Post, The New York Times, The Toronto Sun, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and World Press Review.

A shorter version of this article was published in the form of a letter to the editor of Insight Magazine.