By Yiannis Papadakis
While the recent controversial parliament resolution regarding Enosis came to me as a shocking surprise, this was not the case with the Turkish Cypriot reaction.
On February 10, the parliament passed a resolution to add a new school commemoration. Its purpose was to remind students of the 1950 Greek Cypriot plebiscite in favour of Enosis (union with Greece). In practice, this did not mean much. The teachers would discuss it for a few minutes and read a circular from the ministry of education to bored students. But I knew that symbolically the impact on Turkish Cypriots would be huge. There is no other word that scares Turkish Cypriots so much. It reminds them of their most painful historical trauma, the period of the 1960s when many were killed and displaced while Greek Cypriots proclaimed their desire for Enosis. I could also think of nothing else that would undermine as much the position of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, in his own community. Now it became even harder for him to persuade Turkish Cypriots that Greek Cypriots had the necessary goodwill to reach a solution.
I first came to know Akinci during the 1990s when I was a PhD student doing research on history, memory and forgetting in the two sides. During that period, I had spoken to many Turkish Cypriots and understood how much they feared that Greek Cypriots still wanted Enosis. But this was a dream Greek Cypriots had abandoned for good since 1974.
When I visited the Turkish Cypriot National Archives and Research Centre in Kyrenia, I was surprised to see that its walls were decorated with old pre-1974 Greek Cypriot posters of Enosis. The results of that research came out in my book Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide. This is what I wrote about my visit to the research centre:
“It was unnerving to encounter these remnants of a long dead past. Greek Cypriots and Greeks no longer believed in them, but Turkish Cypriot researchers did. As was explained, the posters were there to motivate the researchers. … The problem was that Turkish Cypriots now vehemently believed in Enosis, when Greek Cypriots no longer did.”
It was clear to me then that the Turkish Cypriot fear of Enosis, based on their historical traumas and so easy to magnify, was used in an official campaign of misinformation. The right-wing parties in power at the time that did not favour reunification were exploiting this fear to turn Turkish Cypriots against it. They used all the media to persuade them that Greek Cypriots still wanted Enosis and always would. It was also clear to me then that not all Turkish Cypriots were persuaded by this campaign. I spoke to Akinci who was the leader of a left-wing political party. This was his reply when I asked if he believed that Greek Cypriots still wanted Enosis:
“No, I am convinced that Greek Cypriots don’t want Enosis any more. It’s finished. But many people here, on our side, don’t want to admit this. Two years ago I said here that Greek Cypriots don’t want Enosis, and I was attacked for this. Most people here believe that Greek Cypriots still want Enosis and our government propagates this view all the time.”
This fear is still propagated among Turkish Cypriots through their educational system. Their history books have since the 1970s placed great emphasis on Enosis and the trauma of the 1960s, with the exception of a few years from 2004-2009 when more balanced books were used.
The Greek Cypriot resolution for the commemoration of Enosis was supported by all political parties that do not firmly support a federal solution, which is the only option on the negotiating table. In my view, they understood how much this resolution would undermine the negotiations and the position of the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades.
He later criticised parliament’s decision and expressed his disagreement, yet, sadly, he refrained from acknowledging the significance of this event for Turkish Cypriots. I do not think that Akinci has changed his mind about Enosis having been buried by history, especially given the passage of more decades and the entry of the Republic of Cyprus in the EU. But given the Turkish Cypriot public reaction, his position might have been undermined even more in his own community had he not reacted strongly. There is also another reason for his reaction, this time much more real than the ghost of Enosis. The resolution was proposed by the small extreme right wing party Elam. Yet, it managed to pull along with it a whole community, exacerbating Turkish Cypriot fears about any joint future.
For Greek Cypriots the biggest fear has been the fear of partition or annexation of the northern part of Cyprus by Turkey. They also have plenty to complain about: from the recent harmonisation of time in the north with Turkey, instead of the south as was the case, also a large a symbolic blow, to the huge Turkish flag on the mountain beyond Nicosia – allegedly the largest in the world that even lights up in the night – and the militaristic commemorations in the north.
In the end it all comes down to fears based on traumas in the two sides, but also to the lack of any effort in each side to acknowledge the pain of the others and face their own wrongs. By saying the problem is only external, ‘the barbaric Turkish invasion’, Greek Cypriots ignore the 1960s intercommunal violence and only focus only on their own trauma of 1974. By saying the problem is only internal, their ‘barbaric massacres by Greek Cypriots’, Turkish Cypriots only focus on their own suffering from the 1960s.
What has joined the two sides, has been their hesitation to deal with difficult aspects of history, misinformation and education until only after a solution. George Orwell made an interesting observation about this: “The argument that to tell the truth would be ‘inopportune’ or ‘would play in the hands’ of somebody or other is felt to be unanswerable.” But as both sides’ leaderships work within this mentality, the dominant, one-sided and misinformed historical perspectives can easily come back to haunt them, working against a solution. This to me is the real history of the Cyprus problem.
Yiannis Papadakis is a professor in the department of social and political sciences at the University of Cyprus. He is the author of Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide (IB Tauris, 2005)