Cyprus Mail

Our common nationalist folly

ONCE more the Greek Cypriot community marks the anniversary of the 1974 invasion and occupation of Cyprus by Turkish armed forces. For our community it is a dark, depressing remembrance of a time when more than a third of the island’s population was uprooted, when thousands were killed and more than a thousand remain unaccounted for. Our narrative remains one of resistance and refusal to accept the “realities” created by armed force. It is a narrative of betrayal, with the culprits being the Greek junta, EOKA B, Kissinger, perfidious Albion and in general an international community unwilling to stop the invading forces of Attila.

On the other side of the divide the Turks celebrate the invasion and occupation as the liberation of the Turkish Cypriots from oppression by the Greek Cypriots. Even among those Turkish Cypriots who resent the heavy hand of domination by the Turkish “motherland” and their own marginalisation by settlers from the Turkish mainland, few would willingly agree to return to their pre-invasion circumstances, living in enclaves and under constant threat from Greek Cypriot paramilitary organisations and extreme Greek Cypriot nationalist armed forces.

The problem then and now is our inability on both sides of the divide to transcend our ethnic identities and to find our common heritage as Cypriots first and foremost, some of whom identify as Greeks, others as Turks and smaller groups as Maronites, Armenians and Latins or newer citizens.

The core of the problem was the understandable but tragically mistaken decision of the Church of Cyprus to seek self-determination for the island from the British colonial government without regard to the wishes of the Turkish Cypriot community.

It is a matter greatly to be regretted that the only institutions under colonial rule that were even moderately integrated were the communist party AKEL and the communist trade union PEO.  Although Greeks and Turks worked together in the civil service, the police and the courts, and had considerable intercourse in matters of agriculture, trade and the professions, the society in most of its forms remained strictly divided along ethnic lines.

At the heart of these divisions lay the Church of Cyprus and the educational elites that fostered an extreme and romantic form of nationalism rooted in 19th Century dogmas and history.

Archbishop Makarios was an astute and charismatic leader, but he failed initially to see that the political goal of ENOSIS was a strategic error in the sense that the West would not entertain a self determination for Cyprus that could jeopardize stability on the eastern frontier of NATO. The strategic error was then compounded by the tactical decision to wage an armed struggle against the colonial government (that in any case was a proxy for the Western alliance) and then he sealed our fate by putting the far-right nationalist Grivas to head the armed struggle. It was this strategic and these tactical errors that led to the creation of the extremist Turkish Cypriot organisation TMT and the outbreak of inter communal hostilities.

Although hindsight is 20/20 vision, a farsighted leader would have foreseen and considered the Turkish reaction to ENOSIS, EOKA and the nationalist fanaticism it spawned. Lying only 40 miles from the Turkish mainland, in the shadow of one of the largest and best armed militaries in the world, the outcome for Cyprus of these errors should never have been in doubt.

By the time Makarios came to terms with global strategic reality it was too late, and the forces arrayed against him continued their subversive mission to its inevitable outcome, which Makarios saw but could not prevent, namely double ENOSIS or partition of the Island.

Of course, all of this is history. The relevant question now is whether the two large communities on the island are able after all these years to overcome our history and enter into a federal compact that is Cypriot first and foremost and that celebrates our ethnic identities as matters of a cultural mosaic, not as political barriers to consensus and cooperation.

On both sides men and women of good will and common humanity must accept our shared responsibility for the many atrocities inflicted on each other in pursuit of political goals, ENOSIS and partition, which were fundamentally misguided.

We must extend to each other the hand of friendship and forgiveness, and promise as communities never again to take up arms against each other to solve our differences. We must shame and isolate those fanatics on both sides who live in a twisted and outdated nationalist prison of their own making and resolve that Cyprus shall no longer be hostage to its history.

Striking a bargain that is a win/win situation for both communities will not be easy but if we can move beyond the mistakes of the past there is still hope that Cyprus can be re-united as a federation. If not the past is a prologue, then brooding Pentadactylos will continue to stand as a stark and constant reminder of our common nationalist folly.

Nikos Pittas, Canada

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