Cyprus Mail

So close to ending a tragedy

Then House President Glafcos Clerides with Archbishop Makarios in 1960

Canadian academic Ozay Mehmet assesses the political legacy of Glafcos Clerides

GLAFCOS Clerides died on November 15 at the ripe old age of 94. His massive four volume memoirs, Cyprus, My Deposition (Alithia Publications, Nicosia, 1992) stand out as his monumental achievement and as the single most definitive account of the Cyprus problem, based on original documents. I shall endeavour to precis his memoirs as an appreciation and an obituary.

Clerides is the one Greek Cypriot leader who came closest to solving the Cyprus problem but in my view held back at the final moment. For this reason, he could be considered a tragic figure and a true symbol of the Cypriot character as he was unable to make the ultimate decision, the distinctive mark of a true leader.

In volume three of his memoirs, Clerides succinctly expressed the crux of the problem. “Just as the GC preoccupation was that Cyprus should be a GC state, with a protected TC minority, the Turkish preoccupation was to defeat any such effort and to maintain the partnership concept [political equality],” he wrote. As such, the Cyprus problem “was a conflict of principle and for that principle both sides were prepared to go on arguing and even, if need be, to fight, rather than compromise.”

For the Greek Cypriots, Clerides had possibly won the political prize, in the sense of achieving most of what they wanted. That was in 1972, as a result of the Clerides-Denktash negotiations. In his own words, Clerides secured terms “based on a much improved constitution than the Zurich one, and on a unitary state…. We rejected it because it did not give us the maximum of our aims, i.e. Cyprus, a GC island ruled by a GC majority.” The Greek Cypriot rejection was put very clearly by then Foreign Minister Sypros Kyprianou. “I wish again to call on the GC people to be calmly on alert in order to prevent a nationally unacceptable solution. By this I mean either concealed or unconcealed federation, or condominium, double Enosis, or partition or a return to Zurich Agreements,” Clerides quoted Kyprianou as saying.

At the end of volume 1, Clerides made it “absolutely clear” why he wrote his Deposition. He argued that he had one overriding objective in mind: to record “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth….so that the mistakes of the past shall not be repeated by either side in the future.” These were noble sentiments. But did he stick to his objective? To some extent, yes.

On the notorious 13 Points proposed by Archbishop Makarios in 1963, which on face value sought to water down at best, or eliminate at worst, the rights of Turkish Cypriots under the Zurich-London Agreements, Clerides, as speaker of the House, wrote that he advised Makarios against the wisdom of this destructive action.“I warned him,” Clerides wrote “that there was no possibility of Turkey accepting such far-reaching amendments, which in fact destroyed the basis of the Zurich Agreements.”

Significantly, the then Greek Prime Minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis, was of the same mind as Clerides, branding the 13 Points as “premature” and dangerous. Yet Clerides yielded, deferring to Makarios, not just on this occasion but time and time again. He did this because, on an emotional level, Clerides was a torn man. His memoirs are full of statements, confessions and near confessions, demonstrating that he was never able to fully escape from, or rise above, Greek nationalism. In addition, he always seemed to be playing second fiddle to Makarios, something which was understandable given the president’s personality and appeal to the wider population.

As regards the period of EOKA and the Akritas Plan, the latter whose avowed aims were hardly conciliatory, he wrote “the period 1955-59…five years of harsh struggle and bloodshed…(was). .. a heroic one… and …independence, (based on the Zurich-London accords)…amounted to betrayal of a sacred cause (ENOSIS).” For what I consider to be a more objective account of this era, one should consider reading The First Partition or EOKA: The Dark Side, both by Makarios Drousiotis.

From 1964-74, the Greek Cypriots were masters of Cyprus. In essence, the events of December 1963 had paid off with the Turkish Cypriots no longer participating in the running of the Republic. Yet the Greek Cypriots blew it because, as Clerides saw it, they were “politically naïve”.

Worse than naivety, they also failed to develop any sense of national cohesion. Instead, they turned and fought each other. “During the period 1964-1970, our destructive characteristics played a fatal part,” he wrote in volume two of his memoirs. The pursuit of “the national cause”, Enosis, caused not unity, but fragmentation and violence. Clerides, who in 1969-72, had reached a deal with Rauf Denktash on limited autonomy in local government for Turkish Cypriots, was overruled by Makarios. And by the early 1970s, Makarios had far greater concerns with the junta in Athens and EOKA B, as political murders and anti-Makarios coup plots intensified.

Volume four of Clerides’ memoirs deals with “the Turkish military action against Cyprus”. When Makarios was deposed, the junta made Nicos Sampson president, with Clerides becoming acting president a few days later after the fall of the junta and Sampson’s removal. He immediately communicated with Makarios and facilitated his return and the resumption of his presidency.

In this crisis situation, Makarios saw the writing on the wall and instructed Clerides to inform Denktash “of our willingness to fully implement the Zurich and London Agreements”. Were these desperate words and too little too late? Probably.

Against the backdrop of the new reality of the Turkish army’s presence in and around Kyrenia in July and August 1974, Clerides participated in the Geneva conference where, astonishingly, he adopted a defiant stand. He refused to give orders for the release and evacuation of Turkish Cypriot civilians held hostage by Greek and Greek Cypriot soldiers in the south. More significantly, in the second Geneva conference, he and Makarios stubbornly resisted “a bi-zonal federation or cantonal solution”. At this crucial stage and admittedly under extreme pressure, Clerides failed to reach a decision and the conference broke up, followed shortly by the second Turkish operation.

After 1974, as second in command to Makarios, Clerides resumed negotiations with Denktash. In Vienna in August 1975, he negotiated the movement of Turkish Cypriots to the north in return for certain rights for Greek Cypriots in the Karpas. For once, Makarios supported Clerides on this agreement, although nationalists like Vassos Lyssarides insisted that Clerides had acted without the approval of the National Council.

Despite everything, Clerides concluded his memoirs on a highly philosophical note. At the end of volume four, he offered excellent advice to Greek Cypriot extremists and nationalists who denounced the Makarios-Denktash agreements of 1977 and the Kyprianou-Denktash reaffirmations of 1979. He wrote: (1) “The CyProb started in 1963… (not) in 1974, i.e. 11 years later. (2) That during the period between 1963-1974, the UN attempted without success to solve the problem…. (3) During the same period there were no Turkish occupation forces on the island. On the contrary, there was a Greek army division from the Greek mainland.”

Any reasonable person must concur with Clerides’ eternal wisdom as expressed in the following statement in his final paragraph. “GCs and TCs must realise that the true future of Cyprus…lies in the two ethnic communities…solving the problems…by goodwill and not resorting to arms.” 

For this alone, Clerides deserves to rest in peace.

Ozay Mehmet, Ph.D (Toronto),Senior Fellow, Modern Turkish Studies Initiative, Distinguished Research Professor, International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

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