Makarios Drousiotis’ new book, an extract of which is printed below, attempts to destroy two deeply held beliefs about 1974 and its aftermath. The first is that the coup and invasion were part of a US led western conspiracy, and the second that the Soviet Union acted in the best interests of the Greek Cypriots
The years between 1974 and 1977 were arguably the most turbulent in Cyprus’ long history of invasion. For the first time in its history, Cyprus was de facto divided into two ethnically homogenous regions.
In the four decades since, a new reality has been established. Although the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, unilaterally declared in 1983, has never been granted international recognition, the changed demographic reality in the occupied part of the island has, over time, acquired both permanence and a certain form of legitimacy.
Of great significance is that this major upheaval in the island’s history occurred paradoxically while Cyprus was an independent state. The 1974 tragedy took place when the Republic of Cyprus was in the hands of the Greek Cypriot leadership, specifically President Makarios. Therefore, objectively, and regardless of the objectives of any third party, Cyprus must shoulder a significant share of the responsibility. This responsibility has never been acknowledged by Greek Cypriot society or its leadership.
Beyond the self-evident role played first by the Greek junta and then Turkey, which took advantage of every Greek Cypriot misstep to implement its own plan of geographically separating the two communities, the Greek Cypriot collective consciousness blames its suffering on the British and the Americans. The coup and the Turkish invasion were premeditated and part of an organised conspiracy to make Cyprus a NATO base in order to monitor the wider region. The passage of time has disproved this firmly held belief. In forty years of Turkish military presence, Cyprus – especially the occupied area – has never been used by NATO for any operation. In fact, the perpetuation of the Cyprus problem has undermined NATO cohesion and, to this day, the unresolved problem hinders the smooth cooperation between the North Atlantic Alliance and the EU.
Despite all the ink that has been used down the years, direct US or British involvement in the planning, organisation and execution of the coup, with the aim of facilitating the Turkish invasion, has never been proven. It is a fact that when the crisis broke, the US government, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger personally, chose to tolerate the Turkish invasion, for reasons which this book explains thoroughly. Despite his prowess, the “diplomatic wizard”, as Kissinger has been called, made poor decisions over Cyprus that hurt instead of served US interests. Tellingly, he admitted long ago that he viewed his handling of the Cyprus crisis as his biggest diplomatic failure.
Even if the US tolerance of the invasion justifies Greek Cypriot bitterness, the same could not be said for the way Greek Cypriot society and its political system has heaped so much blame on Britain. In fact, Britain’s support of Cyprus was the most consistent of any state. Foreign Secretary James Callaghan exerted sincere and strenuous efforts to prevent the Turkish invasion, and, when that failed, to limit its effects. Britain’s motivation was its physical presence in Cyprus through its bases, and its good relations with the Republic of Cyprus, but it also diagnosed accurately that failing to harness Turkey would cause serious problems within NATO, create conditions for Soviet involvement and destabilise the region.
This book challenges many of the assumed “national truths” regarding the Cyprus problem. Entire generations of Cypriots have been nursed on the myth of a foreign conspiracy against Cyprus. What the book documents is not the foreign conspiracy, but the abject failure of the country’s leadership to manage its independence. The invasion was not just the result of a tragic confluence of events, but the culmination of a sequence of incorrect assessments. A key feature here was the leadership’s total – and arguably criminal – failure to understand the scale of Turkish capabilities.
Projecting the coup – not the invasion – as a NATO operation was dreamed up by Soviet propaganda. The Soviet Union had every reason to react to the coup and to prevent the risk of Cyprus uniting with Greece. The Cyprus crisis destabilised NATO and seriously undermined US-Turkey relations, thus giving the Soviet Union the opportunity to forge closer relations with Turkey. It took full advantage of that opportunity, and in the process it contributed to perpetuating the status quo. If one state benefited from the Turkish invasion of Cyprus without actually risking anything, it was the Soviet Union.
Soviet intervention in the Cyprus crisis was one of its propaganda machinery’s greatest Cold War successes. Moscow pushed for the Turkish invasion, effectively intervening in Cyprus’ domestic developments to maintain a pro-Turkish status quo. Yet, at the same time, it managed to embed within Greek Cypriots of all ideological hues that, unlike the West, it was a persistent and sincere ally of the Republic of Cyprus. This perception prevails to this day.
AKEL, ideologically and economically linked to Moscow, was the mouthpiece of Soviet propaganda in Cyprus, as was EDEK, whose then president, Vassos Lyssarides, had ties with both the Soviet Union and Soviet-backed Arab regimes.
Makarios’ contribution was also important. Attributing responsibility to NATO was a convenient way out for the Cypriot President, who had formed the naive notion that internationally denouncing the Greek junta’s coup and Turkey’s reaction would restore constitutional order in Cyprus. Thereafter, Makarios attempted to “play” with the Soviet Union to put pressure on the US so as to force Turkey to cooperate in a more acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem.
In actual fact Makarios was never pro-Soviet. Even though both before and after 1974 he accepted AKEL’s support, he persistently tried to limit its influence on the political scene. Linking Makarios to the “Soviet danger” was a miscalculation by Kissinger who, in focusing on the small picture, lost sight of the big one which was the Soviet Union moving closer to Turkey. By attempting to marginalise Makarios after the invasion, Kissinger was inadvertently pushing him ever closer towards Moscow. Kissinger behaved arrogantly towards the Cypriot president, who resisted by stirring up sustained anti-American sentiment. Once Kissinger left power, Makarios revised his entire policy vis-à-vis the United States.
The political management of the day-after scenario was intertwined with the domestic balances as they changed after the Turkish invasion. Kissinger linked the search for a diplomatic solution with Makarios’ marginalisation because of the influence he deemed the Soviet Union to exercise over the Archbishop. Makarios reacted by undermining US initiatives. Makarios’ refusal to cooperate made him a valuable asset to the Soviet Union. Makarios and Moscow became allies in a push to internationalise the Cyprus problem, but for different reasons: Makarios to pressure the US and achieve a more acceptable solution; the Soviet Union to perpetuate the problem and to reap the benefits of the new status quo. In essence, Makarios and Moscow did not have a shared aim, but a common policy against US initiatives.
Shortly after the events of 1974, two trends formed with regard to Cyprus. On the one hand, the US and the West in general sought a speedy resolution that would heal the wounds within NATO. For the exact opposite reasons, the Soviet Union sought to perpetuate the problem.
In 1974 Cyprus not only lost a war, but also the diplomatic battle. The first round of the Turkish invasion was tolerated by the international community, and even Makarios initially accepted the Turkish military operation in response to the coup. It took him the first twenty-four hours to realize that it was an invasion with dramatic consequences and not a “police action to restore constitutional order”. In the face of defeat and the inability to overturn it, the only realistic option for an agreed solution was accepting Turkey’s basic terms. This was a very hard and painful truth.
Turkey’s terms for an agreed solution of the Cyprus problem was a bizonal federation with a weak central government in exchange for some territorial adjustments, which from the outset were very specific: return of the buffer zone, of Varosha, communities south of the new Nicosia-Famagusta road and certain areas of Morphou.
The Greek Cypriot dilemma since 1974 to the present day has been between accepting a federal solution that safeguarded the basics and a long wait for conditions to change – if this were to ever happen. Looking back after forty years, the speedy settlement may sound like a simple solution. At that time, it was a tremendously difficult choice.
The leader who took such a decision would easily have been labelled a national defector. The wait was politically more manageable. The long struggle for liberation, even if in fact it had no concrete foundation, had a much larger audience because it was considered a more dignified choice.
It was within this context that the two political trends in Cyprus were formed immediately after 1974: Glafcos Clerides’ realism and Makarios’ uncompromising struggle. Clerides, as the book makes clear, chose the pragmatic path, which translates into quick compromise. It was not an easy decision, and he paid a heavy personal and political price. Makarios, on the other hand, had great difficulty with being assigned such a great historical responsibility and wanted to exhaust every possibility of reversing the results of the invasion before beginning to think about any compromise. After three years of fruitless efforts, he adopted Clerides’ approach.
Turkey, however, as the book shows, was reluctant during this time to facilitate a solution by making concessions, and the question arises whether the dilemmas the Greek Cypriots faced were already obsolete.
Makarios, despite his dispute with the United States, repeatedly stated that only the US could contribute effectively to the solution of the Cyprus problem. However, just as in the period before 1974, any solution supported by the US had to ensure the Greco-Turkish balance on the island. That the US did not want the partition of Cyprus has been confirmed in the past 40 years.
The US wanted the Greek Cypriot community in Cyprus to survive, and it was for this reason it provided significant financial assistance immediately after 1974. It was not to buy people’s consciences. The US, together with the whole of the western world, had established the framework within which they could contribute to an agreed solution on the Cyprus problem: a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a weak central government and the return of territories. There was nothing else on the table beyond this proposal. No country – not even Greece, which wanted to rid itself of the Cyprus problem – has ever claimed otherwise. The only other option was the continuation of the status quo, with time solidifying the facts on the ground.
To the question, therefore, of what the results would have been if a more pragmatic policy had been adopted, the answer is that an early realistic assessment, combined with a reliable understanding with the US over a solution that also served its own strategic interests, would have provided Cyprus with its most secure defence against the unpalatable status quo that has come with the passage of time.
Clerides understood such pragmatism during the early days of the invasion and tried to apply it. Later, Makarios also realised it and then implemented it as official policy, only for it to be cut short by his death in August 1977.
The way one US initiative developed, which commenced with the Clark Clifford mission to Cyprus in February 1977, is particularly revealing. This initiative culminated in late 1978 with the US-British-Canadian solution framework. It provided for a bizonal federation with substantial territorial adjustments, the participation in federal government structures based on the population ratio, the safeguarding of fundamental freedoms, the return of refugees without affecting the majority of each community in its region, the withdrawal of troops with a view to full demilitarization, and the return not only of Varosha but also the wider area, including the villages south of the Nicosia-Famagusta road prior to the commencement of the negotiations.
The framework solution was handed to Cyprus Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis in November 1978 in New York. AKEL responded positively and took steps to secure the consent of President Spyros Kyprianou and to control the reactions of Archbishop Chrysostomos I. As demonstrated by the then Assistant General Secretary of the party, Andreas Fantis, AKEL’s Central Secretariat viewed the plan very positively, believing it “would, finally lead to the solution of the Cyprus problem”. A few days later, Soviet ambassador Sergei Astavin invited members of AKEL’s Secretariat and Politburo to lunch at his home. During the meal, the solution framework was discussed to which Astavin gave a negative response. That was all it took. The next day, the Central Secretariat met again and revised its initial decision: AKEL was to reject the framework suggested by these three western countries.
In the years that followed, all the presidents of Cyprus, without exception, were elected after pledging their commitment to a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Those governments discussed ideas, outlines and solution plans which were all based on the same philosophy as that presented in the American-British-Canadian plan, progressively amended for the worse, however, as the Greek Cypriot position deteriorated over time.
No president has proposed a different framework, and yet not a single president has proved able or willing to solve the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bizonal federation. As a result, the status quo has become the substitute for a comprehensive settlement.
A launch of Makarios Drousiotis’ book “The Invasion and the Big Powers” (in Greek) is taking place on Wednesday, June 11 at 7pm at the University of Cyprus, 75 Kallipoleos St, Nicosia