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Cyprus

Turning the Cyprus problem industry on its head

By Stefanos Evripidou

When the Roman Inquisition forced Galileo to denounce his defence of Copernicus’ theory that the earth moves around the sun, and not the other way around, folklore has it the Italian astronomer replied: “And yet it moves.”

In other words, he told the distributors of knowledge in the 17th century that they can believe what they like, say what they like, but the facts are clear. Eventually, the message trickled down to the man in the street.

It’s highly unlikely that when journalist, historian and associate of the President, Makarios Drousiotis set about writing his book, The Invasion and the Big Powers, he was thinking of emulating Galileo.

But a tenuous link can be made between Galileo’s now seemingly obvious statement on the earth’s orbit around the sun, and Drousiotis’ bold assertion that the US, UK and NATO did not conspire to implement the 1974 coup and invasion, which turned out pretty bad for everyone except Moscow.

Why the link? Three reasons: First, both men make radical claims that turn the world as we know it upside down. Foreign readers may find this comparison slightly annoying as the groundbreaking argument on the earth’s relationship to the sun cannot really be compared to overturning the widely-held, 40-year belief among Cypriots of all political colours that the Greek-inspired coup and Turkish invasion were the brainchild of the US, UK and/or NATO. Deal with it. For us Cypriots, it’s on a par.

Second, there is a commonality in the confidence and certainty both have in their hypotheses, supported by scientific evidence they are willing to share.

And lastly, both got trashed by their critics.

British soldiers handing out bread in a refugee camp created within the British bases
British soldiers handing out bread in a refugee camp created within the British bases

Drousiotis’ book, released last month, truly is a watershed moment in the course of historical research on Cyprus. It is believed to be the first Greek-language book to review the period 1974-1977, providing almost a daily account of events from the coup until President Makarios’ death, using primary sources.

Drousiotis considers the four-year period in question of paramount importance as it laid the foundations for what he calls the Cyprus problem industry.

He spent €30,000 writing the book, combing through documents at the US National Archives and Records Administration, the State Department, Library of Congress, Henry Kissinger’s phone transcripts at the Digital National Security Archives of George Washington University, the UK’s National Archives, UN documents, as well as minutes of the Cyprus Parliament.

The part-time journalist, part-time historian had a bit of a eureka moment in the last decade, when he came to the conclusion that his earlier books on Cyprus’ modern history were written more from the perspective of a journalist influenced by emotions and subconscious loyalty to the official narrative, than historical research and analysis.

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Drousiotis said his work has since matured, to the point where he felt compelled to write new books revising and contradicting his own previous work on the key moments in Cypriot history following independence in 1960.

Most of the primary sources come from transcripts, and diplomatic cables from the US and UK.

Given that both countries played a key role in managing the 1974 crisis, and saw NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, and by extension Cyprus, as being of key importance to their national interests, the author was able to gather a lot of relevant archival material, particularly correspondence between the UK and US embassies and their respective capitals.

Drousiotis notes in the prologue to his book, based on his personal experience of studying thousands of diplomatic cables, diplomats of well-organised states tend to be extremely accurate when passing on information of an event to their foreign ministry.

The same cannot be said for newspapers.

So, the first message he wants to give is read the book, and let the discussions begin.

Contrary to the fierce criticism of the book, mainly from opposition party AKEL, Drousiotis insists it is no whitewash of American policy. On the contrary, it is the first book which records so clearly and provides detailed evidence of US policy on Cyprus, and the tolerance shown towards the Turkish invasion.

However the book also draws some other conclusions that really do turn the facts as we have learnt them over the last 40 years on their head:

l The US and NATO did not plan the Greek coup against Makarios on July 15, 1974, nor the Turkish invasion five days later, though Kissinger clearly chose to tolerate the invasion, later admitting that he badly handled the whole affair – not out of pity for the Cypriots but in terms of not serving America’s best interests.

l The British worked closer with Makarios than any other country, first to try and prevent the invasion, and later to overturn its consequences.

l It was in the interests of both the UK and US to see a quick resolution of the problem and restore calm in NATO’s south-east flank post-1974, hence the American-British-Canadian plan proposed in 1978, and rejected by the Greek Cypriots.

l The invasion proved detrimental and costly to all players involved, (the US, UK, NATO, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and Turkey), except the Soviet Union, which benefited from destabilising NATO’s southern flank and enhanced relations with Turkey.

Drousiotis writes that it was the Soviet ambassador in Nicosia who convinced AKEL to reject the 1978 peace plan, considered the best version of a bizonal federation to have ever been tabled.

“The Soviets supported the Turkish invasion more than any other state in the world, but they convinced us through their propaganda machine that they were our most loyal allies,” said Drousiotis.

The author provides convincing arguments backed by evidence on all the above assertions, which require closer scrutiny by historians, and his detractors, many of whom have yet to read the book.

For example, he lays out for the reader the meetings between Turkish and Soviet diplomats and officials leading up

Nicosia under fire
Nicosia under fire

to the invasion and after.

The bottom line being that the Soviets spent a lot of energy working against the Greek junta’s coup but sat back on the invasion, after receiving assurances from the Turks that the island’s divided parts would not fall into NATO hands.

Even after Turkish troops had landed in Cyprus by air and sea on July 20, the Soviet Union’s news agency TASS reported that Turkish troops were there fighting the coupists, as opposed to Greek Cypriot forces trying to repel the Turkish troops’ arrival.

A compelling argument Drousiotis makes is that the Soviet Union, and its successor the Russian Federation, have consistently refused to name or condemn Turkey for any of its actions in Cyprus in any official statement.

In all of their meetings, the Soviet Communist Party never allowed its protégé in Cyprus, AKEL, to issue a joint statement condemning the invasion.

Somewhat ironically, Drousiotis says the initial motivation for researching the book was Russia’s stance in favour of the Greek Cypriot leadership in 2004, when it refused to let pass an American UN resolution supporting the island’s security in the event of a vote in favour of the Annan plan.

“What made Russia use its veto in the UN Security Council for the first time since the end of the Cold War?” he asked.

What made Rauf Denktash and Yiannakis Omirou both adopt a common language, and say, “Thank god for Russia”?

The book’s groundbreaking conclusions do not stop there. Despite the title, the essence of the book digs into something much deeper than simply busting the myths of long-held international conspiracy theories; the remarkable figure of a man in black robes, holding a staff.

It is the revered leader who from 1955 until his death in 1977 shaped the course of this island, navigating through the many twists and turns of the colonial struggle, passion for enosis, disappointment of independence, power-sharing with an 18 per cent minority, constitutional breakdown, interethnic strife, threats of invasion, Cold War machinations, subsequent coup and invasion, and his final act and biggest compromise, blessing of a bizonal, federal solution.

For a long time, Cyprus was a one-man show. Makarios did not have around him the swarm of advisers, analysts, risk assessors, and intelligence-gatherers that the more established, advanced countries had at the time. He took crucial decisions, but how? And has anyone ever really tried to provide an objective analysis of those decisions?

The book raises many questions. After the July 15 coup, why did Makarios focus all his energy on overturning the coup, to the point of believing a Turkish intervention would restore order, instead of working to prevent what would have been obvious to many, a pending invasion?

It wasn’t the first time Turkey had thought of trying it on. On reading Drousiotis’ account, with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes painfully clear that Makarios clearly got the wrong end of the stick during those crucial days in July.

In a meeting with the UN Security Council, he said he feared the Greek military officers more than Turkey, who were a threat to all Cypriots, despite the fact Turkey had already napalmed Cyprus once, threatened to invade twice, and was getting increasingly irritated with his games both towards the international community and the Turkish Cypriots.

Why did Makarios work in close consultation with the Soviets to issue a UN Security Council Resolution on July 20 – after Turkish troops had already fired their first shots in Cyprus – that slammed the coup but failed to condemn the arrival of thousands of Turkish boots on Cypriot soil?

Would events have unfolded differently had Kissinger and Makarios not had a mutual dislike and mistrust for each other?

The cables are there. Drousiotis has ensured the archives are doing their job, demanding further examination of what we conceive to be a cemented history.

But how has the reaction been in Cyprus?

Quite ferocious, at least from the parties with the most to lose, those historically aligned with Moscow. AKEL’s Andros Kyprianou accused the author of forging history, DISY of trying to brainwash the younger generations, and the government of attempting to acquit the US and NATO of guilt for the twin crimes committed against Cyprus.

EDEK’s Yiannakis Omirou was almost poetic: “The unprecedented, ignorant claim being aired recently by a mutated and self-contradictory author, that the US had no involvement in the Cypriot tragedy, is not only false but groundless.”

Drousiotis takes it in his stride: “They panicked. The ideological foundation on which AKEL policy has been based for 40 years, anti-imperialism, NATO, the US, has been brought into doubt.”

He adds: “Their antidote to any crisis is to focus on the coup, as we saw during Mari. They’re not interested in looking into the reasons behind the coup.”

Whether Drousiotis is right or not in claiming the Soviets, and by extension AKEL, had a strong hand in keeping the Cyprus problem alive, at the end of the day, the fact remains, 40 years on, the island remains divided, and the government needs AKEL to unite it.

In fact, Cyprus needs all Cypriots to take a much closer, more sober look at the past, so it can decide its future on less shaky ground.

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