By George Koumoullis
JUST AS the Germans cannot rid themselves of the responsibility for the start of World War II and the creation of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen death camps by blaming it all on the paranoid Hitler, so we cannot absolve ourselves for the disaster that struck Cyprus in 1974 by putting the blame exclusively on the Greek Junta and EOKA B.
The July 15 coup was carried out by the Junta with the help of EOKA B, but to pull it off it had to find favourable conditions in Cyprus. Without the eager complicity of the media, the legislature, the teachers and a large section of the Greek Cypriot population the Junta would not have been able to take root in Cyprus and mount the coup which caused the biggest catastrophe for Hellenism since 1922.
Worse still, the thousands of congratulatory telegrams sent to coup president Nicos Sampson, indicate – as hurtful as this is – a popular acceptance of the coup.
In the years that preceded the coup the paranoia that whoever opposed the Junta was an anti-Hellene had been cultivated. In other words, the foreign-driven, criminal Junta was identified with Greece, with the nation. If you dared to criticise the policy of the ‘national government’ (as the Junta was referred to by the CyBC and the newspapers with very few exceptions) you were labelled an extremist or a communist.
It suffices to say that the most ‘serious’ and ‘authoritative’ newspaper of the time, Eleftheria, dismissed the Athens Polytechnic students who rose up against the junta in 1973 as ‘teddy-boys’. I believe it was this identification of Greece with the Junta that led the majority of Greek Cypriots to applaud the Junta’s invasion.
The leading role in establishing this monstrous identification was played by the House of Representatives. The deputies of Enieon Party and Progressive Front – the nationalists – who were guided by Tassos Papadopoulos always referred to the Junta as the ‘national government’ while they never unequivocally condemned EOKA B before 1974.
Glafcos Clerides also bore a big responsibility because as president of the House he attended the annual celebration every year of the “revolution of April 21” as the colonels used to call their coup which overthrew the elected government in 1967. His presence encouraged respect for the Junta.
A very important part was also played by school headmasters as well as the leaderships of the teaching unions OELMEK and POED.
Our state school teachers became the prey of Junta, the propaganda of which they skilfully channelled into the schools and society – perhaps through blindness, perhaps through callousness, perhaps through servility, perhaps because of financial gain. Whatever the reasons, they betrayed their mission. The damage they did was incalculable as it paved the way for the Greek Cypriot acceptance of the “national salvation” of ’74 by the Junta-led National Guard.
We all know about the resistance to the coup. What we do not know, because nobody has conducted an in-depth study on the matter, is the other side of the coin, the mass public support of the coup as was exemplified by the 15,000 telegrams of support sent to Sampson in the space of a week. These telegrams represented a sizeable proportion of the adult population. Unfortunately, discussion of this matter is a taboo as it is one of the darkest episodes of our history.
Archbishop Makarios acknowledged, with sadness, the existence of these telegrams. In an interview he gave to Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in the autumn of 1974 he said: “If Sampson stayed in power for another week, even my sister Maria would have sent him a telegram of support.” This admission epitomised our fall in 1974.
We now know that thousands of clubs, organisations and “high-standing individuals” that supported Makarios and had condemned the criminal activities of EOKA B, sent telegrams of support to Sampson. It is seems incredible, but it is true. The shining example however was that a minister in Makarios’ government became a Sampson minister.
The Cypriot people demolished their standing and ethics. Admittedly, it is a very difficult event to explain. It seems the witch Kirki passed over Cyprus on July 15, 1974 and as the coup commenced at 8.25am waved her magic wand and transformed Makarios supporters into Junta pigs. The more plausible explanation is the identification of the Junta with Greece, mentioned above. As a result, many Cypriots chose to support the Junta, that is, Greece rather than the anti-Hellene Makarios. They believed the declarations of the coup government that Cyprus would be the promised land and not what it ended up becoming – the land of loss.
The coup was no obstacle to coupists pursuing a political career after 1974. Two ministers in the Sampson government were subsequently elected to parliament as DISY MPs, even though participation in a coup government makes the participant complicit in the coup. The election of these two men makes up the farce that continues to this day – while we described the coup as criminal we allow people that participated in this crime to occupy important public posts.
Aftermath: most probably future historians will conclude that the Cypriots of the second half of the 20th century were schizophrenics. In the 1950s they fought for their freedom, whereas a couple of decades later they embraced and praised the tyranny of fascism. On July 14, 1974 they were, mostly, Makarios followers, while the next day by magic (Kirki’s perhaps) they were transformed into slimy supporters of the Junta mafia.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist