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When will Hellenism see its own blunders?

Smyrni in flames

By Nicos Rolandis

On November 14, 1922, a Revolutionary Court martial was set up in Athens, which sentenced to death former Prime ministers Demetrios Gounaris, P. Protopapadakis and Nicolaos Stratos, former Ministers G. Baltatzis and N. Theotokis and Field Martial Hadjanestis and also sentenced to life imprisonment former ministers Michael Goudas and X. Stratigos.

Those sentenced to death were executed in the morning of November 15, 1922.  The legendary Greek leader Eleftherios Venizelos sent a telegram from Lausanne, Switzerland and tried in vain to stop the executions, pleading that the convicted persons “had acted with the consent of the people”.

Although the above judgment was reviewed in recent years, it constitutes the tragic epilogue of the Asia Minor catastrophe, which was the result, inter alia, of a number of blunders of Hellenism.  The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 followed, which, according to Greek historians, was one of the saddest moments in the history of Greece.  “The Hellenism of Ionia, Thrace and Pontos had terminated its long and glorious march in history”.

It was a history and a civilisation of 3,000 years that perished.  And a population of one and a half million people who were displaced or slaughtered.

It all started with the landing of the Greek army in May 1919 in a frenzy of patriotism and great dreams of the people and their leaders:  It ended up three years and three months later with the sad final curtain and the termination of 3.000 years of history, as a result of blunders and lack of planning by Hellenism.

Fifty-two years later, in July 1974, Cyprus moved into the maelstrom of carnage, invasion and occupation. Like Smyrni, what happened in Cyprus did not come fortuitously: It was preceded by the glorious but very poorly programmed struggle of 1955-1959 for union with Greece. The outcome was not “union” but a crippled independence, with an upgraded Turkish Cypriot element, which was elevated from minority to community with many privileges.

The Republic of Cyprus which was born in 1960 was the “orphan of the Mediterranean”, because its people (Greeks and Turks) never believed in it. After all, the head of state, Archbishop Makarios, in a letter addressed to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in March 1964 wrote: “I am the signatory of these Treaties (London-Zurich, by which the Republic of Cyprus was created). But not even for a moment did I believe, that this constituted the creation of a permanent state”.

This is what the head of state wrote about the country he had created, even if four years earlier he had taken an oath of “faith to and respect for the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus”. In parallel the Turkish Cypriots were working for partition.

So, what could be the chances and expectations of the “Orphan of the Mediterranean”?  None. And the tragic outcome came about with the Greek coup d’etat and the Turkish invasion of 1974. Something similar to the carnage of Smyrni: 37 per cent of the territory of the country under occupation, 40,000 Turkish troops, foreign guarantees, 160,000 refugees, 2,000 Greek and Turkish missing persons, 3,000 people killed.

We now anticipate, 42 years on, the tragic epilogue, our own “Lausanne Treaty”. But Lausanne like all types of “Lausannes”, after a lost war, are always, ruthless, hard and painful.

I personally lived through many of the tragic moments of Cyprus, either as a private individual or as a politician.  I took exception to the decisions taken, I shouted, I resigned from the post of minister of foreign affairs. But the course was always the same: Empty rhetoric, unsubstantiated enthusiasm, lack of political acumen and wisdom, cheap “patriotism”, corruption, pursuit of public office.  Nothing else.  What a shame!!

During these critical moments I would like to repeat and underscore once more some of our tragic failures:

Before 1974 I was of the opinion that the course which we followed, full of political brinkmanship, clashes, murders and instability, might lead to a Turkish invasion, which was threatened by Turkey time and again especially since 1964. However, the great majority of the people and the leadership were sailing, like in the case of Smyrni, in their mythical world, believing that the Turks would “eventually boil in their own juice”.

The few of us were the danger mongers, the cowards. At a meeting organised by Glafcos Clerides in the upper hall of the House in the early 1970s, where I was invited, the Cyprus problem and the inherent dangers were analysed and discussed. However, nobody would listen.  Finally, we had the coup d’etat and the invasion and one half of Cyprus was gone.

On November 10, 1978 the Anglo-American-Canadian Plan was handed over to us. I personally received it from US Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Nimetz at the Harvard Club, New York. It was probably the best plan we ever had. It was converting the unitary state of 1960 into a federal one. Varosha would be returned to its people from the very outset, irrespective of the outcome of the talks. At that time:

There were:

  • No Turkish settlers
  • No “users” of properties
  • No rotating presidency
  • No virgin-birth
  • No bizonality, the way it was interpreted later on.
  • The return of Morphou was not disputed
  • There were no huge Turkish investments and water and electricity from Turkey.
  • The occupation was not “deep” yet.

Nimetz told me that “Ankara was not negative”. However, we rejected the plan, despite my strong objections. It was rejected by the “great patriots”, who gradually destroyed Cyprus, the same people who are objecting and shouting today as well.

On August 8, 1983 I received personally from Hugo Gobbi, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar the “Indicators” initiative. The conditions were favourable, like in 1978. I had warned that a rejection of the initiative might lead to a declaration of a Turkish Cypriot state. These were the rumours in the international arena. President Kyprianou told me that he had the assurance of President Ceausescu of Romania, who had close ties with Ankara, that such a thing would not happen. The initiative was rejected, despite the objections of Disy and Akel.

I resigned as foreign minister on September 20, 1983. The “Turkish state” was declared 55 days later on November 15, 1983.

Other plans followed: The Consolidated Documents (1985), the Set of Ideas (1992), Troutbeck (1996), Annan Plan (2004).  Each plan was worse than the previous one, because there were faits-accomplis as time had gone by. The talks of Christofias-Talat followed as well (2008).

Nothing happened. We were always pursuing the unachievable. In a world where, around us, people are bombed and perish, almost one half of the globe is immersed in blood and poverty we split hairs and we debate for weeks whether “Antigone” should be at occupied Salamis.

We forget, dear Smyrni, that Ionia does not exist anymore and that none of the mighty people ever cared or were annoyed or did not have their whiskies, because Ionia was gone.

Similarly, nobody’s comfortable life was ever disturbed when Cyprus was occupied in 1974 and there was not even a single helping hand.

I am glad that President Anastasiades is exerting a titanic effort, before it is too late.

Nicos Rolandis is a former commerce minister, foreign minister, MP and president of the Liberal Party

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