Our presidents have let us down, but like King Lear, we might as well blame the sun, the moon and the stars
Even the most naïve Cypriots are no longer under the illusion that de facto partition has been averted or that the danger of the full Turkification of Cyprus has been seen off. And this view is understandable as the resumption of the talks is unlikely since President Anastasiades has made it clear that the basic pre-requisite for this was the withdrawal of the Fatih and other Turkish ships from the Cypriot EEZ, which would be tantamount to a humiliating retreat for Turkey.
Turkey has no such intention, but on the contrary, is constantly threatening and provoking. A heated incident in the Aegean or the eastern Mediterranean, either by accident or design, would be fatal for the Greeks of Cyprus. It would spark mass emigration of Greek Cypriots because of unemployment and/or fear of an insecure future, while the influx of Turkish settlers in the north would continue unabated, probably at higher rates. It would be a matter of a few years before the illegal Turkish settlers of Cyprus constitute the majority. In short, it would be another version of the Alexandretta experience.
Bearing in mind, on the one hand, the elimination of the Greek element from the north of Cyprus and, on the other hand, the bleak future for the rest of Cyprus, it would be inevitable to wonder why it all went wrong. Sadly, we arrive at the conclusion that the main culprit has always been our leadership. Our misfortune is invariably attributed to the English, mainland Greeks, Americans, non-aligned and even the aborigines of Australia. The leaders themselves have always been faultless and bear no responsibility.
They remind us of Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s King Lear: “we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance.”
Before independence, our leadership were the priests who made up what was called the ethnarchy, hence the reference, at least before independence, to every archbishop as the ethnarch. This leadership, guided by economic interests (as I have explained in previous articles), set enosis as its target, a maximalist goal which the international community did not approve of. The dismal failures of the first three recourses to the UN (1954, 1955, 1957) with their demands for self-determination did not make our leadership see sense.
The international community, influenced by the trend at the time for decolonisation, viewed enosis as an unacceptable annexation of Cyprus by Greece. Trying to conceal the desire for enosis behind the demand for self-determination, our leadership failed to deceive the UN. After the diplomatic defeat, our leadership took up the armed struggle, the catastrophic consequences of which we are still experiencing today.
How different Cyprus would have been now if the ethnarchy put forward the demand for independence instead of self-determination, like all other colonies had done and concentrated on persuading the Turkish Cypriots to join us in building a common country. If only it had understood that an independent Cyprus was in the economic and political interest of the Greek Cypriots. The administrative union with Greece per se was not a measure of Greekness. On the contrary, it could have led to anti-Greek sentiment in the face of bad administration by the central government in Athens.
In the end, having failed to achieve enosis, we consented to the creation of an independent state at a huge cost – the direct involvement of Turkey. Despite this, instead of building up and strengthening this independent state, we carried on playing the same tune – achieving enosis! And this led us to the bizarre situation in which the official state was conspiring for its self-annulment so it could declare enosis. The Turks were the beneficiaries of the Zurich agreement and were fully aware of this. I am of the view that the reason the Turkish Cypriots were arming themselves after independence was the unrelenting rhetoric in favour of enosis. In no country, at any time, had other beneficiaries of history rebelled.
And so, we arrived at 1978, when a thin ray of light appeared in the blood-stained haze of the 1970s. This was when the Anglo-American-Canadian plan envisaged the return of the fenced area of Famagusta to its legal inhabitants, as long as negotiations resumed. Alas, our president (Spyros Kyprianou) insisted that negotiations could not resume unless all the Turkish troops were withdrawn from Cyprus. And then, in 2004, a comprehensive settlement plan submitted by the UN was resoundingly rejected thanks to the propaganda of the beneficiaries of the occupation that have a hold over the media. If we had accepted the Annan plan there would now be only Turkish 650 soldiers, a number that was subject to review every three years. In other words, we had the prospect of full demilitarisation – while Famagusta, Morphou and 82 villages now in the north would have been under Greek Cypriot administration.
The last opportunity appeared in Crans-Montana. The UN secretary-general said he wanted Cyprus to become a ‘normal state’ and raised hopes of a settlement. In addition, rotating presidency with a weighted vote and common ballot paper would have done away with segregation of the two communities and created the conditions for a common administration programme and the qualitative evolution of cooperation. The obstacle of intervention rights was still pending but was not insurmountable over time.
Anastasiades’ flight from Crans-Montana and his subsequent disputing of political equality has raised a variety of questions. The most important is: could the purpose of his going to Crans-Montana have been to deal a fatal blow to the talks, just as Tassos Papadopoulos’ television tears had done to the Annan plan?
Cypriot presidents are unpredictable.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist