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Cyprus and the Tyranny of Words

Written by Robert Ellis

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One of the characters Alice meets in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass is the argumentative egg, Humpty Dumpty. According to Humpty, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean", which is the problem the two parties to the Cyprus dispute are now facing.

hmptyIn essence, the conflict concerns two separate agendas, which for the last fifty-five years have collided and continue to do so. When three hundred years of Ottoman rule was succeeded by British administration in 1878, the thoughts of the Greek Cypriots turned to enosis (union) with their motherland, Greece. These thoughts were reinforced by the fact that Greece had shaken off Turkish rule fifty years earlier, and other islands such as Crete and the Dodecanese later became part of Greece.

Much of the later tragedy could have been avoided if Greece in 1915 had accepted Britain's offer of Cyprus in return for Greek support for Serbia during the First World War. Likewise, in 1945 a plan by the British foreign minister Ernest Bevin and the Foreign Office to offer Cyprus to Greece was defeated by opposition from the Colonial Office and the Chiefs of Staff. But in a plebiscite held by the Church of Cyprus in 1950, 96.5 percent voted in support of enosis.

These plans were opposed by the British government for strategic reasons. As British prime minister Sir Anthony Eden explained succinctly in 1956: "No Cyprus, no certain facilities to protect our supply of oil. No oil, unemployment and hunger in Britain. It's as simple as that." 

However, the year before, Greek Cypriot patience was exhausted and the armed struggle against British rule began under EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) led by General Grivas and supported by Archbishop Makarios. In return, the Turkish Cypriot minority formed their own resistance group, Volkan, which was later replaced by TMT (Turkish Resistance Organisation), supplied and led from Turkey, which struggled for taksim (partition).

In 1956 the British government determined to resolve the issue - and retain control of Cyprus - by convening a conference ostensibly to discuss political and defence questions concerning the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Turkey were invited, but as Defence Secretary Selwyn Lloyd explained to the Cabinet before the conference: "Throughout the negotiations our aim would be to bring the Greeks up against the Turkish refusal to accept enosis and so condition them to a solution. which would leave sovereignty in our hands."

The ruse succeeded, at least in part, because it gave rise to Turkish irredentism, although Turkey had renounced all claim to Cyprus in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). However, the Turkish special adviser on Cyprus, Professor Nihat Erim, in a report to Prime Minister Menderes in November 1956 proposed a middle course between union with Greece and a return to Turkey - partition. And it is this strategy, with the component elements of geographical separation, popúlation transfer and the influx of Turks from outside Cyprus, which Turkey has since consistently followed.

In the event, the American proposal for guaranteed independence was accepted, and a power-sharing constitution was brokered by Greece and Turkey, resulting in independence in 1960. However, after 13 amendments were put forward by President Makarios three years later, the constitution collapsed and fighting broke out between the two communities.

Already in 1955 Turkish Cypriot leaders called on their compatriots to cut financial and social ties with their Greek Cypriot neighbours, and in 1958 under Denktash a "From Turk to Turk" programme was enforced. Finally, in 1964 Turkish Cypriots were forced by the TMT into enclaves throughout Cyprus - all to prove that peaceful coexistence was impossible.  Meanwhile, Makarios clung to his dream of enosis, even enlisting the support of the Eastern bloc, which in 1964 almost led to a new Cuba crisis, earning Makarios the sobriquet "the Castro of the Mediterranean". However, by 1968 he had abandoned this dream and opted for the "feasible" rather than the "desirable". In 1977, three years after the failed coup attempt by the Greek junta and Turkey's invasion, Makarios finally admitted: "It is in the name of enosis that Cyprus has been destroyed."   

Intercommunal talks
Years of intercommunal talks ensued, but in 1977 and 1979 two high-level agreements were concluded, providing the basis for a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal solution. Subsequent UN resolutions established the parameters for reunification talks, that a Cyprus settlement must be based on a State of Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship in a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation, and that such a settlement must exclude union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession.  However, these principles were torpedoed by the declaration of "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" in 1983, and in 1991 the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash added more fuel to the fire. In discussions with UN Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar Denktash stated that each side possessed sovereignty which it would retain after the establishment of a federation, including the right of secession.

At an earlier meeting Dentash had proposed that the term 'communities' be used in a manner that was synonymous with the term 'peoples', each having a separate right to self-determination. Consequently, de Cuéllar concluded that "the introduction of terminology that is different from that used by the Security Council had thus posed more than a semantic problem" and that "any change in terminology could alter the conceptual framework to which all have thus far adhered". 

In his letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon two months ago the new Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu struck the same note of ambiguity when he mentioned "the principle of equal sovereignty of the two peoples" and "the existing democracies and institutions on both sides of the island". Eroglu - with the support of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis - is a known proponent of the two-state solution, so the new round of reunification talks is more like shadow boxing.  When the Lord Privy Seal, Sir Ian Gilmour, visited Cyprus in 1980, he noted that the 'tyranny of words' prevailed. It still does. 

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.

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