The Grivas Legacy in Cyprus

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ON 6 November the latest round of talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders ended on a familiar note of disagreement. Set up under the auspices of the United Nations and co-ordinated by the US State Department, the talks focused on the subject of a possible Federal government and the reduction in size of Turkish Cypriot territory. During the 1980s Rauf Denktash, president of the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot government which has controlled the northern part of Cyprus since 1974, was asked if he would accept 29.9 per cent of the island as Turkish Cypriot territory, instead of the existing 34 per cent. Now this figure has been further reduced to 28.2 per cent, a figure which he steadfastly refuses to accept. Neither is he convinced that Greek Cypriot leader George Vassiliou wants a Federal government, in which both sides share the administration for the good of everybody living on the island.

Denktash has threatened to boycott the next round of talks, unless he is allowed to discuss the issues of Federal government and territory put forward in August on what he sees as a 'take it or leave it basis'. He does not want to go back to a pre-1974 situation, and urged the Greek Cypriots openly to declare their support for a federal government.

So the argument continues, suspicion grows and multiplies, and a solution to this long-standing problem seems as far away as it ever was. But when did it all start and who instigated it? Most commentators are inclined to think back to the events of July 1974, when an invasion by Turkish troops followed an Athens-sponsored coup that ousted, and almost killed, Archbishop Makarios. The invasion led to partition of the island, a state of affairs which continues today and which has been the cause of many unsuccessful, almost pointless negotiations.

But even before the summer of 1974 representatives of both Cypriot communities had been for many years locked in intercommunal talks in an effort to settle a worsening dispute brought about by amendments to the constitution, which Makarios had pushed forward in 1963. Although the Archbishop had maintained that these amendments would lead to a more workable government, the Turkish Cypriots rejected them, as did the government in Ankara, on the grounds that it would undermine the role of the Turkish Cypriot minority.

The present day conflict, however, has its roots embedded even further back than 1963 -- in fact, as long ago as May 1948, when George Grivas, a semi-retired colonel in the Greek army, and a Cypriot by birth, decided to lead a revolutionary force on Cyprus with the intention of overthrowing the British administration and thereafter declaring enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece. Grivas had long since come to the conclusion that if the Cypriots were ever to gain independence, it would have to be through violent means. With this end in mind, he set up a revolutionary committee, consisting of military and professional men with strong right wing views who would support him in his plans to start a rebellion on the island. On the committee's recommendation, Grivas returned to his native Cyprus in July 1951 -- his first visit in twenty years. During this mission of reconnaissance he sought out the newly elected Archbishop Makarios, whom he had known in Athens at the time of the German occupation. They discussed plans for an armed uprising but did not agree on the methods to be used.

Grivas travelled all over the island, examining the terrain and talking with local people about the possibility of starting a campaign of violence. He realised quickly that two major obstacles stood in his way. Firstly, he saw the disadvantages of fighting a guerrilla war due to the excellent transport and communications system, which provided easy access to every part of the island, even the mountainous areas, thereby restricting the movements of all but very small groups of men. And secondly, there were the Cypriots, who having been under foreign rule for their entire history, lacked faith in their own ability to confront, let alone defeat, such a superior force as the British. …