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International Socialism, September 1974


Briefing on


From International Socialism, No.71, September 1974, pp.9-12.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE ROOTS of the antagonism between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus lie in the period of British rule.


Britain took over the island in 1878 from the Ottoman Empire, of which it had been part for 300 years. The Ottomans had initially settled a Turkish garrison on the island in the sixteenth century, from which the present Turkish-speaking population is descended. But over time the privileges of the Turkish Cypriots disappeared and by the end of the period of Ottoman rule their condition was, if anything, slightly worse than that of the Greek Cypriots. The Greek Orthodox church had constituted the day-to-day government of the Greek Cypriots during these centuries and had even, in the period 1783-1820, collected taxes from the Turkish population.

There were occasional clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots under Ottoman rule – particularly at the time of the Greek war of independence from Turkish rule in the 1820s – but by and large the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus lived and worked alongside one another. There had been joint uprisings against the most oppressive features of Ottoman rule in the years 1771-85, and in the 1840s ‘The Turks got on well with the Christians’. [1]

Under British rule, things were rather different. The Greek Cypriot population expected that, as with the other Greek-speaking islands off the Turkish coast, they would eventually unite with the Greek mainland. The British did indeed offer Cyprus to Greece during the First World War if it would join in the war against the Axis powers, but Greece refused the offer, and Britain hung on to the island.

The British deliberately encouraged hostility of Turks to Greeks as a means of strengthening their rule. The police force under British rule was recruited mainly from the Turkish Cypriot population: out of 796 members in 1919, 420 came from the 18 per cent of the population who were Turkish. Between 1882 and 1931, Cyprus had a constitution designed so that a combination of representatives appointed by the governor and Turkish representatives would always be able to outvote the representatives of the 80 per cent of the population who were Greek. This arrangement fell apart when one of the Turkish representatives voted with the Greeks in 1931 against paying ‘tribute’ to the British. The British responded by immediately abolishing the constitution, banning all political parties, instituting tight censorship and interning hundreds of people.

But the Turks did not enjoy material privileges – they were a predominantly rural population, owning between them only 19 per cent of the land in 1946. Despite clashes between Greeks and Turks in 1895 and 1912, most of the Turks lived in villages alongside Greeks: in 1960 only 6.7 per cent of villages were Turkish, as against 43 per cent which were mixed. What is more, Greek and Turkish villages were interspersed throughout the island.

‘Until the 1930s the two communities appeared to have adjusted to living together in relative tolerance and good will.’ [2]

The Struggle for Enosis

THE WAR YEARS saw a revival of political action among the Cypriot population. The first political grouping to make headway was the Cypriot Communist Party. Its leaders formed a new legal organisation, AKEL in 1941 which won several municipal elections two years later and spearheaded the growth of trade unionism. The AKEL led unions soon had 13,000 members, including 3,000 Turks.

The growth of Communist Party influence was seen as a threat by the British, and by both the Greek and Turkish bourgeoisies. The British imprisoned union leaders in 1945, the Greek bourgeoisie, aided by the church, sought to split the unions by setting up a rival, nationalist trade union organisation (SEK), and the Turkish leaders set up Turkish unions. Attempts of the AKEL led unions to establish a closed shop in 1948 met with repression from the British authorities and calls for scabbing from the church leaders.

During this period, the British government made it clear that it would not allow independence for Cyprus. Particularly after the evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal zone in 1953, it saw Cyprus as an essential link in holding together its empire. The Tory Minister of State for Foreign Affairs told the House of Commons in 1954 that Cyprus could ‘never expect to be fully independent’.

It was at this point that the Greek Cypriot middle class launched the struggle for ‘Enosis‘, union with Greece.

The political leadership for this struggle was provided by Makarios, as recently appointed head of the Cypriot church which had provided the traditional political leadership for the Greek speaking population. The military leadership was in the hands of Grivas.

Grivas was a right-wing Cypriot-born Greek army officer who had formed a resistance group ‘X’ in German-occupied Greece which ‘instead of fighting the Germans, was dedicated to fighting the Communists.’ [3] In 1951 Makarios invited him to Cyprus to help him with the organisation of the Pancyprian youth movement.

But Grivas was more interested in starting an armed campaign against the British. Part at least of his motivation was hostility to the left.

‘He ... became worried about the growing influence of the Communists in Greece, who, if nothing was done, might have acquired an ascendancy over the anti-British movement.’ [4]

Grivas himself later admitted that he felt that

‘Britain would continue to talk for years about constitutional assemblies until finally the Communists took over as they had tried to take over in Greece.’ [5]

Grivas’ strategy was not one of trying to defeat the British militarily, which he saw as impossible, but rather of trying through a campaign of sabotage and shooting at British soldiers to rouse world opinion and to create weariness with the Cyprus question in Britain. In this he had limited support from Papagos, the right-wing, pro-American ruler of Greece in the early fifties.

Despite its right-wing leadership, EOKA’s policy was not one of promoting communal strife with the Turks. Its guerrillas were under instructions for instance, not to shoot at Turkish policemen. However, both the British authorities and the right wing in Turkey had an interest in creating communal hatreds.

The majority of the police and gendarmerie were Turkish, and so when they were sent in to break up demonstrations, it was a case of Turks attacking Greeks. When, despite EOKA orders, Turkish policemen were hurt, it could easily be presented to the Turkish community as an injury to themselves.

The British government also seems to have gone out of its way to encourage the Turkish government to develop an interest in Cyprus. The then British Tory prime minister, Eden, later wrote that

‘It was as well I wrote on a telegram that they [the Turks] should speak out because it was the truth that the Turks would never let the Greeks have Cyprus.’ [6]

The right-wing Turkish government of the period saw Cyprus as an issue it could use to deflect opposition at home. It was revealed five years later at his trial that the Turkish premier, Menderes, had organised the setting off of a bomb in the Turkish consulate in Salonika in 1955 so as to provoke anti-Greek riots and pogroms in Constantinople. In 1958 the tactic seems to have been repeated: there were widespread attacks by Turks on Greeks in Cyprus after a bomb had been planted in the Turkish information office. On the promptings of Ankara, the Turkish communal leaders in Cyprus raised the slogan ‘Partition or death’. The attacks were aimed to bring about de facto partition by driving Greeks out of some mixed areas and forcing the Turks to regroup for fear of retaliation.

The response of the British authorities was very similar to their more recent response to Protestant sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Physical force was rarely used against Turkish rioters, and when it was, Greeks still tended to receive the brunt of the punishment – as in an incident in the village of Guenyeli, where after seven Greeks were hacked to death by Turks the British army arrested six Turks and nine Greeks. [7]

‘The government could not afford to alienate the Turks, who apart from forming ‘the better part of the Cyprus police force were the mainstay of Eden’s policy on the island.’ [8]

Zurich and After

FINALLY in 1959 the British government decided that it could not hold the whole of Cyprus indefinitely. It decided to follow a policy which would enable it to continue using Cyprus as a military base and to dominate the politics of the island if it so wished, but which would relieve it of the problems involved in direct rule of the island. Its main preoccupation now was that the ending of direct British rule should not be the occasion for a clash between Greece and Turkey that might damage NATO. And so an agreement between Greece and Turkey for the future of Cyprus (the Zurich agreement) was reached without even consulting the Cypriot population itself.

‘The interests of the Greek Cypriots were neglected. They were not to be consulted but only to effect a tripartite agreement between Britain, Greece and Turkey to strengthen the Eastern Mediterranean buttress of NATO.’ [9]

It has been claimed since that enosis was not a possibility at the time of Zurich because of the problem of the Turkish Cypriot minority. In fact, however, the worrying thing to the British government was not that minority in Cyprus, but rather the impact of enosis on the right wing in Turkey, that had for years been artificially raising, the Cypriot question as a way of diverting attention from its own inadequacies.

‘The principal reason for combatting the desire for unity with Greece was apprehension of alienating Turkey. The Menderes government was now in the midst of serious economic and political difficulties. There was no doubt that the Turkish regime was in no position to survive enosis.’ [10]

At the London conference of 1959 Makarios was presented with a simple choice by the British, Greek and Turkish governments: accept the plan that they had drawn up or see a prolongation of the struggle and the likelihood of imposed partition. The Cypriot leaders were given no chance to influence the shape of the agreement. Karamanlis (then, as now, Greek premier) told Makarios that unless he accepted the agreement, Greece would wash her hands of Cyprus.

Yet the Zurich agreement could not possibly have provided any basis for overcoming the divisions between the two communities on the island. For the fundamental assumption underlying it was that there was an irrevocable split between Greeks and Turks on the island and that Turkish representatives had to be given an influence out of all proportion to the number of their supporters.

The constitution which resulted provided for a Greek-elected president and a Turkish elected vice-president, for Greek and Turkish members of the House of Representatives, for separate Greek and Turkish municipalities. The effect was bound to be a progressive separation of Greeks and Turks, even though nearly half the villages were still mixed at the time of the agreement. What is more, powers of veto given to the Turkish leaders meant that they could prevent the functioning of any unified government for the whole island.

One other feature of the agreement made animosity between the communities inevitable: the Turks were guaranteed a position in the army, police and civil service out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. They were to have 40 per cent of places in the army, and 30 per cent in the police and civil service.

The agreement had benefits for the British (who were guaranteed their bases) and for the right wing in both communities in Cyprus. For it meant that it would be very difficult for the left ever to unite the Greek and Turkish Cypriot workers in common struggle. The Turkish right could always claim that the Greeks were about to threaten their privileged position in the constitution, and the Greek right could claim that national unity was needed to prevent the Turks imposing partition. Meanwhile, the class structure in both communities went untouched by what had once been a powerful left wing movement.

The Road to Partition

THE British were very happy with the Zurich settlement. It gave them their bases and, as a bonus, left them the dominant economic force on the island, dominating most of Cyprus’ foreign trade.

But the US could not be so happy. For Makarios followed a non-aligned policy internationally and the US was faced with the strange situation in which, although Greece and Turkey were both part of NATO, Cyprus was not directly available for American use.

In 1963 the worst communal troubles yet broke out in Cyprus. There were a series of disagreements between Makarios and the Turkish representatives over the implementation of the Zurich agreement. Both Greek and Turks started training irregular armies. Finally, after the murdering by Turkish extremists of two Turkish Cypriots who favoured co-operation with the Greeks, large scale fighting broke out, with the right wing on both sides trying to bolster its position by attacks on civilians on the other. The result was that for the first time in more than 300 years there was physical separation of almost all Turks from Greeks.

From that point on the Turks virtually had a government separate from the Greeks. Their economic condition also deteriorated as they were cut off from the main sections of the economy.

There have long been rumours that the CIA had a hand in provoking the 1963 fighting. Whether or not that is true, the US certainly took the opportunity to try to impose a solution on Cyprus that would lead to its being part of NATO. The NATO commander, General Lemnitzer and the American Under Secretary of State, George Ball, tried to bully Makarios into accepting a settlement by which Cyprus would be run jointly by Turkey and Greece through NATO, with the whole island becoming a NATO base. When Makarios rejected this, Lemnitzer sent telegrams to the Greek and Turkish governments, suggesting that they both land troops so that NATO could then land its own forces to ‘separate the combatants’. [11]

After the rejection of this proposal, the US tried yet another plan – for the whole of Cyprus to be united with Greece, but for Turkey to have a substantial military base and two autonomous Turkish ‘cantons’. [12]

Such plans for partition gained new life with the ascension of the military junta in Greece in 1967. The junta engaged in secret talks with the Turkish government over proposals for the Turks to be given two military bases and 10 per cent of the island in return for Enosis.

In 1964 Makarios had invited Grivas to Cyprus to train the Greek Cypriot irregular forces as a proper army, the National Guard. Now, towards the end of 1967 Grivas followed a policy which seemed to suit the desire of the junta to impose partition: the national guard attacked a Turkish road block on the road from Nicosia to Limmasol, killing 26 Turks. A Turkish invasion of the island was only prevented by prompt action by the US, which feared the effects on NATO. However, the Turkish government did succeed in making Makarios dismiss Grivas.

In the later 1960s the Greek Junta became more and more upset at Makarios’ stance – if only because he was the one Greek political figure anywhere who could follow a policy independently of their own. When Grivas returned again to the island in the late 1960s, it was to start a movement, EOKA-B, which, under the slogan of enosis, aimed to remove Makarios from Cypriot politics.

Makarios and the Left

THE main left-wing organisation in Cyprus is the Communist Party, AKEL, which received about 40 per cent of the votes in the 1970 elections and controls the largest trade union federation, which organises a quarter of Cyprus’ 150,000 workers. AKEL is overwhelmingly based among the Greek-speaking population, although it has made efforts to win support from Turks.

Its politics have been completely tied to the parliamentary road. During the 1950s it was adamantly opposed to EOKA, although it then claimed to support enosis unconditionally. Although it opposed Makarios in the 1960 elections because of the Zurich agreement, it has since tended increasingly to support him.

‘The Communists ... managed consistently to support the government on major issues... to a greater extent even than some ministers did.’ [13]

‘At rural party meetings AKEL feels obliged to pay tribute to Archbishop Makarios almost as if he were a patron saint.’ [14]

In accordance with this policy of support for the government, the AKEL led unions (the PEO) have not fought at all militantly on wage issues.

‘Strikes have been used as a last resort in labour disputes and PEO’s leadership has been more circumspect than the Communist controlled labour unions of Western Europe.’ [15]

In accord with this approach, union leaders agreed at the end of last year to a ‘voluntary incomes policy’ and abandoned threats of strikes in return for promises of price controls. Indeed, so bad has AKEL’s record been in this respect, that even the right wing unions have been able, on occasion, to appear more militant.

The reason for AKEL’s attitude was Makarios’ policy internationally. They have supported him because of his resistance to incorporation in NATO and his dropping of the demand for enosis after the coming to power of the junta in Greece.

Makarios in turn was willing to be fairly friendly to AKEL, using its influence as a counter-balance to the supporters of Grivas. Effectively, he balanced between the National Guard (even though he had given the go-ahead to its construction) and the left. Yet Cyprus itself remained a normal capitalist state and Makarios’ government a capitalist government, despite this support from AKEL.

An American expert has described Cyprus as dominated by ‘the elite upper classes, composed of high government and political functionaries, successful professional men and entrepreneurs, bankers, industrialists, and men of commerce.’ [16]

The tax structure since independence has ‘benefited ... a few wealthy industrialists’, while the basic pattern of the economy has been very advantageous to wealthy merchant families.

‘Since Cyprus does not own its own factories, it must import from highly industrialised countries in exchange for raw materials. The product of this exchange is shared between British exporters and the exclusive enfranchised importers. This.system creates real economic ties between the British bourgeoisie and their Cypriot correspondents ... Cyprus is a small country which has developed monopolising interests of unusual size.’ [17]

The interests of the church fit neatly in with those of the rest of the ruling class, since it is the biggest landowner, owning 10 per cent of land and profiting immensely from urban development.

No doubt the benefits they gain from political control over the island and from the British connection explain why the Greek Cypriot bourgeoisie became increasingly favourable to the idea of independence as opposed to enosis in the years after 1960.

The result was that EOKA-B, despite the backing of the Greek military regime, was a small minority of the population. The pro-enosis candidate in the last elections got less than five per cent of the votes.

However, the strength of EOKA-B was its connection with the only army at the disposal of the Greek Cypriot bourgeoisie – the National Guard and its Greek officers. Rather than confront these, Makarios made repeated concessions to EOKA-B – for instance, amnestying prisoners earlier this year after Grivas’ death.

The Present Crisis

THE present crisis began when the Greek Junta finally acted to remove Makarios. For months the tension between the two governments had been increasing, with Makarios attempting to build up a special police force in opposition to the National Guard. Then, ten days before the coup he ordered the Greek officers of the Guard to leave Cyprus. The coup was the response of the junta.

For the Junta, the coup was a desperate attempt to bolster up its own position, which had never really recovered from the student-worker uprising in Athens last November. No doubt it believed that overthrowing Makarios would please those sections of the American state – particularly the CIA – which had backed the Junta for the previous seven years. According to The Observer the CIA knew about the coup at least a week before it occurred.

The National Guard had little difficulty in taking over Cyprus. AKEL had followed a policy of reliance upon Makarios and the police and could not resist the forces of the right physically. Their policy was summed up in an article in the Morning Star the day of the coup itself.

‘The President and his government, backed by mass organisations of the workers, peasants and small businessmen ... are methodically organising the defence of the republic by strengthening the police and the "special police force" ...

‘The Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) and the left generally support Makarios wholeheartedly as the symbol of unity in the fight for complete democracy and demilitarisation of Cyprus.’ [18]

A week before an AKEL statement argued that

‘The assassins and apparent dictators must know that there is not the slightest hope of success for their plans. The unbound Cypriot people and its armed forces headed by the President of the Republic Archbishop Makarios will smash and nullify every attempt for the imposition of a fascist dictatorial regime in Cyprus.’ [19]

There are reports that, in line with this policy, members of AKEL went to police stations in an endeavour to get arms to resist the coup. In most cases the police refused to help them and they were left defenceless in the face of the right wing. The only prepared resistance seems to. have come from members of an armed group attached to the small Socialist Party, EDEK, of Lyssarides – whose policies are as reformist as AKEL’s.

In any case, the outcome was that the combined forces of Makarios and AKEL were as incapable of resisting EOKA-B and the National Guard as was the Popular Unity of resisting the coup in Chile last September.

What foiled the coup was not the left, but the unexpected reaction of Turkey. No doubt the Junta had expected the Turks to quickly agree to partition of the island along the lines desired by the US. Instead, the Turks, taking advantage of the confusion among the Greek Cypriots and indications from the Russians that they would not object, launched their invasion.

Cyprus with Brish bases and partition line

From the Americans’ point of view the situation had got out of hand. All-out war threatened between Greece and Turkey, an obvious threat to NATO. They organised the overthrow of the Junta in Greece as smoothly as its installation seven years before, bringing back Karamanlis to give the regime a veneer of democracy while leaving intact the main military chains of command and the main instruments of repression.

In Cyprus, the National Guard, no doubt conserving their forces for internal purposes, have shown that they are not nearly as good at defending the island as at internal repression. Reports indicate that they have abandoned the fighting. The Greek government seems to have washed its hands of the adventure which the Greek officer corps launched, restricting its defence of the Greek Cypriots to talk of withdrawing its forces from NATO while remaining within NATO.

On the island itself, thousands of people have been killed, and more than a quarter of the population made homeless, while famine threatens because of the devastation to agriculture.

The short-term beneficiary has been the Turkish government of Ecevit. When it came to office it was hamstrung by its lack of a majority in parliament and by a reactionary officer corps that had ousted previous governments and imprisoned and tortured its political opponents. Ecevit has used the tactics of his former opponent Menderes, to use the Cyprus issue as a means of rousing chauvinistic feelings and gaining political support.

The Way Ahead

THE OUTCOME for the workers and peasants of Cyprus has been disastrous. There could hardly be a more graphic example of the fate which capitalism can offer whole sections of mankind. The joint efforts of the rulers of Britain, the US, Greece and Turkey over the years have produced a communal bloodbath in what was once a relatively peaceful island.

But if these powers are chiefly to blame, Makarios and AKEL cannot be exempted from responsibility either. Makarios and the Greek Cypriot bourgeoisie were only too happy to work with men like Grivas and to use them as a counter-balance to the left, while AKEL’s policy of ‘national unity’ among the Greek Cypriots inevitably disarmed the workers and peasants politically and physically in the face of the right.

Those who praised Makarios for so long are now trying to give the illusion that some solution is possible to the Cyprus problem through the United Nations. But all that the United Nations troops on Cyprus have done in the last 10 years is to rubber stamp the increasing tendency to partition and animosity between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations. The role of the British troops is summed up by the way they disarm Greek Cypriot resistance forces in the south of the island, while the regular Turkish army is strengthened in the north.

Those who have lost most in the catastrophe are the workers on each side of the national divide in Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot workers and peasants, are unlikely to do any better under Ecevit’s rule than do their brothers and sisters on the Turkish mainland, while the Greek workers and peasants have already had to bear the greatest burden of suffering within their community.

If the Turkish troops hold on to the parts of the island they have so far seized-with more than 60 per cent of the economic wealth within it – there will inevitably be a guerrilla struggle of Greek Cypriots trying to force them out. Fear of this, and of Greece being forced right out of NATO, is likely to make the US put pressure on the Turks for partial withdrawal. But that would not solve any of the basic problems that exist.



1. P.N. Vanezis, Makarios, Pragmatism versus idealism, London 1974, p.18.

2. T.W. Adams, AKEL: The Communist Party of Cyprus, Stanford 1971, p.172.

3. Vanezis, op. cit., p.77.

4. Ibid., p.78.

5. Quoted ibid.

6. Quoted in Vanezis, Makarios, Faith and Power, London 1971, p.99.

7. For details of the communal riots of 1958 and the British partiality see C. Foley, Island in Revolt, London 1962, pp.189-203.

8. Foley, p.82.

9. Vanezis, Pragmatism versus Idealism, p.101.

10. Ibid., p.99.

11. Ibid., p.150.

12. Ibid., p.131.

13. Adams, op. cit., p.4.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p.72.

16. Ibid., p.105.

17. Ibid., p.95.

18. 15 June 1974.

19. Quoted in ibid.

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