Salahi R. Sonyel, Cyprus: The Destruction of a Republic: British Documents 1960-65. UK: The Eothen Press, 1997. ISBN: 0906719 40 2 (Paperback) & 0906719 45 3 (Hard Cover). x + 198pp.
Judging by the list of publications on the back cover of the paperback edition, the Eothen Press is dedicated to promoting the Turkish view of the Cyprus Problem, and this book is no exception. Its bias is indicated from the very first paragraph: Cyprus, we are told, “lies 40 miles south of Turkey, [...] and 500 miles southeast of Greece (240 miles from the Greek island of Rhodes)” (p. 1)—a statement which suggests a rather worrying attitude to Greek islands. Further in we read that EOKA was a “Greek Cypriot terrorist organisation” engaged in “sordid work” (p. 7) while Volkan/TMT was a “resistance organisation” (p. 9); Grivas was a “ruthless Greek Cypriot adventurer” (p. 7), there was “no historical justification... for the unification of the island of Cyprus with Greece” (p. 4), and Archbishop Makarios was “the villain of the piece” (p. 165).
Perhaps the passage most revealing of the spirit and intentions of this book is the following:
There followed four years of EOKA terrorism and bloodshed, resulting in the death of many innocent civilians—Turks, Greeks and British—and the wanton destruction of much property. At one stage, particularly in 1958, Greek and Turkish Cypriots began to kill each other on sight, whilst Greece and Turkey came almost to blows over Cyprus. It is interesting to note here that, according to the 1958 secret documents of the British Colonial Office, in the summer of 1958 the British Government and a number of individuals contemplated, and some even tried, to procure the institution of criminal proceedings against Makarios ‘for complicity in murder or incitement to murder’. (p. 8)
On the face of it the passage seems reasonable enough for what claims at this point to be only a cursory introductory account, even if it is phrased in such a way as to convey the impression that EOKA was to blame for all the bloodshed, with Makarios complicit. In my view however, what is most noteworthy about this passage is its failure to mention one of the most significant items of “new” information, albeit an item which emerged not from the Public Records Office but from the mouth of Denktash himself. Greek and Turkish Cypriots began “to kill each other on sight” in 1958 because a bomb went off in the Turkish Consulate in Nicosia which was blamed by the Turkish Cypriots on the Greek Cypriots, and which was used to incite an indiscriminate Turkish Cypriot revenge attack on Greek Cypriot civilians. Many years later, in 1984, Rauf Denktash confessed on British television that the bomb had in fact been placed in the doorway of the Turkish Consulate by a friend of his in order to “create an atmosphere of tension”. For Sonyel to omit mention of both this incident and Denktash’s confession, knowledge of which is essential for a correct understanding of the nature of the intercommunal tensions in Cyprus, is to leave himself open to the charge not just of bias but of misinformation.
There is much else that Sonyel fails to mention. One would have hoped that such a book from a Turkish Cypriot would have given a lot more information about the activities of the Turkish side, but these are presented only in general terms and remain blurred and vague. As with so much that has been written on the Cyprus Problem, he focusses for the most part on the Greek Cypriots and presents the Turkish Cypriots as merely reacting to Greek Cypriot initiatives. There is no mention of the Turkish ship Deniz, which was caught smuggling arms to the Turkish Cypriots before independence but after the 1960 settlement had been agreed. Nor is there mention of the TMT’s assasination in 1962, long before the troubles of December 1963 had broken out, of the publishers of the weekly Cumhurriyet, Ayhan Hikmet and Ahmet Gurkan. In addition, the great extent to which the governance and organisation of the Tukish Cypriots was put in the hands of Turkish Army officers at least as early as 1962 is nowhere made clear.
In fact nothing is mentioned which might make the Turkish Cypriots look as if they share any of the blame for “the destruction of a republic”. They are throughout the innocent and well-intentioned victims of the Greek-Cypriots. For example, we are expected to believe that although the Greek-Cypriots saw independence only as a step on the way to enosis, the Turkish Cypriots “regarded the Zurich compromise as an end in itself” (p. 12). This despite the confession from Denktash himself, again many years later, that the 1960 constitution was seen by him as only a step on the way to partition, and despite the evidence of the ominous Deniz incident.
In contrast, the activities of the Greeks and Greek Cypriots are presented in much greater detail but from a point of view which shows no understanding of and even less sympathy for what might be the legitimate aspirations of a majority indigenous population throwing off the rule of alien imperial powers for the first time, and having to deal at the same time with a minority that refused even to accept that it was a minority, and which was certainly not going to allow itself to be ruled by its former subjects.
If the book has anything of value to offer, beyond giving us some insight into the mindset of a (?)representative Turkish Cypriot or functioning as an example of the way in which Turkish Cypriot propaganda manipulates the historical record, then this would be the publication of hitherto unpublished documents from the British governmental archives. However, the bias and lack of fairmindedness that is apparent at numerous points in the text does not inspire faith that this is a fair and accurate selection and presentation of the “countless” documents which have been made available for public scrutiny by the British Government. Especially since very few documents are given entire, and many are simply described or paraphrased. Add to this the certain knowledge that the British Government will have already made its own selection and not released documents that it considers especially sensitive, and one might justifiably wonder how much faith to put in the picture that is painted by Sonyel. Certainly the documents cited are interesting and suggest new perspectives on the role of the British—Sonyel argues that they supported enosis in the years immediately following independence—but I would want to see the archives for myself or have them presented by a more reliable and fair-minded commentator.
See Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens (3rd edition. London & New York: Verso, 1997), p. 4.
According to Christos Ioannides, six Turkish army officers arrived in Cyprus under cover in the 15 months before the intercommunal fighting of December 1963 broke out—a fact which leads him to speculate “whether Turkey was planning to precipitate a crisis which would lead to the partition of Cyprus sometime in 1964.” (Christos P. Ioannides, In Turkey’s Image: The Transformation of Occupied Cyprus into a Turkish Province [New York: Caratzas, 1991], pp. 135-6.