Cyprus and the Lessons Learnt

by Pavlos Andronikos


The following is the original version of an article published in condensed form in The Jerusalem Post (29 Jan. 1997) with the title “The Russian Missiles Are a Must”—a title I would not myself have chosen had I been consulted.


Coming after the senseless killing of three Greek Cypriot civilians and the mysterious killing of one Turkish soldier and wounding of another (both Kurds) on the line dividing Cyprus into an illegal Turkish colony and military camp in the north and a legitimate but nervous Cypriot state in the south,[1] the recent news that the Turkish Government is again threatening military action against the Greek Cypriots must surely cause all those who have supported Turkey’s invasion and colonisation of northern Cyprus through inaction and “neutrality” to reconsider.

It must seem very strange to reasonable people that Turkey should be objecting to the Cypriot government’s plan to buy the Russian S300 anti-aircraft system. Every nation has the right to defend itself, and it is absurd that the very agressor against whom the Cypriot government feels it needs to defend itself, an agressor who has already invaded and occupied 37% of the island, should be insisting that Cyprus remain defenceless and at its mercy or else. Perhaps the Turkish Government would like the Greek Cypriots to build special roads for the Turkish army’s tanks and provide refreshments for its soldiers should they feel the need to advance further south!

Turkey’s threats appear even more unreasonable when one remembers that the government of Cyprus has repeatedly proposed demilitarisation of the island. For example, in December 1993, President Clerides offered to disband the Cypriot National Guard, to hand its weapons over to the UN Peacekeeping Force, to fund the total cost of a numerically increased UN Peacekeeping Force that would guarantee the security of the island’s inhabitants, and to redirect any money left over from the defence budget into a special fund for bi-communal projects, subject to the withdrawal of Turkey’s troops. The offer was repeated in September 1996 when he invited Dektash to meet with him to discuss the offer.

Demilitarisation seems like an ideal solution to the current impasse and deserves serious consideration, but the proposal was rejected. Why? For the simple reason that Turkey does not want a solution to the Cyprus problem. In fact the Greek Cypriots are seriously concerned that Turkey’s real aim is to annex the part of Cyprus it occupies, and that it is merely waiting for a suitable pretext. Even more worrying for the Greek Cypriots is the irrational view prevalent among Turkish nationalists that Cyprus is Turkish (despite the fact that Greek Cypriots constitute over 80% of the legal population of the island), and there is a real fear that Turkey has its sights set on occupying the whole of the island should the opportunity arise.[2]

Such an opportunity could arise if Greece and Turkey go to war, especially if Cyprus is also involved. And to the Greeks it seems obvious that Turkey wants to provoke a war. It has been made abundantly clear by various representatives of the Turkish state that Turkey covets the Greek islands closest to its Aegean coastline, and that it has its eyes on Thrace, which has a sizable Turkish minority. A war with a Greece ill-prepared to test Turkey’s military strength would, Turkey hopes, open the way to territorial gains on both of these fronts, and would also give it the excuse it needs to occupy the whole of Cyprus. Turkey has learnt only too well from its 1974 invasion of Cyprus that, so long as it can come up with a plausible pretext for military action,[3] the USA and Europe will look the other way and not intervene, at least not quickly enough to prevent territorial gains.[4] This is a lesson the Greeks have also learnt, and, understandably, they are looking to their defence. Greece and Cyprus have agreed on a joint defence pact, and have committed themselves to spending huge amounts which they can ill afford on military hardware so that they might have some chance of repulsing, or better, deterring a Turkish invasion.

Since neither Greece nor Cyprus have any designs on Turkish territory, and are unlikely to initiate military adventures with Turkey, the strengthening of their defence capabilities has to be seen as just that. And this latest Turkish threat has to be seen as not just a threat directed at the Greek Cypriots but also— if it materialises—as one more attempt to push Greece into a war with Turkey, since any attack by Turkey on military installations in Cyprus would have to be interpreted by both Greece and the Greek Cypriots as tantamount to a declaration of war and a testing of their joint-defence pact.

With the danger of war so real, it is time for the USA and Europe, Turkey’s NATO allies, to call Turkey to order and make it unequivocally clear to the Turkish Government (including the real powerbroker in Turkey, the military)[5] that there is nothing to be gained from the agressive and provocative tactics which constitute Turkish foreign policy towards Greece.

And it is also time that commentators stopped playing into Turkish hands by presenting the Cyprus problem as an “intractable” dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. It is Turkey that calls the shots, not the Turkish Cypriots, who are being used as pawns by Turkey in power games that have nothing to do with their security and wellbeing. Even in the illegal state that Turkey created by forcing thousands of Cypriots from their homes and villages, they are a marginalised minority, outnumbered by Turkish colonists and soldiers and controlled by decisions made in Turkey and realised by Denktash’s puppet government.[6] No wonder their numbers are decreasing as they emigrate from the mess Turkey created for them with the collusion of Denktash and his cronies.[7]

Like the Greek Cypriots, the great majority of Turkish Cypriots want a solution to the Cyprus problem so that a unified Cyprus can join the European Union. They do not want to be annexed by Turkey and they do not want to be swamped by “settlers”.[8]

But this is not what Turkey wants or it would accept demilitarisation, withdraw its armed forces from the island, and allow the Turkish Cypriots to freely elect representatives to negotiate with the Greek Cypriots on a new constitution for Cyprus. Of course, such negotiations should have taken place back in the 1950s, and if they had, we might have been spared the bitter fruits of Greek Cypriot nationalism, Turkish expansionism and British imperialism. But perhaps it was necessary for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to learn the lessons of the post-independence years before they could live with each other in peace again. Unfortunately Turkey has learnt a different lesson —that might is right—and is not prepared to let the Cypriots give peace and co-existence a chance.

Pavlos Andronikos
Monash University
January 1997


  1. The recent killings of Greek Cypriot civilians by Turks were presented in the media as an indication of the ill-feeling that exists between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This was exactly what Turkey wanted—to show the world that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot live together in peace. However, what the media failed to report (because of its short attention span?) was the information that emerged after the event which showed that the counter-demonstrations which led to the first killing were organised by the Turkish authorities with the active involvement of Turkish soldiers, colonists, and members of the extremist Turkish nationalist organisation the Grey Wolves, who were imported into occupied Cyprus both for this purpose and to intimidate dissenting Turkish Cypriots.

    As for the shooting of the two Turkish soldiers, an independent inquiry carried out by the authorities of the British bases in Cyprus established that there was no conclusive evidence that the crime was committed by Greek Cypriots.

  2. An organisation named The Cyprus Is Turkish Society was formed in 1954 in Turkey with the blessing of the Turkish Government and the backing of the Turkish press, even before the troubles in Cyprus began.

  3. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it claimed that its intention was to restore constitutional order, and justified its action with reference to the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee: “Insofar as common or concerted action may not prove possible, each of the three guaranteeing powers [Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom] reserves the right to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the present Treaty.” It soon became clear that this was no more than a pretext. More than 20 years later, Turkey still holds 37% of Cyprus, and has exported more than 74,000 colonists to the island. The restoration of constitutional order was never on Turkey’s agenda; the real motive for the invasion was always territorial expansion.

  4. See “Words Won’t Shift Turkey”, an editorial in The Guardian 30 August 1977: “They invaded in two separate waves. They camped along the Attila Line, holding 36 per cent of Cyprus. They have not budged since. Worse, they have relentlessly filled northern Cyprus with mainland emigrants, squeezing all but a handful of Greeks from their territory... Who can wonder then that the Greeks fear not merely permanent division along the Attila Line but, at some suitable future moment with some suitable future excuse, a further Turkish push to swallow all of Cyprus? Will world opinion be any more help then than it is now?”

  5. See the chapter “The State Within the State: A Barrier to Change” in Amnesty International’s Turkey: No Security Without Human Rights (1996): “The critical and unresolved issue is the extent of civil authority over the security apparatus. The security forces, comprising the police and gendarmerie as well as the military and the intelligence agencies, continue to have great influence and power in Turkey, effectively functioning as a state within a state. Although it is 12 years since the formal end of military rule, elected politicians are constantly reminded of their junior status.”

    If this is the state of affairs in Turkey, one can only wonder what the real situation is in occupied northern Cyprus where there is approximately one member of the security forces for every six people. That is not counting members of paramilitary organisations like the Grey Wolves.

  6. In his carefully reasoned study In Turkey’s Image: The Transformation of Occupied Cyprus into a Turkish Province, Christos P. Ioannides calculates that “by 1988, the actual Turkish Cypriot population, as a percentage of the island’s total population, had dropped to 14.2%. The introduction of settlers, however had artificially raised the TRNC population to about 25% of the country’s total population.” If we add to the 74,000-plus “settlers”, the 35,000-plus Turkish troops on the island, then the Turkish Cypriots constitute less than half of the population of the TRNC (i.e., the occupied north of Cyprus), and their numbers are decreasing as a result of continued emigration.

  7. Of particular interest is “We Cry But We Still Leave” by the Turkish Cypriot Kutlu Adali, which appeared in the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeni Duzen on the 30th of August 1994. Kutlu Adali, a critic of Turkey’s and Denktash’s policies in Cyprus was murdered in July 1996 to prevent him from testifying before the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commission in the case Cyprus v. Turkey. See the Cyprus section of the Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996 released by the USA government’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on January 30, 1997: “In July a prominent Turkish Cypriot journalist was murdered in what was apparently a politically motivated killing.”

    And, further into the report: “A prominent, leftist Turkish Cypriot journalist, Kutlu Adali, was murdered outside of his home in Nicosia on July 6. Police reportedly prevented Adali’s family from entering their apartment for nearly a day following his murder, saying that they were searching for evidence. Turkish Cypriot authorities have not, however, so far conducted a credible investigation into Adali’s murder... Adali had written articles critical of Turkey’s role in the north and particularly of the role of the Turkish military and of policies that allowed large numbers of Turkish workers into the north. Following Adali’s murder, some Turkish Cypriot journalists have complained about surveillance and intimidation. Turkish Cypriot authorities have not responded adequately to such allegations.”

  8. In July 1995 the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Ortam reported that in a recent poll 90% of respondents were against integration with Turkey. The article stated: “We want the necessary conditions for entering the EU. Precluding the Greek Cypriot side’s unilateral entry into the EU does not lie in integration with Turkey, but in establishing a federation in Cyprus.” (Cyprus Bulletin 10 July 1995, p. 4)

    See also The Spectator 16 September 1978: “In spite of past hatreds, many Turkish Cypriots say they regret the exodus of the Greeks and even that they feel more affinity with these fellow Cypriots than they do with the mainland Turks, especially the Anatolians.” Also of relevance are: “Turkish ‘Hell’ in Occupied Zone” in The Guardian 27 April 1978, and “Turk Settlers ‘Making Cyprus Hell’” in The Times 27 April 1978.