Book essay: The bloody truth about Cyprus
by Henrik Ræder Clausen
Nicosia, March 2009. ISBN 9789963962204
The apparently endless stalemate on Cyprus is getting a thorough treatment in the publication by the organization “Freedom and Justice for Cyprus”. While the documentation of what went down through the 1960’s and 1970’s is shocking and brutal, the real coup of the book is that it goes back to the 1950’s, once and for all settling the question of who originally created the conflict in Cyprus: It wasn’t the ‘Turkish’ Cypriots. Nor was it Turkey. It was, documentably, Great Britain.
The book has a cover as brutal as the title, an image of Cyprus with blood dripping from the north into the southern part. Based on this, one might expect it to contain a vitriolic anti-Turkish diatribe, but this isn’t really the case. In spite of some linguistic excesses, such as the phrase “The Turkish Propaganda Machine”, the book in general sticks to the documentation of events and developments on the ground, and thus becomes a valuable resource for understanding the current stalemate, as well as for assessing the merits of various proposed solutions.
As for who sowed the seeds of the current problems, the book is clear: It was not Turkey, nor Turkish Cypriots, it was Great Britain. Seeking a way to maintain the colonial rule established in 1923, Britain feared a united Cypriot opposition to their rule, and gradually worked to strengthen the Muslim/Turkish identity of the Muslim Cypriots. That included construction of new mosques in villages without any, initiating the use of the term “Turkish Cypriots”, and later requesting Turkey to reclaim rule of the island, an idea initially received with disinterest by the Turkish government.
However, a committee on the subject was formed in July 1955, and in 1956, professor Nihat Erim was appointed special advisory on the Cyprus issue. In November and December 1956, he released two reports endorsing an active Turkish engagement in Cyprus, aiming first at a division of the island into Greek and Turkish parts (termed “Taksin”), and to work long-term for a full Turkish takeover. This policy was adopted by the Turkish government, and has been followed by various Turkish governments — civilian or military — since then.
The book details chronology of various Greek and Turkish groups formed in the late 1950’s, including EOKA (Greek), VOLCAN (Turkish) and TMT (Turkish). Their chronology is particular important, for it is useful in weeding out honest statements from deceitful ones. This includes Turkish statements about the “Bloodthirsty Makarios”, the work by Rauf Denktash to turn TMT into an underground Turkish organization, the killing of Turkish voices other than those of TMT, and the efforts to make Turkish Cypriots segregate themselves from the Greek Cypriots. The tacit approval of the British in this marks a low point of harmful colonial divide-and-rule strategies.
Descriptions of events after 1962 are somewhat more sketchy. The proposed constitutional changes in 1963 play a central role, and the efforts by the TMT to segregate the Greek and Turkish are recorded in a very varied degree of detail. The Turkish bombardment of Tylleria in August 1964 is mentioned, but the heavy fighting in the preceding months are not. Advance references to the 2004 Annan Plan and similar chronological leaps are annoying, in spite of their relevance. The 1974 invasion is likewise accounted for in an unsystematic way, jumping rapidly from overall descriptions to individual tales of mass rapes and executions by the Turkish soldiers.
The real strength of this book is the wealth of original sources — British, Cypriot, Turkish — drawn in and quoted here. Many common fallacies and outright lies are dismantled, and for this reason it is easy to forgive the somewhat uneven narrative of the book. Harder to forgive is the lack of illustrations. Some maps providing an overview of violent incidents and the 1974 invasion would be welcome, as would some tables with statistics.
This book provides essential background information for the situation in Cyprus. It has its strength in quoting vital original documents in their proper context, showing a clear route from British colonial machinations to direct Turkish involvement, and provides an indispensable understanding of many key events. On the other hand, it is jumpy, both chronologically and emotionally, clearly one-sided, and skips chunks of history needed for a full account of the developments.
Review opinion: 4/6
If you have interest in the Cyprus conflict, adding this book to your collection is recommended, in particular because it provides crucial information regarding the role played by the British.
For those interested, more details out of “Bloody Truth”, and some closing comments:
In 1878, Cyprus was ceded from Ottoman to British rule, initially as a long-term lease agreement. The Cypriots, having been ruled by the Ottomans since 1571, welcomed the change, rejoicing in a European power coming back to Cyprus, setting the hopes for eventually establishing a modern, independent Cypriot state, much as countries in the Balkans during the 19th century had cast off centuries of brutal Ottoman rule and restored their independence.
Independence and self-determination were not in the cards for Cyprus, however. Even after World War I, when the Wilsonian Principles of self-determination of the peoples led to dismantling of empires and the re-establishment of multiple nation-states, Cyprus was not one of the states to return to independence. Rather, it became a British crown colony in 1925, after Turkey in the Treaty of Lausanne had relinquished all interests in the island.
Maintaining colonial rule was growing increasingly difficult, however, and not least in a country that considered itself part of the Western civilization, the Greek in particular. Great Britain set out to do what it had done so successfully elsewhere, to divide and rule. Strengthening the Islamic identity of the Muslims in Cyprus was deemed essential to this, and to do so, Britain initiated construction of mosques in many villages that had never had one.
Opening the door for Turkey
Then [BT: Page 208], on June 8th 1949 came a note in the minority newspaper “Halkni Sesi”: It reported that the British Governor R. E. Turnbull requested the term “Muslims of Cyprus” to be replaced with the currently used “Turkish Cypriots”. This seemingly insignificant change of terms in time brought about a change in perception, that the Muslims in Cyprus were Turks, and thus that Turkish interference on the island represented a legitimate concern for Turkish citizens.
But that was hard work. As Turkish foreign minister Ali Kuprulu said in 1950:
“For Turkey, there does not exist any Cyprus issue”.
Only in 1954, when Archbishop Makarios with the aid of Greece got Cyprus on the agenda of the United Nations, did help from the British press become sufficient that a Turkish demand to gain control of Cyprus could be raised at the United Nations. This is related in chilling detail on pages 208 through 213, and since the long-term consequences of these machinations are well known, it stands as a sinister example of how to cause severe long-term damage in international relations.
Taking the opportunity
For Turkey was not late in spotting an opportunity to increase regional influence and gain an advance strategic stronghold south of Turkey proper. In 1956, Turkish Prime minister Menderes set out to investigate the potential of getting a foothold in Cyprus. Professor Nihat Erim endorsed the idea, which has remained official Turkish policy since. The aim was to first provoke an ethnic division (Taksin) of Cyprus, then in the long term aim to take over the island entirely.
Turkey didn’t miss the opportunity offered to them by the British, having no particular interest in upholding international law in the process.
Taking up arms
On pages 214 through 231, we get quite a bit of detail about the increasing use (and misuse) of weapons and violence, in particular the formation of the Turkish orgs VOLKAN and TMT. Simultaneously, the armed movement EOKA was formed to dislodge the British colonial rule and replace it with a free and democratic Cypriot state. The story of this struggle is related elsewhere, but it clearly strengthened the British resolve to invite Turkish involvement in Cyprus, for it is much easier to rule over a divided people than a unified one. Thus Britain made Turkey partner in all formal proceedings, and turned a blind eye to Turkey’s creating a paramilitary organization TMT, 10,000 members strong, discreetly armed from Turkey and led by retired Turkish military staff.
Violent acts also took place elsewhere. On September 6th 1955, a minor bomb went off at the house where Kemal Atatürk was born, and on that pretext, along with pressure from the Turkish group “Cyprus is Turkish”, the Greek quarter of Istanbul (previously Constantinople) was severely damaged and looted, leading eventually to further ethnic cleansing of the Greek minority there.
The underground army TMT were to play a pivotal role in the following years. The predecessor, VOLKAN, had been partly British directed, but under the excellent leadership of Rauf Denktash, things slipped out of British control to the radical Turkish-supported circle around TMT. With this group systematically killing off Turkish-Cypriot dissent from their radical agenda, including labor union leaders, journalists and others of the opinion that peaceful coexistence between all Cypriots was a preferable option. Thus, TMT and Rauf Denktash managed to establish themselves as the only major voice of the Muslim / Turkish Cypriots. Not exactly democratic, but effective.
After the semi-independence of 1960, the book becomes more spotty and could well have covered the events much more systematically. It does, however, bring out a valuable series of mythbusting, including the so-called “Bathtub murders” in 1963, the bombing of the Bayraktar mosque in Nicosia, the burning of a mosque in 1974, and other incidents staged to escalate Greek-Turkish animosity in ways similar to bombing the birthplace of Kemal Atatürk, then blaming the Greeks.
The pattern of Turks staging a (minor) event, or exploiting an unrelated crime for propaganda purposes, has been revealed bit by bit many years after they had the desired effect on the ground. Here, for instance, is a report from Today’s Zaman touching on several key events staged by Turkish parts in the conflict.
It is an unfortunate fact that whipping up emotion and confusing the minds of decision-makers can lead to a lot of mistakes in the heat of the moment, leading to the creation of more problems than the existed before, and in particular to situations on the ground that are difficult and/or embarrassing to solve correctly. This has been the case in Cyprus for decades on end.
However, bringing to light the details of past manipulations and mistakes is helpful in the long run, and Bloody Truth, in spites of its flaws, does a good job at delivering facts and details that really should have been out decades ago. It might have been a better book if it had put down a full stop at, say, 1964, leaving coverage of the 1974 Turkish invasion, the 1983 TRNC declaration and the 2004 Annan Plan for future books. But it is plenty readable and useful as it is, and has as its particular strength the extensive use of primary sources.
The path forward
No article about the conflict in Cyprus without outlining some principles about how to proceed, even though it is not directly the subject of Bloody Truth. The developments since the 1950’s has been marked by a never-ending failure to uphold international law, though usually under the pretence of doing so. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” has been applied repeatedly, all to frequently to crises created by deliberate manipulations. The Annan Plan marks a low point in that development, for as Alfred de Zayas wrote about it:
One year after the vote [the 2004 referendum], upon a calmer rereading of the Annan plan, the non-committed observer may wonder whether anyone could have reasonably expected the Cypriot population in non-occupied Cyprus to vote in favour of a plan that entailed abandoning positions held by the Security Council and the General Assembly since July 1974, and which seriously undermined fundamental principles of international law contained in numerous universal and regional documents.
On the state of international law in the context of Cyprus and Turkish aggression:
Can such grave violations of international law be retroactively legalized ? International law experts hold the view that such violations cannot be legalized. Alas, the situation of violation of international law norms by States — in total impunity — is not rare. However, this does not mean that international law has ceased to exist or that these particular norms have ceased to be applicable.
This Annan Plan is all the more distressing, because it manifests the application of double-standards at the highest level of the United Nations. Ethnic cleansing was condemned at Nuremberg. It is condemned today at The Hague by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. And yet Turkey is allowed to occupy militarily one third of the territory of another European country and to keep the fruits of the crime. Why this double-standard?
In order to uphold international law and the underlying principles of national sovereignty, a solution for Cyprus should be decided upon only by proper citizens of Cyprus — not Turkish soldiers or illegal settlers — and should adhere to principles laid down in international law, such as:
|1.||Implementation of all relevant judgments and resolutions of international courts.|
|2.||Withdrawal of foreign military forces from Northern Cyprus;|
|3.||Withdrawal of illegal settlers in Northern Cyprus, in line with article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention;|
|4.||Recognition of the right of return of all displaced Cypriots; and|
|5.||Restitution or compensation to displaced Cypriots for confiscated or destroyed properties.|
This is no easy task, for much confidence has been placed in the United Nations, which has not lived up to it. But the underlying principles of international law are not that hard to understand, including not rewarding aggression or letting aggressors keep the fruits of their aggression, as well as the obvious principle of respecting private property. The latter has been made easier by recent court verdicts upholding the property rights of Cypriots who for over 30 years have been kept from using their rightful property by the Turkish occupation forces.
Cyprus has become a test case for honest upholding of international law. So far, it has resulted in many more failures than successes, which is eroding Cypriot confidence in international negotiations and deals to solve their problem. The reality on the ground is what matters to most. This includes the fact that passage to the occupied territory is now legal and easy, that the property rights of Cypriots is being upheld, and that even Turkish Cypriots are protesting the Turkish presence on their island. The hardest issue is the fate of the 200,000+ illegal Turkish settlers in the northern part of Cyprus. That, however, is a problem that the state of Turkey must resolve. For Cyprus belongs to the Cypriots, not to British, Turkey or illegally imported Turkish settlers.
A pdf file of “Bloody Truth” is available here.