There is a joke in Cyprus that if the island’s Greeks would return to Greece, and its Turks to Turkey, and then if the Israelis were resettled on Cyprus, the whole Middle East problem would be solved. Aside from the fact that this would cause serious unemployment at the U.S. State Department, the joke has a point. It is hard to see what else would solve the situation, and that is the beginning of understanding of the Cyprus problem, and of the Middle East.
The Cyprus problem, like that of the Middle East, is always there. From time to time, it shifts into the category of “crisis.” In the past few months, there were all the indicia that it had done so. The regional correspondents of various newspapers and newsmagazines had come through and written stories saving, “Cyprus Coming to the Boil Again.” and so on. There was a rise in the number of dangerous incidents between the Greek and Turkish communities on the febrile island. Archbishop Makarios. Cyprus’ president, was issuing Delphic statements and taking conspicuous trips outside Cyprus. Diplomats in Nicosia. Athens, Ankara, and Washington were tense.
It is Cyprus’ misfortune, as it has been throughout history, that its location in the Eastern Mediterranean has made its fate subject to the maritime exigencies of greater powers. The Americans, the Russians, the British, the Greeks, and the Turks are successors to the Romans, the Venetians, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and others in their concern with the question of who controls the island and the access to its ports. The difficulties between the island’s Greeks and Turks would amount to a mere bedroom quarrel were Cyprus somewhere else.
The formal issues between the two communities stem from the terms on which Great Britain gave Cyprus its independence in 1960. The Turks, with only 18 percent of the island’s population, were given special constitutional protections which amounted to an effective veto power over the workings of the government. Greece, Turkey. and Great Britain were given unilateral rights to intervene to maintain the status quo. This blocked union with Greece, called enosis, which most of the island s Greeks are believed to have preferred. The Turkish Cypriots object to enosis because of the minority status it would consign them to within a greater Greece. Their position is backed by Turkey, which, beyond having brotherly feelings toward the Turkish Cypriots, does not. for reasons of its own, want Cyprus to become a Greek island. Turkey, only forty miles away—on a clear day its mountains can be seen from the north coast of Cyprus—is thus in a position to prevent enosis.
The right of intervention was an anachronism reminiscent of the nineteenth-century Treaty Port diplomacy in China, and in the long run perhaps as vulnerable. As for the domestic arrangement. the Greeks claimed that the Turks were being obstructive and the Turks that they were being discriminated against, and both were right. In 1963, Makarios declared the arrangement unworkable. There ensued five years of hostilities between the two communities. Twice Turkey threatened to intervene, and both times it was stayed by the United States, its NATO ally. Both sides were persuaded to appoint a negotiator to try to work out their disagreements, and there was a period of relative calm until this past summer, when it appeared that the talks were breaking down. In September. General George Grivas, a strong proenosis opponent of Makarios, slipped back into Cyprus from Greece, to which he had been expelled for his part in the bloodshed of the sixties.
“The troubles.” as Cypriots, like the Irish, refer to the violence of the sixties, left scars on the island, and it is difficult to see how any amount of talk, internal or international, could erase them. Most of the Turks withdrew into enclaves from which they bar Greeks and which they defend with their own armed force, and they set up a separate administration for these areas. The various Greek and Turkish sectors of the island are marked by armed Greek sentries in blue-and-white-striped boxes, or armed Turkish sentries in matching red-and-white-striped boxes. It would seem to be a game of toy soldiers but for the bloody background. It is another of those surface absurdities of the Mediterranean—like the obstacles to entering Arab countries if one’s passport has been defiled by an Israeli stamp—with tragic underpinnings. It especially galls the Greeks that the Turks control one of the main roads, between Nicosia and Kyrenia on the north coast, forcing Greeks to drive the long way around, taking twice as long, or to travel the main road in a slow convoy conducted twice a day by the United Nations.
Along the Turkish-controlled road are signs which read: “Welcome to the Free Turkish Territories”: “There are Two National Communities in Cyprus: Greeks and Turks”; “Visit the Barbaric Museum in the Turkish Quarter of Nicosia.” Where the road reaches Nicosia, the juncture is narrowed by oil drums and sandbags, so that the identity of passers-through can be checked. The telephone-telegraph building in the nearby Greek sector is surrounded by sandbags; on its roof is a UN patrol. In the Greek quarters, ENOΣIΣ is in fresh paint on the walls, in one Greek Cypriot army encampment there were banners which read: “Greece for the Greeks and Christians”; “Long Live April 21” (the day the colonels took over the Greek government in 1967).
In 1964"a British General drew a green line on a map to mark off the Greek and Turkish sectors of Nicosia, and now the area of demarcation is known as “the Green Line.”It is marked not by any line but by oil drums, burned-out trucks, and barbed wire. But the other sides of human nature persist. “The troubles ‘ resulted not only in a division of people but also in an apartheid of soft-drink concessions. In the Greek sector there are Coca-Cola and 7-Up; in the Turkish there are Bel Cola, which tastes like a cross between Coke and Pepsi, and Bubble Up, which tastes like Sprite. On Easter and Bairam, a Muslim holiday, Greeks and Turks meet at the barricades and exchange soft drinks.
It takes very little traveling about Cyprus to see that the Turks are demonstrably worse off than the Greeks, their villages or quarters of the larger cities poorer, drabber, more lifeless. “They brought it on themselves.” said one Greek Cypriot, reflecting the general Greek view. “Their leaders have closed them off to bring pressure on us. They can come into the Greek sectors. They could enter into the life and economy anytime they choose.”Greek Cypriots also offer explanations for the state of the Turks that are not unfamiliar to American ears: “They” live differently; “they are more squalid”; “they” don’t care as much about educating their children.
When the Turks withdrew into their enclaves in the sixties, the Greeks cut off their power and access to building materials and in other ways made their existence more difficult. Rauf Denktash. a lawyer who is the leader of and negotiator for the Turkish Cypriots, argues that even before the enclaves were set up. Turkish areas were given second-class treatment. The Turkish reaction to the pressure was—as is often the case—tight discipline and determination not to capitulate. Now the Turks are loath to give up diplomatically what they struggled to maintain. Thus the intercommunal talks have foundered over the issues on which they began: how much power and autonomy the Turkish minority should have.
Yet the longer the situation continues as it is, the worse the condition of the Turkish Cypriot community becomes. Turkey, which sends an annual subsidy of about $25 million to the island Turks, is pressing for a solution. Many of the brightest young Turkish Cypriots give up and go to the Turkish mainland. There is no tourism—a major source of Cyprus’ income—in the Turkish sectors, and virtually no way for a Turk to participate in Cyprus’ current development. And the gulf between the communities deepens. “When I was a young boy,”said Denktash. “I had Greek friends and contacts. I went to a mixed school. We knew the language, and we could get on in the market. When the struggles started, my eldest boy was twelve: he’s now twenty. The youngest boy was four; he’s now twelve. All this generation has not had contact at all. except hearing ‘the Greeks have killed.’ The damned Greeks.’ and so on.”
In addition to the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot standing armies, each roughly 10,000 strong, there are private armies, guns, and guns for hire all over the island. That the two sides have not been at each other’s throats more often of late is due both to the fact that their leaders have been discouraging conflict and to the presence of the United Nations peacekeeping force. There are about 3100 in the United Nations force in Cyprus, about 200 of them civilian policemen. The civilian police come from Australia, Austria, and Denmark; the soldiers are professionals from England. Canada, and Ireland, and a large number of mercenaries from Scandinavia. The six-month tours are not bad work, the pay is pretty good, and there are Cyprus’ lovely beaches and cool mountains, its inexpensive cafes and plentiful wine. The force tries to keep the peace by preventing minor incidents from mushrooming into major ones. Its men are spread throughout the island, getting to know what is going on in each village, befriending its muktar (leader), dealing with arguments between Greeks and Turks over everything from the theft of a sheep or diversion of water to murder. Its presence permits both sides to save face; their leaders can explain to more hotheaded constituents that they would have done this or that but for the interference of the UN.
During this past summer, the number of incidents which came across the UN blotter was about double what it had been in similar periods. In one of the worst incidents, a busload of Turks in uniform, one of them carrying a gun, was intercepted and detained in a Greek village. Turks in the surrounding area thereupon went out onto one of the main highways and took Greek hostages. The scene, as an exhausted and still shaken UN officer described it the following day. was one of hysteria. “Hogarthian.” The UN men went back and forth to the various villages, into the screaming mobs, spending several hours straightening out the mess, which, after several hours, they did. American representatives in Nicosia. Athens, and Ankara followed the incident closely and urgently discussed it with the three governments. Such are the wide ripples from a domestic quarrel in Cyprus.
One is constantly reminded that the assignment of the UN force is one of peacekeeping, not peacemaking. There have been UN political representatives on the island, but they have been no more successful than anyone else at “solving” the Cyprus problem. All manner of proposals have been drawn up for what ought to be, but they are consistently sunk by what is. And even the peacekeeping capacities are limited. What,
I asked a UN officer, did the UN do in 1967. when the fighting was bad and Turkey was threatening to intervene? “We pulled in our heads.” he replied. And what would they do if fighting broke out again? “We would pull in our heads again.”he said. “If the two sides want to have at each other, they’ll have at each other.”
Like the intercommunal talks and the patience of either side, the UN presence is another factor of questionable durability. The operation is alreadv S25 million in debt, and the troop-contributing countries are growing weary. The roseate notion of an international peacekeeping force collides with practicalities. There are in fact few countries which can be called upon to contribute. The United States considers itself too large, too visible, and too controversial to take part in such peacekeeping forces. (But the United States, interested as it is in the stability of Cyprus, does pay 40 percent of the bill.) Some, like Russia and France, refuse to get involved. There is an unspoken color bar on Cyprus, and the Archbishop will not admit black troops. The UN’s current mandate, periodically renewed for six-month terms, runs out in December: no one is sure what will happen next. There is talk of a reduced observer force, which no one thinks will work as well.
After Bitter Lemons
To talk of Cyprus in terms of freighty international questions, however. is to miss the feel of the place. One soon grows as accustomed to the sentry boxes as if they were traffic lights: and away from the officials and their fretful talk, it is easy to torget that this is a “crisis spot.”The tourists, most of them British, still arrive in large numbers, stopping at the sprawling, yellowing Dome Hotel in Kyrenia, with its overstuffed velour chairs protected by antimacassars, or in Famagusta on the eastern shore, with its astonishing Miami Beach-like row of high-rise hotels. Cyprus is in one part of the Mediterranean that is not vet polluted. In Karavas. a small mountain village, the Miss Lemons contest proceeds, and in Famagusta, where Othello’s tower is reputed to be, someone has opened Othello’s Self-Drive Cars right next to Smokey Joe’s Restaurant.
In the peaceful village of Bellapais. in the mountains behind the north Kyrenia coast, the only reminder of outside crisis is the nocturnal drunken singing of three Greek soldiers who, at a camp further up the hill, “guard" the village. By 9:30 each evening all is still, even the soldiers, except for the sounds of donkeys and roosters and water rushing down the irrigation channel. Bellapais was the setting of Lawrence Durrell’s book Bitter Lemons, and it has not entirely escaped either fame from the book or the booms in tourism and land speculation that are threatening to ruin much of Cyprus’ beauty.
Durrell lived in the village and described its people, its ways, and its café in the village square just across from the ruins of a great French abbey. The café, where the men of the village gather to drink, smoke, talk, play backgammon, or do nothing, is Dimitri’s, and the large tree outside under which the men sit has been called bv the villagers and Durrell the “tree of idleness.”Now. inevitably, there is a brassv new establishment in the square called the Tree ol Idleness Cafe, catering to tourists, young UN soldiers in their powder-blue berets, an occasional American congressman on an inspection tour of something or other, and even some Cypriots who come up the hills from Kyrenia for lunch or dinner. The souvenir shop next door sells three hundred copies of Bitter Lemons a year.
Dimitri’s remains the social center for the village men. many of them aging shepherds. In the afternoon, they string their chairs across the square to catch the late sun. and watch impassively as the cars and tourist buses nearly collide at the blind intersection of the steep road from Kyrenia and the village. Dimitri’s is to be torn down to make room for the buses.
But the extraordinary Cypriot hospitality has not changed, nor has the readiness to go to great lengths to help. It is difficult to conduct any transaction-hire a car, book a telephone call in one of the cafes, buy groceries— without being proffered coffee, lemonade, wine, cigarettes. Messages are delivered by a runner who comes up the steep donkey path from the new cafe, or placed on the dashboard of one’s car. which has somehow been found at the Kyrenia Harbor. When I wanted a birthday cake on a Sunday for my hostess in Bellapais. Anthemos, the village grocer, arranged to open his shop, and since he did not deal in cakes, to get one from Kyrenia and have it delivered to the house at the appointed time. Anthemos and I discussed the project over thick, sweet Cypriot wine, which he poured from a cask in his shop. John and Vivian Guthrie, both retired Scottish doctors, came to the village in 1951 and bought their house for L200. (They preceded Durrell. who does not mention them, perhaps because it would have detracted from the inference one takes from Bitter Lemons that he was the first outsider to settle in the village.) One of the memorable days in village history is the one when they all came out to carry John Guthrie’s grand piano up the donkey path.
It is when one deals with up-todate matters that Cyprus is just like home. Its brand-new direct-dial system yielded a perpetual busy signal. In booking airline tickets. Cypriots can create nightmares rivaling those anywhere else in the world.
Whether the villagers of Bellapais know it or not, or so wish it. no fewer than five nations, each with its own interests, are concerned with their island’s future. In both Greece and Turkey, Cyprus has long been an emotional, important political issue. But both governments are currently disinclined to get dragged into a war over it by their island clients, and both, being military dictatorships, are in a position to overlook public opinion. They are concerned with preventing NATO, in which they are both members, from falling apart over Cyprus, and with standing together in the face of the increased Soviet presence in the Mediterranean area. This is. of course, what American officials very much like to hear.
The American government cares about Cyprus to the extent that it is a factor in the endurance of NATO and the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet, both of which have fallen on hard times. Greece is the only country in the Eastern Mediterranean where the Sixth Fleet may count on landing. Theoretically it can land in Turkey, but demonstrations against the large American military presence there have been of a magnitude that not even the military government can ignore. The new government of Malta has invited the NATO headquarters out, and before that the Libyan government asked NATO to depart from the Wheel us air base there. “The trend in the area.” said an American official, “is not in the direction of NATO.”
The Soviet fleet is all about, and now the Russians have bases in Egypt. For the American government, this makes hanging on to whatever allies and access it maintains in the area a matter of the greatest urgency. In this context. Britain’s maintenance of its naval bases on the ninety-nine square miles of Cypriot soil it reserved for itself at independence is to the United States, as it is to Great Britain, of paramount importance. While the bases are not, strictly speaking, part of NATO, they are in effect a NATO surrogate.
Beyond all this are some of the other accouterments of power that define our diplomacy. The United States maintains a radio station on Cyprus which relays messages to the State Department from its diplomatic representatives throughout the Middle East. It also maintains there something called the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which monitors daily radio reports in the Middle East and forwards them to Washington. Whether or not these arrangements are very important, the point is that American officials have come to think that they are, and policy positions flow from that. It has been the same with the regional CIA listening post in Greece as it was with the Peshawar communications facility in Pakistan, from which the U-2’s used to take off. When, as in the cases of Peshawar and Wheelus, the host country asks us to leave despite our efforts to please, American officials discover that our republic survives. But until such realities have to be faced, the diplomatic preference is for the status quo, and that is what the United States seeks in Cyprus.
Thus it has been anxiously following the intercommunal talks within Cyprus and encouraging the Athens and Ankara governments in their efforts to pressure the Cypriots to come to an agreement. This in turn affects our relations with those governments. The American government has been grateful to the Greek military regime for its restraint in the face of the Turkish threat in 1967. For the Greek government, the motivation was not just global statesmanship but also the knowledge that if it did enter into a war with Turkey, which has a four-toone edge in strength, it would get clobbered. Andreas Papandreou’s failure to see Cyprus our way (he was closely allied with Makarios) and his lack of enthusiasm about NATO were among the reasons why Washington was so dry-eyed when the colonels seized power to prevent his election in 1967.
In June, with the Greek and Turkish governments—with the clear approval of the United States—pressing for some solution on Cyprus and threatening to impose one themselves. Makarios went to Moscow. He returned with a communiqué stating that the Soviet Union would “actively oppose” any solution of the Cyprus problem that was not acceptable to the Cypriot people.
It was a characteristic stroke. Through a sense of theater, judicious travels, and a capacity to lend off solutions to his famous crisis, Makarios has managed to keep himself at center stage. The leader of an island with a population of only 600.000, he is one of the world’s important people and dean of the nonaligned leaders, the rest of the crowd having died or been deposed. He is said to have been responsible for the downfall of more than one Greek government.
An interview with Makarios is a rather unusual procedure. First, I was asked to submit the questions in advance. Then, while I was waiting at the palace for the interview, the representative from the Public Information Office remarked that His Beatitude would present me with written responses. That raised some question as to what the “interview” would be about, but I was told that His Beatitude would elaborate on the answers.
Makarios, as it turns out, is, in an interview at least, a relaxed man with a frequent deep, chesty laugh. At one point. I referred to one of the questions I had submitted. “You will find,” the Archbishop replied, breaking into the laugh, “that my answer isn’t very informative.” This could be said of a number of his responses, but the result of the interview was at least a good view of the games the Archbishop is playing.
“I cannot say,” he said, for example, “that I am happy with a longrange British retention of those bases”—a statement likely, as intended, to send a chill through Whitehall and Foggy Bottom. “I do not think.”he replied to a question about the Soviet communique, “that I should try to define the way in which the active opposition of the Soviet Union would be manifested in the event of outside attempts for imposing a solution on Cyprus. As to the implications of the Soviet presence in the area, I could only say that the situation in this region is not anymore the same as it was in the past, and whatever therefore happens may have wider repercussions. I did not ask the Soviet government which way they would react. So you can give your own interpretation.”
Makarios’ relations with the current Greek government have been, at best, strained, and his invitation to the Russians to get into the Cyprus problem was no doubt the cause of near apoplexy on the part of the colonels. (Nor could the Americans be said to have been pleased.) “The Greek government,” the Archbishop said, “would like me to make some more concessions in which I do not agree.” In what ways, I asked, could they bring pressure? “They can’t pressure me,” said the Archbishop. He laughed very hard at that.
Makarios made his own contribution to the tensions of the past summer by raising once more the prospect of enosis, the one thing that most sets the Turkish community on edge. While many Greek Cypriot leaders concede that enosis is not feasible in the foreseeable future, and some even say this out loud, none dare forswear it, as the Turkish Cypriots demand. He would not rule out enosis, even if to do so would remove a major obstacle to peace on the island, said Makarios in the interview, “because I don’t want to insult the national aspiration of the people.”
Whether enosis is Makarios’ aspiration is another question. If Cyprus were Crete, Makarios would be a mere provincial church leader. There is every indication that the current situation, crisis and all. suits his interests. “In my personal view,” he said, “the current situation will continue for a long time. It will be the permanent solution of the Cyprus problem on a temporary basis.”
So the question is how long the Archbishop’s juggling act will—or will be allowed to—go on. He was very nearly assassinated last year, and with enemies like his, and a place like Cyprus, his safety is not at all to be taken for granted. (The exact motivating force of his almost-assassin is not clear. It is widely believed on the island that the Greek government was involved, but this has never been proved.) The Turkish Cypriots are known to be considering maneuvers to fix a line of demarcation that would establish, de facto, the northeast corner of the island as their own. and the Turkish government is known to have contingency plans to provide air cover. The United Nations forces have prepared for the event, not to prevent it but to minimize the bloodshed. It is a reasonable speculation that such a partition solution would not be all that displeasing to either the Greek or American government, if it were not too messy. But such affairs usually are messy—as in Palestine and the Indian subcontinent. About 50,000 Greek and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots (including the Greek villagers of Bellapais) would be caught on the wrong side of the line.
Moreover, Russia has a stake in the current disorder and would like eventually to dislodge NATO’s friends from their moorings on Cyprus. The Cypriot Communist Party won 40 percent of the vote in last year’s parliamentary election, so the Soviet Union has reason to play for time. She would not like partition, and if it were tried, her fleet might show up. The alternative to flexibility on the part of the Archbishop or partition is Turkey’s abandonment of its clients, but that could mean relinquishing its hold on strategic territory forty miles away.
The Mediterranean struggles over turf will go on, as they always have. Americans learn with difficulty that they can’t solve problems, but they are no more likely to freeze into place and time a solution for Cyprus than they are for the rest of the Middle East. The history of the area will not stand still, and its conflicting interests and hatreds are deeper than anything else in our experience—as yet. This is something the Mediterranean mind understands; Mediterraneans are often amused by our earnest meddling. To the Mediterranean, for whom the medieval period is relatively recent history, we were born yesterday. “There is nothing new in the Cyprus problem,” said one Greek Cypriot. “The Russians are now fulfilling a Czarist dream,” said another over dinner. “They are here, and there is nothing you can do about it. You Americans have no sense of history. These things in the Mediterranean have been recurring and will keep recurring. You persist in thinking you can fix everything, and you can’t. Have some more wine.”