The Ethnic Consciousness of the Cypriots

LEARN Monday, 22 June, 2015

The Ethnic Consciousness of the Cypriots

After the Greek revolution of 1821 and the establishment of the Greek state, the Greek Cypriots expressed practically the wish of 'Union' with Greece, as it happened with the Ionian Islands and later with Crete.

This feeling of the Greek Cypriots began to be formed since the era of the Turkish occupation and was expressed later at the time of the British occupation. These expectations for 'Union' were expressed by the 'Ethnarchy' (supreme ecclesiastical authority, which represented the Greek Cypriots in the political sector since the first moment of the British presence in Cyprus). The development of the 'Union' movement of the Greek Cypriots was a sequence of the close ties between Cyprus and Greece due to the common cultural and religious history. During the Turkish occupation, the manifestation of nationalism was clandestine and feeble due to oppression. On the contrary, during the British occupation, the freedom of expression allowed by the British gave the possibility to the Greek political and religious leaders to nurture the idea of 'Enosis' (Union). The demand for 'Enosis' was initially propounded by the Church and then by the politicians in the Legislative Council, and the various committees formed for the promotion of the national cause.

Great Britain used the Turkish-British Convention of 1878 as an excuse. Its main argument was that it could not deal with Cyprus as it wanted, for, by virtue of this Convention, the Sultan's sovereignty over the island was still in force. But this pretext could not be valid anymore when Britain, taking advantage of the entrance of Turkey into the First World War by the side of Germany, annexed Cyprus to the British Empire on 5 November 1914. The British Government continued to be very clear and categorically negative on the satisfaction of the demand by the Greek Cypriots for 'Enosis' with Greece. The British administration in Cyprus was defending its position by always bringing to the forefront the presence of the Turkish - Cypriot community which was opposed to 'Enosis'. The fact that Lord Kimberly in charge of the Colonial Office between 1880-1882 did accept that Cyprus was different from the rest of the British Colonies and that the vast majority of its inhabitants contributed much to what is known as European culture, could not change the policy of his successors. This policy did not change even though prominent British politicians like Gladstone, Churchill, Lloyd George, Lord Crew, Lord Milner etc. accepted as logical the aspirations of the Greek Cypriots for 'Union ' with Greece.

ln July 1903 the Greek members of the Legislative Council voted for 'Enosis', by a majority and the Turkish members abstained. On 9 October 1907 the Deputy Minister for Colonies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Winston Churchill, arrived at Famagusta where the quay and the streets were full of Greek colours and slogans for 'Enosis'. On 16 October 1915 (the First World War had already erupted) the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Gray, informed by telegram the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexandros Zaimis and the High Commissioner of Cyprus Sir John Clawson, that Great Britain was ready to transfer Cyprus to Greece if Greece ceased to be neutral and immediately proclaimed war against the enemies of the Entente powers. The Greek Government rejected the offer as the King of Greece who was of German origin was playing an important part in politics and did not want Greece to fight against Germany and her allies. In Cyprus, the rejection of the offer was received with great disappointment by the Greeks and a sigh of relief by the Turks.

On 5 December 1918, a Greek Cypriot delegation comprising the Archbishop and the nine Greek Cypriot Deputies left for London in order to ask of the British Government the realisation of 'Enosis' of Cyprus with Greece. The Turkish Cypriots then sent a memorandum to the Minister for Colonies on 23 December, requesting the continuation of the British administration.

When the First World War broke out and the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany, Great Britain annexed Cyprus on 5 November 1914. In July 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne settled the international status of Cyprus. During the period between the two wars, there occurred a noticeable change in the demographic picture of the population. The 1921 census had shown the following percentages: 78.8% Greek Cypriots and 19.8% Turkish Cypriots. These percentages changed to 79.5% Greek Cypriots in 1931 and 80.2% in 1946 and to 18.5% and 17.9% for Turkish Cypriots, respectively. The reduction in the percentages for the Turkish Cypriots was due to a small-scale emigration to Turkey after the annexation of Cyprus by Great Britain. Under Article 21 of the Treaty, the Turkish subjects who were permanent residents of Cyprus on 5 July 1914 would be deprived of their Turkish nationality and become British subjects. Because of this, a small number of Turkish Cypriots preferred to emigrate, an act that Turkey was strongly recommended, though with very little success. By virtue of Article 16 of the same Treaty, Turkey renounced all her rights and demands on Cyprus. In 1925 Cyprus was proclaimed a Crown Colony and the British Government tried to contain Greek nationalist feelings with a policy that resulted in the uprising of 1931.

The crisis of Cyprus society, which had not yet come to surface, was reflected in the Legislative Council, and burst out in April 1931, when the government of Sir Ronald Storrs decided to impose a law for increments in the customs duties, in an attempt to balance the budgets. This law did not pass because the Turkish Cypriot deputy Misrlizad Netzati Bey voted against it together with the Greeks. However, the Governor enacted this law in September 1931 by an executive order. Meanwhile, people were demanding constitutional changes but the British Government reacted negatively. In addition to this, it applied a stricter policy regarding education etc.

It is within this climate that the events of October 1931 evolved rapidly into demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience on the part of the Greek Cypriots, leading finally to clashes and bloodshed with the British administration. The October uprising was suppressed by severe measures and restrictions for all Cypriots.

In the thirties and forties, Greek and Turkish Cypriot workers in the Transport and Port Workers' Trade Union cooperated closely. On 6 March 1939, at the meeting which led to the foundation of the Limassol Porters' Trade Union, 40 Turkish Cypriots were present. A fortnight later the first committee of the Famagusta Porters' Trade Union included three Greek and an equal number of Turkish Cypriots.

The period of 1938-1948 is of particular importance for the Cypriot workers, for that was the period of the big strikes of Greeks and Turks together in an attempt to gain the 8-hour working day, the cost-of-living benefit, better working conditions, labour legislature, social insurance, improvement of wages etc.

A most important event for the people of Cyprus was the decision of Governor Lord Winster for constitutional changes. To discuss such changes Lord Winster called a meeting for 1 November 1947, which was named 'Diaskeptiki'. In the discussion that followed Greeks and Turks were present. The Turkish Cypriot delegates rejected the proposition for self-government and the same happened with the Greeks but for different reasons. The right wing rejected it because it was closing the door for Union with Greece and the left wing because it was not envisaging a true self- government. Thus the meeting was dissolved without progress.

After two world wars in which the Greeks fought on the side of the British, they thought it right and demanded that Britain should leave aside all intermediate stages and give a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem according to the will of the vast majority of the people, which was 'Union' with Greece, in exchange for British military facilities in the island.

Britain, thinking still in terms of being an Empire, turned down outright the idea of offering Cyprus to Greece and this stance inevitably led to the armed conflict of 1955-59.

Out of the 224,757 Greek Cypriots who had the right to vote 215,108, or 95.7%, voted for the 'Union'. Among those who voted for 'Union ' were 800 Turkish Cypriots. Generally, the majority of the Turkish Cypriots reacted strongly to this organised expression of the Greeks' desire to unite with Greece. The slogan 'Enosis' gradually became the main weapon in the hands of the British colonial administration which, applying the policy of "divide and rule", created all those conditions that favoured the intercommunal clashes. At the end of 1951, the first purely anti-Greek Turkish Cypriot organisation was founded under the name of VOLKAN- which started organising the Turkish Cypriot minority under the slogan "Cyprus is Turkish". The successor to VOLKAN was the chauvinist and terrorist organisation TMT (Turkish Resistance Organisation). This organisation turned its activity against the Greek Cypriots and those Turkish Cypriots who favoured the peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the two communities. By 1958 they were killing Turks as well as Greeks in order to prevent any form of cooperation of the two. TMT applied also other methods for promoting its chauvinist aims, such as intimidation, beating etc.

The armed struggle of EOKA, started at dawn on 1 April 1955, was taken advantage of by the British in order to involve Turkey as an interested party in the Cyprus problem, and to create a 'cold climate' between the Greeks and Turks of Cyprus. In May 1956, following clashes between Greeks and Turks, the British drew a dividing line in Nicosia.

The activity of the terrorist organisation TMT, the murder of progressive Turks and similar acts gave rise to panic and fear among the Turkish Cypriot population, who were thus obliged to withdraw from the Trade Union Movement and gradually to sever themselves completely from the Greek Cypriot working people.

Besides, the setting of fire to Greek houses in the Turkish quarters of Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol, the murders of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in many parts of the island, created conditions of great turmoil in the relations between the two communities. Using the inter-communal troubles of 1958 as evidence, the British tried to argue that "it was impossible for the two communities to live together in peace". So even though the Ottoman Empire lost Cyprus in 1878 and in 1923 it was deprived of any legal rights on the island, Britain effectively involved Turkey in the affairs of Cyprus once again. In fact, in 1958 a partitionist plan the so-called MacMillan plan, was proposed and because of this imminent danger, the Greek Cypriots abandoned their struggle for self-determination and were obliged to compromise and accept an independent Cyprus. In this way they avoided temporarily as it happened the partition of their country as envisaged by the MacMillan plan. Thus on 19 February 1959, Britain, Greece, Turkey and representatives from the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus signed in London the complex agreements.