Cyprus – An occupied island, a freedom fighter, a consociational republic in the eastern Mediterranean


The Republic of Cyprus is an island state that is situated in the eastern Mediterranean just 45 miles from Turkey, 65 miles from Syria and 125 miles from Palestine. The country gained its independence from the British 62 years ago. It is a “consociational” republic between its Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking people. It is also a member of the European Union, was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, had an archbishop and an atheist doctor as the first president and vice president, and currently has one of the largest left-leaning voter population of any other European nation. These are just a few facts about a young island state born in the era of anti-colonialism.

Today, you might hear the name of Cyprus being mentioned once again because of current events in the eastern Mediterranean. It has been one of the victims of Turkish expansionist policies in the region. However, this is nothing new for Cyprus; half of this small island has been under Turkish occupation since 1974 after a US-backed Greek junta organized a coup d’état with the aim of annexing the island. Today, in order to analyze the developments in this region correctly, we need to know the history of the island and its complex socio-political structure.

An Island Anchored at the Junction of Three Continents

Cyprus is often described as one of the most geopolitically important pieces of land on the earth. For that very reason, it has been under the rule of different empires, from the medieval period to the 1960s. Certainly, the most significant empire that influenced Cyprus’s history – and even today’s politics – was the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire seized Cyprus from the control of Catholic Venetians who were oppressing the Orthodox population of the island, the majority. The first decree of the Ottomans after gaining control of the island was to force the Catholic population to “Turkify” and give control of the island to the Orthodox elite and the Orthodox Church. In this way, Ottomans sought to prevent attacks from Crusaders on Cyprus, thus gaining the loyalty of most Cypriots. The Turkification policy was implemented though taxation. It is for this reason that Cypriots registered as Muslims during the Ottoman period, ensuring they would have economic advantages. The Catholic population, who were forcibly Turkified, and those Orthodox who converted to gain economic privileges, created a crypto-Christian community, called “Linobambaki”. Today, the world refers to them as Turkish-speaking Cypriots or “Turkish Cypriots”.

The collaboration between the Orthodox Church and the Ottomans on the island continued for centuries, until the beginning of the 1830s. The French Revolution influenced those nations that were living under Ottoman rule, leading many to organize liberation struggles against the Sultan. Greek-speaking Cypriots, or “Greek Cypriots”, had sympathy for the plight of the Greeks seeking independence from the Ottomans, with some even joining the struggle. After the Greeks’ succeeded in their liberation struggle, Cypriots organized their own. Ironically, while the efforts led by Greek-speaking Cypriots failed, the effort led by Turkish-speaking Cypriot Ibrahim Agha from Polis, or as the Ottomans called him, “Gavur Imam” (infidel imam), succeeded. He organized and united Greek-speaking Cypriots, Turkish-speaking Cypriots, and other unsuccessful uprising leaders under his command to lead the biggest revolution in Cyprus. Even though Gavur Imam was close to victory, the Ottomans won the war with the help of the Greek-speaking Cypriot bourgeoisie and the Orthodox Church. The Gavur Imam Revolt has always been regarded as an important historical period for Marxists and revolutionaries, due to its character as a movement of peasants and the oppressed. An anonymous folk song that talks about the heroic fight of Gavur Imam and the Cypriot peasants is still considered the revolutionary anthem of Cyprus.

The decline of the Ottoman Empire continued during the Russo-Ottoman war. This war resulted in the Congress of Berlin, forcing the Ottomans to lease Cyprus to Great Britain. After the start of the First World War and the decision of the Ottoman Empire to join the war on the side of the Central Powers, the British Empire formally annexed Cyprus in 1914.

Cypriot Nationalism: A Movement Against the “Divide and Rule” Strategy of British Colonialism

The beginning of the British colonial era was also the period in which the British implemented a “divide and rule” policy among Cypriots to counter the rise of the progressive ideology of Cypriotism. Cypriotism, or Cypriot nationalism, was the anti-imperialist idea that advocated for the Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking people of Cyprus to unite as “Cypriots” in a struggle for liberation. In response, the British colonial administration supported separatist and segregationist efforts by Greek and Turkish nationalists. British colonialists indirectly supported Enosis, or Cyprus becoming part of Greece, through direct support of Taksim, or partition of the island between Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots. Richmond Palmer, the British colonial governor of Cyprus, said in a report sent to London on 23 October 1936:

“In order to have ease in the future on the island, we have to continue the administration on the basis of exceptis excipiendis (with all necessary exceptions), on the basis of districts. Thus the concept of Cypriot nationalism – which will be emerging as a new concept after Enosis becomes an eroded value – should be pushed away as much as possible and left in the dark.”

Before decolonization began in the British Empire as a result of popular struggles around the world, Britain had successfully suppressed Cypriotist movements in Cyprus. During the 1950s, the vast majority of Greek-speaking Cypriots obeyed the Greek nationalist armed organization EOKA and supported Enosis. Turkish-speaking Cypriots, meanwhile, supported the Taksim because of the threats of another armed organization, the TMT. During this period, there were still small Cypriotist groups and figures among Turkish-speaking Cypriots. The two destructive ideas, Enosis and Taksim, were also supported and sponsored by Greece and Turkey with British encouragement.

Independent Cyprus and Cypriot Revolutionaries

On 16 August 1960, Cyprus attained independence after the Zürich and London Agreement between British, Greek, Turkish, and Cypriot leaders. Orthodox Archbishop Makarios – who also attended the Bandung Conference, the event that led to the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement – represented Greek-speaking Cypriots. Turkish-speaking Cypriots were represented by an atheist medical doctor, Fazil Kucuk. These two figures became, respectively, the President and Vice President of the new unitary state. The Republic of Cyprus was a consociational state of Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots. However, by the 1960s, the efforts of imperialist powers had already segregated Cypriot society.

The Greek-speaking Cypriot leadership began pushing for Enosis from the first day of independence. However, the Republic did not split apart then because of a revolution in Turkey. On 27 May 1960, a left-leaning faction overthrew the US-backed regime in Ankara. The military sent Emin Dirvana, a retired lieutenant colonel and grandson of the famous Ottoman Grand Vizier Mehmed Emin Pasha the Cypriot, to become ambassador to Cyprus. The new aim of Turkey and Emin Dirvana was to protect the Republic of Cyprus by supporting progressive Cypriotist forces against both Greek-nationalist Enosis supporters and Turkish-nationalist Taksim supporters.

The owners of the Cumhuriyet (Republic) newspaper and the revolutionary leaders of the Turkish Cypriot People’s Party, Ayhan Hikmet and Ahmet Muzaffer Gurkan, were a few of the Cypriots who fought for the Republic of Cyprus. They also became the first martyrs. Both leaders were murdered on the same day in April 1962 by Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking Cypriot political elites working together. Meanwhile, the left-leaning wing of the military fell from power in Turkey. This led to the appointment of a new ambassador to Cyprus.

By the end of 1963, there was no obstacle left standing in the way of the Greek-speaking Cypriot leadership taking action to support Enosis. As a first step, President Makarios presented the infamous 13 amendments to take away the constitutional rights of the Turkish-speaking Cypriots. The Turkish-speaking Cypriot leadership made a few attempts to prevent this by taking their case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the proposed amendments unconstitutional, but Makarios said that he would not follow the court’s decision. Finally, after the 1963-64 constitutional crises, the Turkish-speaking Cypriot leadership left their government positions.

The Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and Archbishop Makarios supported the reactionary agenda of Enosis until the end of the 1960s. During this period, and while the Greek-speaking Cypriot elite unilaterally and illegally ruled the country, Turkish-speaking Cypriots lived in enclaves. Progressive Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking Cypriots were murdered and oppressed. Dervis Ali Kavazoglu was murdered with his trade unionist Greek-speaking Cypriot comrade Kostas Misiaoulis. Dervis Ali Kavazoglu is still considered the greatest revolutionary of all Cypriots. He bravely stood against the treasonous ideas of Enosis, Taksim, and other ideas like federation, instead believing in an independent Republic of Cyprus. His beliefs alienated him from his party long before his death, as he was the last Turkish-speaking Cypriot committee member of the AKEL. By the end of the 1960s, Ihsan Ali was the only true progressive, anti-imperialist and Cypriotist political leader who was still alive among both Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots. His book My Memoirs is still one of the most important publications in terms of bringing an anti-imperialist perspective to those dark days of the island.

The Turbulent Years and After

One of the most destructive unilateral actions that Archbishop Makarios took was the abolition of the constitutional military force of Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots. It was replaced by a so-called “National Guard” that was formed only of Greek-speaking Cypriots. The head of Enosis supporters, EOKA commander Georgios Grivas, was appointed commander of this force by Archbishop Makarios. However, soon after Grivas was appointed, he began to move against Archbishop Makarios.

At the end of the 1960s, both Archbishop Makarios and AKEL denounced Enosis policies. They instead advocated for an independent Republic of Cyprus after all the destruction and massacres they had caused during their collaboration with reactionary forces.

The Cold War-era political position of Archbishop Makarios and the respect he gained in the non-aligned and anti-imperialist world earned him the nickname of “Castro of the Mediterranean” by Americans.

From the end of the 1960s to 1974, Archbishop Makarios tried to convince the Turkish-speaking Cypriot leadership to re-join the government. However, he also did not want to reverse the unconstitutional changes he made during the crises of 1963-64. At the beginning of the 1970s, Makarios and the Turkish-speaking Cypriot leadership came to an agreement, but the Turkish-speaking Cypriot leadership demanded he include in that agreement that “Enosis will never be an option for Cyprus”. Makarios rejected this demand because he did not want history to remember him as a person who agreed to such a term, even though he was no longer a supporter of Enosis.

1974 Occupation: NATO’s Plan for Cyprus

The US-backed military junta that seized power in Greece in 1967 organized a coup d’état in Cyprus against Archbishop Makarios on 15 July 1974 with the help of the majority of the Grivas-led National Guard and the EOKA-B organization. This was the part of NATO’s plan for Cyprus, which was agreed to by Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Lisbon in 1971. The plan was for Greece to make a move to annex Cyprus in order to give Turkey an excuse to occupy the northern part of the island. Following this, a bizonal bicommunal federal plan for Cyprus to protect the status quo on the island was introduced by the imperialist powers.

Right after the start of the coup, Archbishop Makarios managed to leave the island and delivered a speech for the United Nations Security Council on 19 July. In his speech, Makarios described the coup d’état as an “invasion from outside” and he said:

“What has been happening in Cyprus since last Monday morning is a real tragedy. The military regime of Greece has callously violated the independence of Cyprus. Without trace of respect of the democratic rights of the Cypriot people, without trace of respect for the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, the Greek junta has extended its dictatorship to Cyprus”.

The Treaty of Guarantee was signed by Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom during the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, stating that these three countries are the guarantors of the existence of the Republic of Cyprus and its constitution. Thus, if any power takes action against the constitution or sovereignty of the island, these countries have the right to take necessary measures to secure them. Thus, after the coup d’état and the speech of Archbishop Makarios, Turkey started its military campaign on 20 July 1974.

Turkey’s action was successful and, on 23 July 1974, the military junta in Greece collapsed. In Cyprus, Nikos Sampson was declared the de facto President of Cyprus until he renounced the presidency and Glafcos Clerides temporarily took on the role. Turkey’s first military campaign gained the support of the international community. However, after these positive developments in Greece and Cyprus, Turkey declared its real aim for Cyprus. During the Geneva conference to resolve the situation in Cyprus, Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a federal state and population transfer. After getting negative feedback for its demand, Turkey started to prepare for an occupation with “Operation Attila”. According to the White House records, during his meeting with President Ford regarding the developments in Cyprus on 13 August 1974, Henry Kissinger said “there is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus”. On 14 August 1974, the very next day, the occupation of Cyprus began.

Turkish Settler Colonialism

As of 1974, Turkey occupies the northern areas of Cyprus; shortly after the occupation began, the population transfer that Turkey asked for also took place. Turkish-speaking Cypriots in the southern areas of Cyprus were forced to move to northern Turkish-occupied territories. This involved more than 50% of the Turkish-speaking Cypriot population. Likewise, Greek-speaking Cypriots from northern areas of Cyprus were forced to move to the southern areas. This was estimated to be around 40% of the Greek-speaking Cypriot population.

Right after the occupation began, Turkey committed war crimes in the form of its illegal settlement policy in Cyprus by sending thousands of Anatolian Turks to the island. This immediately increased tension between Turkish-speaking Cypriots and Turkey. The only common social or cultural element between Turkish-speaking Cypriots and Turkish people was the language, yet even that was an obstacle since Cypriot Turkish is a dialect heavily influenced by Greek and English. Furthermore, the desire of Greek-speaking Cypriots and Turkish-speaking Cypriots to live in their homeland as “Cypriots” was still strong.

This desire and will of Cypriots was the main reason that Turkey increased the implementation of its illegal settlement policy to change the demographics of the island. Turkey’s actions in violation of the Geneva Convention also created a deadlock in terms the Cyprus situation. Today, the Turkish-speaking Cypriots form a minority of the population in the northern occupied territories of Cyprus. Turkey is continuing its aggressive policies and settler colonialism to force the Turkish-speaking Cypriots to leave the island.

The Importance of Cypriot Liberation for the Global Anti-Imperialist Struggle Today

After all the tragedies Cyprus has gone through, the vast majority of Cypriots understand the role played by the ideologies of Enosis and Taksim. Today, these ideas that once dominated the island with the support of foreign powers are only backed by marginal extremist groups. Even though it is a bit late, all Cypriots are on the same page; they will either have to share this land and fight against imperialism together, or their existence on this island will come to an end, which serves perfectly as a military base for the NATO powers.

Today, the Turkish and Greek militaries both have a presence on the island. The United Kingdom has occupied so-called “sovereign territories” in Cyprus since the 1960s, using them as a military base. With recent developments in the eastern Mediterranean, the current right-wing Greek-speaking Cypriot political elite has also agreed to allow France the use of military bases on the island. Terror and imperialism has spread from this island to all of North Africa and West Asia for decades, despite the longstanding left-wing sentiments of Cypriot people.

The current situation serves imperialists and their aims within the region. The status quo in Cyprus includes the “federation talks”, which have been going on with the endorsement of the United Nations, NATO and other imperialist powers for almost half a century. The federal solution is a Turkish idea that advocates for Cyprus being divided and becoming a “bizonal and bicommunal” federation. Even though almost all Cypriots have rejected Enosis and Taksim, they are now debating the issue of accepting the imperialists’ separation and segregation plan, or fighting for a fully independent Cyprus without the presence of any foreign powers on their lands. Unfortunately, there are still the so-called progressive forces in both Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots that support this Turkish “federation” and allow imperialists to continue using Cyprus for their colonialist purposes. Those forces that support federation are the same forces that also supported Enosis or Taksim and caused the destruction of the constitutional order in Cyprus.

Among Greek-speaking Cypriots, the main bizonal, bicommunal federal solution supporting political parties are neoliberalist right-wing DISY (Democratic Rally) and left-wing AKEL. The federalist forces among Turkish-speaking Cypriots are more fragmented but they have an umbrella platform called “Bu Memleket Bizim” (This Country is Ours). There are also socialist movements like the Union of Cypriots (Ένωσις Κυπρίων / Kıbrıslılar Birliği) that are representing the will of the Cypriot people, not the political elites who were and are collaborating with “foreign ideas” for Cyprus. The Union of Cypriots movement campaigns for Cypriotism and advocates that the fully independent and unitary Republic of Cyprus is the only anti-imperialist and progressive solution to the Cyprus issue. The formations campaigning for this aim are the ones who often become the target of Turkey; for instance, recently the leadership of Union of Cypriots was blacklisted by Erdogan regime and the leader of the movement, Oz Karahan, was declared as persona non grata in Turkey.

History has taught us enough to understand that any solution that damages the territorial or social integrity of a country will only serve others. The symbol of Cypriotism and the liberation struggle of all Cypriots will continue to be the Cypriot national flag, which was created by İsmet Güney, a Turkish-speaking Cypriot. The liberation of Cyprus is the key to peace in the region. The struggle must go on in this beautiful Mediterranean island until Cyprus belongs to Cypriots.

Andreas Andreou is a historian and freelance journalist currently based in London.


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