The Magazine

Cyprus Betrayed

Another fine mess, courtesy of Kofi Annan's U.N.

Dec 5, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 12 • By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
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The success or failure of this post-colonial settlement had immense implications. In Cypriot towns and villages, the Orthodox church and the mosque can often be found within a minute's walk of one another. History shows virtually no example of fratricide between Cypriot Greeks and Cypriot Turks when left to themselves. If Muslims and Christians--who shared the lingua franca of English--could make a go of coexistence, then a promising example might be set for the immediate neighbors in the Levant. Partly for related reasons, Tito's multiethnic Yugoslavia also attached especial importance to relations with Cyprus.

The Cypriot microcosm did not last nearly as long as Tito's slightly artificial "brotherhood and unity," but this was largely because of the intervention of outside powers. Both Greece and Turkey sponsored extreme irredentist proxies in Cyprus with the help of the CIA, which preferred the ethnic fascists to the island's large Communist and Socialist parties. When this led to intercommunal fighting in 1963-64, President Makarios invited U.N. peacekeepers to prevent further violence, and U.N.FICYP is now one of the oldest U.N. contingents in being.

The relief, though, was purchased at a very high price: The lines drawn by U.N. local commanders became the sketch of a future partition that would reward, not punish, the ethnic extremists.

In the beginning, there were two sets of negotiations. The Greek and Turkish Cypriots elected communal leaders to negotiate local differences, while the recognized Republic of Cyprus dealt at the state level with disagreements among Greece, Turkey, and Great Britain, which retained bases on the island and the status of a "guarantor power" of Cypriot independence.

Over time, however, this essential distinction became blurred. And after 1974, it was abolished. In the summer of that year, after the ruling Greek junta in Athens had mounted a military coup against President Makarios, Turkey seized the opportunity to invade Cyprus. It might be argued that the first of these interventions had some legal justification, as a riposte to a fascist putsch; but in a brutal succeeding invasion the Turkish army grabbed the whole northern third of the island, expelled almost 200,000 Greeks from their homes, set up a "Turkish State of Northern Cyprus," and drew a walled line of partition right through the capital city of Nicosia.

This was the first time since 1945 that any border in Europe had been changed by unilateral force. Mainland Greek and Turkish forces fired on one another: the only time that two NATO members had ever done so. A member of the U.N., a candidate member of the European Union, a member of the British Commonwealth, had been violently dismembered. Injury was added by the importation of mainland settlers from Anatolia, aimed at altering the demographic balance of the island.

Faced with such a gross violation of all international laws, the United Nations had no choice but to pass a series of unambiguous and near-unanimous resolutions calling on Turkey to withdraw its forces. But on the ground, in a prefiguration of what was later to happen in Bosnia, the U.N. soldiers defended only themselves. And in subsequent negotiations, the U.N. bureaucracy treated the invader and the victim as morally equivalent.

Actually, the U.N. did worse than that. It did not insist on direct negotiations between the member states, since Turkey simply refuses to recognize the lawful Republic of Cyprus. Instead, it exceeded its mandate and asked the Cyprus government to treat with the proxies whom Turkey had installed as a local regime. Thus, the intercommunal and international strands became hopelessly entangled. Turkey, the real power and negotiator, could always pretend that it did not control its surrogates in Cyprus, and these surrogates could always pretend that their hands were tied by Turkey.

Rather as in today's Darfur, where the janjaweed are treated as if they are not Sudanese government mercenaries, the time wasted on the charade can be gainfully employed in completing the ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, the jagged line of partition--the problem in the first place--began to look more permanent as it was garrisoned and, in effect, enforced by men in blue helmets.