In Cyprus, Greek Cypriots lost a war in 1974 that cost us half our homeland. All things considered, 48 years later, it seems that the Turkish Cypriots did not win the war either. How much did this defeat and, more importantly, all it amounted to, trouble us? The loss of thousands of lives, the futile search for missing persons, the creation of 160,000 refugees, but also material losses. Two of the six cities of Cyprus (Kyrenia and Famagusta) and 204 villages (92 in the Famagusta district, 60 in the Nicosia district, 48 in the Kyrenia district and 4 in the Larnaca district) were lost. Sixty thousand T/Cs moved to the north and today, all apart from the beggars face the threat of Ankara’s Neo-Ottomanism. The cultural tapestry of our country that was woven harmoniously for hundreds of years by Greeks, Turks, Maronites, Armenians and Latins was shattered. The weaving went crazy, the rhythm was lost and we were left with the ugliness and the marks imprinted on our faces by an unprecedented tragedy.
There are many who, in the search for those responsible for the tragedy of 1974, record and evaluate the above. Superficially, I would say. They dwell on recording events without understanding their historical significance. That in 9,000 years of history and culture, this island country has seen many conquerors, but it is the first time it experiences a violent segregation of its population along ethnic lines. For the first time, for 48 years now, some communities in this country are living separately and developing under the influence of third parties that are distancing them from their roots and culture. Gone is that cohesive and unbreakable bond that could smooth over differences, assimilate even invaders, and compose on behalf of the people of Choirokoitia, the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Ottomans some commonly accepted rhymes of love. Cypriots seem to have parted ways irrevocably. The supranational “jasmine in our pot” has been replaced by national war chants and the cries of fools who want to salvage something they cannot define, destroying what exists, what our late poet Michalis Pashiardis used to constantly tell me, “Cyprus is a continent of culture”.
From universalism to localism
What kept Cyprus alive and united for centuries was the amazing DNA of its inhabitants, which managed to preserve the positive version of the universalism of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks did not achieve greatness because they had more warlords and heroes than other peoples, nor because they won all the battles. They achieved greatness because they showed tolerance, respect and adaptability to other cultures, adopting the plough from the Sumerians, mathematics from the Egyptians, the alphabet from the Phoenicians. They achieved greatness especially because they were the first iconoclasts in the history of mankind, challenging, with Prometheus as their representative, the established thinking of the Gods. Thus, through anarchic questioning and challenging, they created academic thought and science. These bearers of Greek thought regardless of DNA (if there is such a thing) carried experiences and practices to the banks of the Indus River, subdued Rome despite being conquered, built an empire – a patchwork of peoples, as Byzantium was, and inoculated the farmers and herders of the Seljuks with a culture that sustained yet another empire, the Ottoman Empire. The woven dessert became a kataif, the diphthéra [Translator’s note: leather hide used for writing] became a defter [Ottoman tax register], and the Hagia Sophia an architectural model for every Ottoman building.
Today there are no bearers of universalist Greek thought of this kind. The last glimmer of Greek thought still survives only in certain Western countries. The “stomping of the Barbarians” is now reaching our ears [Translator’s note: reference to a line from a poem by Pantelis Michanikos]. The fire is literally and figuratively burning the last remnants. It is destroying democratic systems, turning into scorched earth a planet that refuses to adapt to the logic of green growth and that continues to pay the price for its insistence on the now obsolete industrial revolution of the 19th century.
Across the political spectrum, petty versions of Hellenism represented by the “Spartans” have prevailed. The phenomenon of an enclosed Sparta made up of brave localists who defend their land and their interests to the death is now universal. Putin supposedly protects the Russians, Erdogan fights for the Ottomans, Trump proclaims America for the Americans, Boris Johnson prides himself on isolating Britain from the rest of Europe. In short, it is not just in little Cyprus that the period of tolerance has faded away.
The Greek Cypriots
We have followed a somewhat similar path in the last decades. Extremists, localists, nationalists, until we reached 1974. But we still didn’t learn anything. For the last 150 years, this country has been led by an intolerably narrow-minded caste of priests and muftis who led it to destruction. As G/Cs, we supposedly undertook a review of all that had happened, and made public the Cyprus file. Alas! The review of the cruel July in 1974, as it was prepared in Cyprus, clearly served shallow political expediencies. The review was made by those who coincidentally found themselves on the right side of history at that particular moment. The crime committed by the junta and EOKA B in Cyprus on July 15, 1974 was so great that the others could rest easy [in terms of the outcome of the review]. They called themselves patriots and accused their political opponents of being traitors. No one was punished.
After 1974, the patriots were temporarily bestowed with laurels and these laurels were nothing other than the possession of power. Nothing changed from the clientelistic state of 1960-1974, with the exception of some more expendable leaders who succeeded Makarios. Ten years later, it took that long, the talk of patriots and traitors started turning into soundbites at anniversaries and election rallies. In reality, we’ve all gone a bit helter-skelter again with those characteristics that always united us: Extremists, localists, nationalists.
Last Wednesday, on the grim anniversary of the invasion, we saw the political descendants of the so-called great adversaries of the period before and after 1974 gathering at various events. The shameless descendants of Grivas with the flags of ELAM, the remnants of the well looked after Makarios supporters, namely some youths of Spyros Kyprianou’s and Tassos Papadopoulos’ DIKO, some youths of Vassos Lyssarides’ EDEK and some priests with the brains of the 1950 Ethnarchy. We saw them marching with the same slogans and uttering identical cheap words as if there was no bad blood between them.
Unity, one could counter. These are gatherings that, as time goes by, represent a prevailing trend in our country. Frighteningly ahistorical gatherings that partly explain what kind of a people we are. The former supporter of Makarios and the resistance [Translator’s note: against fascism and in particular the coup of July 15, 1974] Georgios [Bishop] of Paphos, in an absolute alliance with the descendants of Organisation X [Translator’s note: far-right militant anti-communist organisation led by Grivas in Greece in the early 1940s] and EOKA B, is making patriotic speeches and beneath him former enemies are singing the National Anthem. As if nothing had happened. As if they’d never clashed. As if we haven’t learnt anything.
In reality, history becomes a tool of political expediency of the day and is thus judged in a piecemeal fashion, offering convenient narratives to various petty politicians.
How we got to 1974 is also due to Turkey’s expansionism. But it is also due to the inadequacy of the G/C leaders of the Republic of Cyprus since 1960. Makarios and Grivas radicalised and divided the people in a battle of political domination. As the G/C community, we did not take into account the T/Cs and attempted to marginalise them. Both the G/Cs and the T/Cs were too easily seduced by the nationalist narrative of the so-called motherlands, which, prior to 1974, were mostly seen as evil stepmothers.
The coup d’état of the junta in Cyprus on the one hand and the Turkish invasion on the other constituted and continue to constitute attempts to impose the will of the so-called national centres on all Cypriots.
Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots did not develop a culture of cooperation for the benefit of the well-intentioned interests of our country. Today, we all live in a divided country and we are all part of an intractable problem. We are part of, and expendable cogs in, a vicious cycle. After 48 years, the T/Cs, who were supposedly liberated in 1974, have become subservient to Ankara and the G/Cs have become the cheerleaders of a small caste of professional patriots, who are getting rich selling hot air.
We are not the first, of course. We are part of a global vicious cycle: the Ukrainian, Syrian, Palestinian, Kurdish, Cyprus issues. Our neighbourhood is a case study for the whole planet.