Every year, air raid sirens sound across the Republic of Cyprus on the 15th and the 20th of July to commemorate the anniversaries of the coup, orchestrated by the Greek Junta and the invasion of Turkey in Cyprus in 1974, respectively. This article explores what lies behind these two defining moments in Cypriot history.
In 1960, the British colonialists granted independence to the Republic of Cyprus. They imposed a constitution which provided for a bicommunal unified state, with a greekcypriot president and a turkishcypriot vice president and a mixed parliament and local authorities. However, the ruling elites of both communities that were developing during colonialism had different interests. The greekcypriot ruling elite was fighting for Enosis (the idea to unify Cyprus with Greece), and wanted to have control of the whole of the island claiming that it is Greek. On the other hand, the turkishcypriot elite, being the minority and threatened by this idea, was fighting for Taksim (the division of the island along communal lines), so that at least they would have the control of part of the island.
Even though they were brought by the British imperialists under a common bicommunal state, their interests continued to clash.
The greekcypriots and turkishcypriots were living together side by side in peace, at least back in the 1930s, or early 1940s, before the paramilitary forces were organised. In 1926, the Communist Party was the first political party to be established on the island. Its programme talks about independence of the island and it appeals to both greekcypriots and turkishcypriots. It builds the first trade unions where workers from both communities are organised and fight together.
However, when the demand for Enosis (union with Greece) was taken up by the Church and the right wing, AKEL (the new name of the Communist Party) also adopted its positions. That is when the first cracks in the relationships between the workers of the two communities started to appear.
The first conflicts and the paramilitary formations
Before the 1960 independence, Archibishop Makarios, who was recognised by the British as the leader of the greekcypriot community, brought to Cyprus Georgios Grivas, the leader of a paramilitary organisation called “X” from Greece. Grivas’ paramilitaries were anti-communists and collaborated with the nazis during WWII and the occupation of Greece. Makarios supposedly invited Grivas in order to organise the national struggle against the British imperialists in Cyprus. The organisation established by Grivas was called EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) and while they were fighting for independence from the British, they were also fighting for Enosis. Even though EOKA had the support of a big part of the greekcypriot population for its anti-colonial struggle, they also were engaged in many killings of greekcypriot communists (that they named “traitors”) and ordinary turkishcypriots that were hired by the British to the police force.
The killings of the turkishcypriots ignited bicommunal conflict. This led to the formation of the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT) which was a pro-taksim (division) paramilitary group. It was formed in 1958 as an organisation to counter EOKA by Rauf Denktaş (who later went on to become the elected vice president of the republic and president of the TRNC until 2005), and Turkish military officer Rıza Vuruşkan.
Both paramilitary groups did whatever they could in order to separate the two communities and turn the one against the other. After the granting of independence, between 1963 and 1967, the clashes between the communities took the character of “national cleansing”, especially against turkishcypriots. The invasion of Turkey in 1974 concluded the separation by uprooting this time the greekcypriots from the north of the island.
In 1971, Grivas returned to Cyprus and founded EOKA B, a paramilitary fascist organization, aimed at the Union, accusing Makarios of abandoning the Union’s goal and of collaborating with the communists. EOKA B did not gain popular support, in contrast to the first EOKA, because EOKA’s struggle was also anti-colonial in nature, while EOKA B’s main actions were the murders of supporters of Makarios but also of those fighting against the Greek Junta, and the blowing up of government buildings.
The Greek Junta that grabbed power in 1967 was the only “Greek government” that agreed with the demand of Enosis. In order to promote this aggressive policy, and since Makarios did not agree with them, they organised a coup in Cyprus.
The coup of July 15th, 1974, was organized by the Greek Junta through the military forces it controlled in Cyprus. Greece, as a guarantor force, according to the 1960 agreement for independence of the Republic of Cyprus, had a permanent, regiment-sized Greek military force stationed in the island (called ELDYK). The Greek military also heavily controlled the National Guard of Cyprus, which was predominantly greekcypriot and was staffed by Greek officers, who made systematic propaganda against the Makarios government and the Left and in favor of the “National Government” of Greece, i.e. the Junta.
Although EOKA B was not directly controlled by the Junta, it was ideologically identified with it, while with the occurrence of the coup, its followers were armed and formed the nucleus of support and enforcement of the coup in the districts and villages.
The coup gave Turkey the opportunity both legally, as one of the guarantor powers of the Republic of Cyprus, and militarily to invade Cyprus and advance its goals. Thus, in the name of the Union we have the biggest disaster in the modern history of Cyprus. The fascists/nationalists in their attempt to erase their responsibility for the invasion accuse Makarios of instigating the invasion by calling on the guarantor powers to restore the constitutional order in Cyprus, while being in exile after he was overthrown by the coup.
The crimes of the fascists didn’t stop there. Even while the Turkish Army was advancing on the island, the greekcypriot fascists were attacking turkishcypriot villages and killing women and children.
The crimes of the fascists were never punished
The national bourgeoisie in both Greece and Cyprus tried to pick up their pieces after the defeat they suffered. In Cyprus, Makarios, upon his return, offered an “olive branch” to the coup plotters, while in Greece, Karamanlis called the coup plotters simply ignorant. In this way they laid the basis for downplaying the role of the coup in the tragedy of 1974.
The leadership of AKEL in the name of the “solution” of the Cypriot Question supported Makarios, the so-called progressive bourgeoisie, and submitted to national unity. In this way, it failed to prevent the coup and after that it even failed to properly condemn the coup, the coup plotters and the fascist ideas. It also failed to exploit the favorable conditions for the advancement of socialist ideas in society.
AKEL’s leadership still promotes the “twin crime” theory, a position which claims that the coup and the invasion were part of a well-laid plan by the imperialists to partition Cyprus. With this position, it tries to blame everything on imperialism and erase the responsibilities of its own politics.
In addition to imperialism in Cyprus, the interests of the ruling classes of Greece and Turkey clashed. But also the greekcypriot and turkishcypriot ruling classes have their share of responsibility. Makarios, to whom AKEL gave support, without criticism (the named him the “one and only”), represented the part of the greekcypriot ruling class whose interests differed from those of the Greek one, but were still competitive against the turkishcypriot. Makarios promoted greekcypriot nationalism. The leadership of AKEL, despite being the only party that generally promotes a culture of coexistence between the two communities, has also been influenced by nationalist politics. So, instead of talking about a fascist and destructive coup, it talks about a treacherous one, while it continues to try to find a solution to the Cypriot problem in cooperation with the nationalist bourgeois.
Today, greekcypriot nationalists and fascists are trying even harder to erase the memories of the coup and place the blame for the disaster solely on Turkey in order to rally society around their dead-end and destructive goals. At the same time, with their populist propaganda, they are growing and continuing their crimes against turkishcypriots, immigrants, refugees and lgbt+ people.
In the north, the Turkish army is still on the island, and the Turkish government imposes their politics, manipulating elections and signing protocols of neoliberal policies that impoverish the turkishcypriot working people.
The task of the Left is to expose the role of nationalism and fascism. Not only in words but also in deeds. There was an expectation that AKEL, when it was elected in government in 2008-2013, would start the process for a condemnation, even just a political one, of the coup plotters and EOKA B members who brought this disaster to the island. They should have engaged in a struggle against reborn fascism. “Fascism, never again” should be the slogan to commemorate the coup anniversary! But they did nothing of the sort.
This is why we need a new bicommunal Left force. A Left force that fights relentlessly against nationalism and fascism on both sides of the island, that will struggle to ensure that no EOKA B and no TMT will be allowed to bleed the island again. A Left force that will not compromise with fascists and nationalists in the name of “national unity”, but instead expose them!
A critical demand for all Left forces at this particular juncture must be to punish the coup plotters! To uncover and record the nationalist hate crimes and to punish all the fascists and nationalists on both sides who are responsible for murders of ordinary greekcypriots and turkishcypriots.
the greatest task of the eft today is to build a common front of ypriot and ypriot workers that can discuss and plan a sustainable solution, which the two communities can implement, without waiting for messiahs and leaders that would only solve a problem of their own making and which will certainly encourage fascists.