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The Grivas legacy in Cyprus.

ON 6 November the latest round of talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders ended on a familiar note of disagreement. Set up under the auspices of the United Nations and co-ordinated by the US State Department, the talks focused on the subject of a possible Federal government and the reduction in size of Turkish Cypriot territory. During the 1980s Rauf Denktash, president of the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot government which has controlled the northern part of Cyprus since 1974, was asked if he would accept 29.9 per cent of the island as Turkish Cypriot territory, instead of the existing 34 per cent. Now this figure has been further reduced to 28.2 per cent, a figure which he steadfastly refuses to accept. Neither is he convinced that Greek Cypriot leader George Vassiliou wants a Federal government, in which both sides share the administration for the good of everybody living on the island.

Denktash has threatened to boycott the next round of talks, unless he is allowed to discuss the issues of Federal government and territory put forward in August on what he sees as a 'take it or leave it basis'. He does not want to go back to a pre-1974 situation, and urged the Greek Cypriots openly to declare their support for a federal government.

So the argument continues, suspicion grows and multiplies, and a solution to this long-standing problem seems as far away as it ever was. But when did it all start and who instigated it? Most commentators are inclined to think back to the events of July 1974, when an invasion by Turkish troops followed an Athens-sponsored coup that ousted, and almost killed, Archbishop Makarios. The invasion led to partition of the island, a state of affairs which continues today and which has been the cause of many unsuccessful, almost pointless negotiations.

But even before the summer of 1974 representatives of both Cypriot communities had been for many years locked in intercommunal talks in an effort to settle a worsening dispute brought about by amendments to the constitution, which Makarios had pushed forward in 1963. Although the Archbishop had maintained that these amendments would lead to a more workable government, the Turkish Cypriots rejected them, as did the government in Ankara, on the grounds that it would undermine the role of the Turkish Cypriot minority.

The present day conflict, however, has its roots embedded even further back than 1963 -- in fact, as long ago as May 1948, when George Grivas, a semi-retired colonel in the Greek army, and a Cypriot by birth, decided to lead a revolutionary force on Cyprus with the intention of overthrowing the British administration and thereafter declaring enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece. Grivas had long since come to the conclusion that if the Cypriots were ever to gain independence, it would have to be through violent means. With this end in mind, he set up a revolutionary committee, consisting of military and professional men with strong right wing views who would support him in his plans to start a rebellion on the island. On the committee's recommendation, Grivas returned to his native Cyprus in July 1951 -- his first visit in twenty years. During this mission of reconnaissance he sought out the newly elected Archbishop Makarios, whom he had known in Athens at the time of the German occupation. They discussed plans for an armed uprising but did not agree on the methods to be used.

Grivas travelled all over the island, examining the terrain and talking with local people about the possibility of starting a campaign of violence. He realised quickly that two major obstacles stood in his way. Firstly, he saw the disadvantages of fighting a guerrilla war due to the excellent transport and communications system, which provided easy access to every part of the island, even the mountainous areas, thereby restricting the movements of all but very small groups of men. And secondly, there were the Cypriots, who having been under foreign rule for their entire history, lacked faith in their own ability to confront, let alone defeat, such a superior force as the British. During his month-long stay he met with nothing but scepticism among the people, and even Makarios, the voice of the people on enosis matters, seemed to doubt the colonel's plans and methods.

Believing that he could overcome these handicaps, however, Grivas returned to Athens, where he tried to rally political support. The future premier, General Papagos, was typical of the majority who refused to co-operate. As a candidate standing in the coming elections, he did not want to jeopardise his career by appearing to support an insurgence against an old ally.

In July 1952, Makarios chaired a secret meeting of the committee in Athens to discuss armed rebellion further. Grivas urged them to endorse his proposal for a two-pronged attack to be carried out by guerrillas in the mountains and saboteurs in the towns, which were full of military targets. Makarios doubted that the colonel would find fifty men to follow him.

At a second meeting later that month two sub-committees were set up, one for political and one for military affairs, presided over by Makarios and Grivas respectively.

Following a second reconnaissance trip to the island, Grivas drew up his General Plan of action, which he was to stick to rigidly throughout the four years of rebellion. Despite only limited support from political figures, he managed to raise enough money to send arms to Cyprus, where they were buried until he arrived to begin operations.

In autumn 1953 Papagos, now Prime Minister, announced that Greece would bring the Cyprus issue before the UN the following year and ordered Grivas to abandon his plans and leave the question of enosis to be solved through the diplomatic channel. At this time the British began to pull out of Suez in order to make Cyprus their Middle East headquarters, and Grivas urged the Archbishop to grant a prompt start for the revolution before the island became swamped with British troops.

A meeting of the committee in January 1954 agreed that action should begin as soon as possible. Only Makarios opposed this. His apprehension about the use of force echoed that of the Greek Foreign Ministry, who warned Grivas that a violent campaign would do nothing but cause 'incalculable damage' to the Cyprus question, which was making progress through the diplomatic channel. Papagos also sent word pressing the colonel not to do anything that would endanger relations with Britain. But Grivas was unwavering in his determination to get to Cyprus and begin the fight.

In August 1954 Greece submitted its first appeal to the UN and two months later, on October 26th, Grivas left Athens. He would not return for another four and a half years.

Exhaustive preparations, training and indoctrination followed, until, at just after midnight on April 1st 1955, a series of explosions in different parts of the island signalled the start of what was to become a long and bitter struggle. The early successes scored by Grivas's irregulars, who went by the name of EOKA, were marred by acts of indiscipline and even cowardice. Unused to war, the young Cypriots did not find it easy to slip into the role of assassin or saboteur, and Grivas spent many hours in fits of temper or depression brought on by failed missions due to sloppiness or treachery. To those who dared betray him or the cause he dealt a swift and decisive blow. By the beginning of October 1955 the small, inept band of irregulars had shaken the administration to the extent that the civilian Governor had to be replaced by a military man. Field-Marshal Sir John Harding arrived on the third, and a month and a half later he declared a state of emergency.

Grivas knew that he could never hope to defeat the British militarily. His aim was to draw attention to the Cyprus question through acts of violence that would lead to diplomatic pressure on an international level and eventually to a solution. Everything he did followed a meticulous plan, rigorously adhered to. Even his diet was strictly regulated, consisting of between 24 and 30 oranges a day, with perhaps a plate of cold meat twice a week. He often lamented, especially in the early stages, that his orders were not properly carried out, or that some of the recruits treated the organisation as a vehicle on which they satisfied their appetites for excitement or adventure. On several occasions he had to expel young men for insubordination. Even the slightest deviation from his will sent him into a wild rage.

During the four-year long struggle he worked indefatigably, fanatically, drafting his propaganda leaflets for schoolboys to distribute, sending out his orders and directives by undisclosed courier routes to his twenty section leaders, and training new recruits, some of them still in their teens, for their first kill. Grivas knew how important it was to exploit the youth -- he had witnessed the tactics used by the communist-controlled ELAS fighters during the fiercely contested Greek civil war that followed the German withdrawal -- and he wasted no time in emulating them. Potential traitors were followed and if necessary, executed. These included Greek Cypriot communists -- Grivas was idealistically opposed to Communism, to the point of madness -- Turkish Cypriots, if they tended to side with the British, and those Greek Cypriots who did not condone EOKA's activities.

Generally speaking, the Turkish Cypriots were regarded as brothers of the movement and they were requested not to work for the British, even though they did not approve of enosis. Grivas stated, on several occasions, that he had no intention of causing a rift between the two communities living on the island, but this was the inevitable consequence of his obsession with the union of Cyprus and Greece.

In 1957 Turkish Cypriots set up an underground organisation, VOLKAN, which subsequently became the Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT). In contrast to EOKA it remained legal throughout the intercommunal clashes of 1957-58. The British formed an auxiliary police force, staffed entirely by Turkish Cypriots, whose job it was to counter EOKA activities. At this time the British Colonial Secretary, Lennox-Boyd, mentioned partition as an alternative to enosis, and this was taken up by the press and radio in Turkey, and by the Turkish President, Menderes. The authorities began to reveal their partiality towards the Turkish Cypriot demonstrations and riots opposing enosis and favouring taxim, partition.

Some examples of this partiality can be seen in a series of incidents in 1958. In May an explosion outside the Turkish Information Office resulted in riots by Turkish Cypriots, which the British army allowed to continue for three hours before intervening. By the end of July 1958 Greek Cypriots had been expelled from one of the ethnically mixed suburbs of Nicosia. The riots continued. A state of emergency and 30,000 British troops were no deterrent. By this time Grivas had begun talking of three enemies -- the British, the communists and now the Turks.

Once the Turkish Cypriots had entered the arena with their own battle cry, Grivas's dream of a 'greater Greece' was doomed. Forced to accept the agreements signed in London on February 19th 1959, which brought his armed rebellion to a disappointing end, Colonel George Grivas returned to Athens a defeated but defiant man. Fifteen years later, less than six months after his death, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus resulted in partition and a new chapter in the history of this unfortunate island.

When the talks continue -- if indeed they do -- can we expect a solution based on harmony and mutual interest 'for the good of everybody living on the island', or the usual stalemate brought about by intransigence and suspicion?

It seems pointless to hope for anything at all.
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Title Annotation:George Grivas
Author:Evans, Robert
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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