This article that summarizes the Cyprus issue from an anti-imperialist perspective and explains the ideology of Cypriotism.
The ongoing conflict in Cyprus is often associated with hardline politics and prolonged deadlocks which have been fueled by segregationist ideologies. The Twentieth Century was when British colonizers gave room to and promoted Greek and Turkish ethnic extremism in their tiny colony, for the purpose of the success of their “divide and rule” strategy. Though as they did so, they also had to “push away as much as possible and [leave] in the dark” an ideology in order to continue exploiting the island. That ideology is known as the non-ethnic Cypriot nationalism, or Cypriotism, that advocates fighting for a common homeland, identity, and future of all Cypriots.
The media is once again focused on Cyprus and its conflict due to the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Today, the northern half of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkey after a Greek-sponsored coup against President Makarios in 1974. Turkey expelled 180,000 Greek Cypriots from the northern part of the island, leading to a population exchange in which 60,000 Turkish Cypriots relocated from the southern part. Many islanders believe that this was a Cold War era “punishment” of NATO to them for being a non-aligned state. Since then, Turkey and the west proposed number of “solutions” for the future of Cyprus as the island still remains occupied.
Knowing these “solution proposals” is essential when we talk about the politics of the island. Cypriots got their independence after British colonial rule in 1960 as a unitary and consociational state. This means that Cyprus was governed as a single entity in which the central government is the supreme authority, but the central government had a democratic power-sharing system between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. After the Turkish invasion of 1974, Turkey proposed its “bizonal bicommunal federation” plan that aims to create two ethnic-based territories and administration on the tiny island. This proposal created a deadlock in the Cyprus issue for decades and gave Turkey the opportunity for transferring the Turkish population from the mainland to the island in order to change the demographic structure of the island and oppress Turkish Cypriots.
In 2004, there was a referendum for a “bizonal bicommunal federation” which the majority of Cypriots rejected. And in recent years Turkey finally officially admitted its real aim and introduced the plan of “Cyprus with two independent states.” Today, no country officially supports Turkey’s “two-state” plan for Cyprus but this situation might change in the future as it happened when Turkey first proposed the “federal Cyprus” plan.
The island’s social life is not drenched in hatred or violence, as one might be led to believe due to there being a propagandic spread of information. There were times when Cypriots were one people, and there were many times when both Greek and Turkish Cypriots united for their homeland. For instance, the 1948 miners’ strike against the American-owned Cyprus Mines Corporation showed that the people of Cyprus could unite for the betterment of their common ground. Cypriots’ sense of community dates back further than communal bipolarity. The largest uprising on the island of Cyprus happened in 1833 and is known as the “Gavur Imam movement”, led by a figure that we call “Turkish Cypriot” to this day. The movement was a revolution against the Ottoman authority; it united all Cypriots to fight alongside each other.
The languages of the island are another example of the uniqueness of this place. Cypriot Greek and Cypriot Turkish are heavily influenced by each other and are distinctly different from standard Greek and Turkish. Both Cypriot languages share similar grammatical structures and there are almost 3500 common words.
These and many more common values that belong to Cyprus and Cypriots are the pillar of the idea of “Cypriot nationalism,” also known as “Cypriotism”. It is a progressive ideology that exists on the island against two ethnicist ideologies that feed off of each other – Hellenism and Turkism. Cypriotism is the belief that Cypriots and Cyprus, in general, have their own unique character, one that defies or at least differentiates itself from the wing of the two so-called “motherlands.” It would be fair to say that Cypriotism views Cypriotness as an identity that has evolved into a sui generis nationality and culture that detaches itself from the mainland cultures. It is also important to highlight that Cypriotists emphasize the idea of the “common destiny” of the islanders as much as their “common identity.”
There is an organization that the world associates with Cypriotism – the Union of Cypriots is the largest political movement that has, as they prefer to call it, “Greek-speaking” and “Turkish-speaking” Cypriot supporters. It is widely accepted that they are the ones who structured the ideology of Cypriotism and wrote what we could call the “Cypriotist manifesto” –– which opposes any kind of ethnic-based solution in the island, such as a two-state solution or a bizonal bicommunal federal solution that was originally proposed by Turkey but today is supported by NATO and the EU. Cypriotism aims for a Cypriot republic founded on unitary, secular, and modern pluralist democratic state values. The core of those values of Cypriotism can actually be summarized in the mottos of the Union of Cypriots –– “Cyprus for Cypriots” and “One nation, one flag, one homeland, and one state.”
In the manifesto of the Union which was published before the massive demonstration against Turkey in the occupied areas of Cyprus in 2011, the activists wrote the following:
“We stand against the neoliberal policies that wild globalism and corrupt politicians implement in our island, both in free and occupied areas, by taking advantage of the current status quo. After analyzing today’s situation, we have come to the conclusion that Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots are the only losers among the included sides in the ‘Cyprus game’. Union of Cypriots believes that the idea of Cypriotism is the only way to end this exploitation.”
The Union of Cypriots argues that Cyprus and Cypriots are too small to divide, and a division in any shape or form would further the conflict of pandering to imperialists for the protection of their military bases on the island.
There have been many mentions of Cypriotism throughout the island’s modern history. The most notable was when the Colonial Governor Richmond Palmer sent a report to London on October 23, 1936, stating that Cypriot nationalism could be a threat to British colonialism. He wrote:
"In order to have ease in the future on the island, we have to continue the administration on the basis of exceptis excipiendis (opening the way to 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."
After the independence of the island, many Cypriots realized that the future of the free Cypriot state could only be protected by supporting the ideology that colonialists sees as a problem for their existence on the island. One of the prominent advocates of Cypriotism was a Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Cumhuriyet. In their newspaper, Ayhan Hikmet and Ahmet Muzaffer Gurkan first introduced the phrase “Cyprus belongs to Cypriots” before they were assassinated. In their article on January 2, 1961, they wrote:
“Our country, our beautiful Cyprus, after complicated, long-lasting and harsh fights that were the result of conflicting interests, following the natural course of history, was liberated from the yoke of colonialism and joined the community of free nations. . . . Therefore, the duty of every Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot, that loves their country and nation, is to respect the rights of each other, to sustain and develop the independent Cyprus, and to work with all their effort to provide their community more democratic, prosperous, happy and peaceful life. . . . In brief, Cyprus' independence is not its being annexed to another nation or a state but to be governed by Cypriots.”
Turkey’s propaganda about Cyprus and its justification for all the pain caused to the island, including occupation and settler colonialism, has been based on one baseless argument: In Cyprus there are only “Greeks and Turks” and there is no such thing as a “Cypriot” nation. Also, the officials of Turkey’s puppet regime in the occupied areas of the island, such as Ersin Tatar, use the same argument and attack Cypriotism almost at every chance they find.
One of the first statements made in the document published by the Turkish government about its official position regarding the Cyprus issue and reasoning for its invasion of the northern parts of the island writes:
“It is both useful and important to keep in mind that there has never been in Cyprus a ‘Cypriot nation’ due to the distinct national, religious and cultural characteristics of each ethnic people who, in addition, speak different languages. It is also interesting to note that although the two peoples had lived together in the Island for centuries there were practically no inter-marriages and not even a single commercial partnership was set up.”
With the constant repetition of these types of rhetoric, the foreign powers always present the issue in Cyprus just as a simple “intercommunal conflict” to the international community until today. Also, it is worth mentioning that, unlike Turkey’s claims, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have always been living in the same cities and towns, right next door to each other. In fact, the vast majority of the villages that Turkish Cypriots lived were mixed villages. Therefore despite Turkey’s propaganda, inter-marriages and commercial partnerships were common for Cypriots until the Turkish occupation in 1974. These facts and more are not surprising considering the DNA studies showing that Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots actually come from a single paternal gene pool of local origin.
It is important to underline that the official rhetoric about “Hellenism” by Greece and Greek Cypriot mainstream political fronts has also been useful for the theses of the occupiers throughout the modern history of the island. However, from time to time, Greek Cypriot officials decide to slam Turkey’s historical revisionism.
Recently, the representative of the Republic of Cyprus to the United Nations, Andreas Hadjichrysanthou, wrote a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, responding to a letter sent by his Turkish counterpart Feridun Sinirlioglu. Sinirlioglu’s letter was repeating Turkish propaganda about Cyprus. In his letter Hadjichrysanthou said:
“Cyprus had emerged into statehood as a unitary state with one people, the Cypriot people, irrespective of ethnic origin.”
Looking at today’s Cyprus, there is no doubt that the rhetoric of Hellenism makes room for the rhetoric of Turkism, the presence of Greek flags allows the presence of Turkish flags, the existence of Greek Hymn of Liberty causes the existence of Turkish Independence March, and so on. In reality, Cyprus is a land that has its own unique national identity, national flag, composed national anthem, and many more common sociopolitical elements of the islanders. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the mainstream political fronts of the island are still reluctant to internalize any of these values. But for some Cypriots, and the Union of Cypriots alike, sincere conversations about occupation, invasion, liberation, emancipation, true democracy, or formulating a real progressive solution cannot go hand in hand with any apartheidist mentality “on the basis of districts”.
The island of Cyprus has faced centuries of colonization, as well as other long-standing conflicts – and has, in essence, been deprived of the opportunity to determine its own fate. The suggested solutions by imperialist powers and their organizations can lead to apartheid-based orders that springboard permanent division, chaos, and the continuation of foreign military presence on the island. The foreign military presence in the heart of the Middle East makes the Cyprus issue not the issue of Cypriots but the issue of all the nations suffering from imperialist interventions in the region also for centuries. The progressive movement of Cypriotism defies all that. It is giving Cypriots the option of autonomy and real democracy in a country that has been heavily oppressed in the past merely for the interests of foreign countries. It is reminding Cypriots the importance of a unifying national upper identity against institutionalized ethnocentrism for the existence of an independent state.
By Michael A. Constantinou