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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 98-127

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Reflections on the Cyprus Issue and the Turkish Invasions of 1974

Vassilis K. Fouskas

In summer 1974, Turkey twice invaded Cyprus, an independent state since 1960. The first invasion, of 20 July 1974, came after the instigation of a coup by the collapsing Greek junta on 15 July 1974, which deposed the elected president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, and proclaimed enosis (union with Greece). Turkey invaded on the grounds of protecting the island's Turkish Cypriot minority (around 18 percent of the total population) from the "Greeks' campaign of terror." 1 The humiliated Greek junta resigned, and democracy was restored in Greece and Cyprus under the leaderships of Constantine Karamanlis and Glavkos Clerides, respectively. Negotiations over the fate of Cyprus immediately began in Geneva and London with all the interested parties involved. Meanwhile, the Turkish troops were quick to create a bridge linking Kyrenia with Nicosia's northern suburbs. The account given by James Callaghan, Britain's foreign secretary at the time and one of the diplomatic protagonists of the crisis, suggests that a diplomatic deadlock was reached by 12 August 1974 due mainly to the intransigence of the Turkish delegation headed by Foreign Minister Turan Gunes. 2 Following the collapse of talks, Turkey launched a second, full-scale invasion [End Page 98] on 14 August 1974, resulting in the occupation of 37 percent of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus and creating a huge refugee problem, as some 250,000 Cypriots were forcefully displaced. Turkey's second invasion inevitably undermined its argument that its action was initiated to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority on the island from Greek nationalists. Moreover, the second invasion served to persuade the international community to go along with Greece's balanced suggestion that the invasions were both immoral and, from the point of view of international law and the constitutional settlements of 1960, totally illegal. 3 Since August 1974, Cyprus has been divided by the so-called Green Line, patrolled by the United Nations, and no state except Turkey has recognized the regime of Rauf Denktash in northern Cyprus.

Why and how did Turkey invade Cyprus in summer 1974? To put it another way, how was the "barbed wire" separating the northern third from the southern part of the island strung--literally and metaphorically? For some, these are time-worn questions, either because they believe that everything has already been said and argued upon or because--in the words of Henry Kissinger and Bulent Ecevit--"the Cyprus issue [was] settled in 1974." 4 William Hale argues along the same lines:

[As opposed to the crises of 1964 and 1967] the crisis of 1974 was different, in that Turkey appeared to have a clearer mandate for intervention, under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. If Turkey had not invaded, then Cyprus would probably have been united with Greece, the Turkish Cypriots massacred or expelled, and the Greek Colonels' regime consolidated. 5

This is a very curious conclusion. Given that from 1967 to 1974 there had occurred very few intercommunal incidents, Hale's assertion cannot be taken as proof of causal links leading to the invasions of 1974. By looking at the Cyprus issue in a historical perspective, my attempt here is to provide an alternative explanation and a new research hypothesis concerning the causes of the Turkish invasions.

First of all, in terms of research there is still much to be done, from every [End Page 99] phase of modern Cypriot history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to events taking place from 1967 to 1977. For example, we know next to nothing about the former Soviet Union's foreign policy toward Cyprus and the way it impacted upon Greek-Turkish relations from the 1950s to the 1970s, nor do we know Makarios's overall strategy. 6 To acquire a comprehensive understanding of what the sequence of events was and what exactly happened and how, we need to go through the policies of all the powers concerned. In addition, we need to decipher the linkages between domestic...


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