On this day thirty-six years ago, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus to “protect” the Turkish Cypriots against Greek Cypriot conspirators seeking to overthrow the government of the island.
In the dying days of Archbishop Makarios’s Presidency, EOKA ‘B’ sought to assassinate the increasingly unpopular president and impose “Enosis” or union with Greece. Whether or no this was either the wish of the majority or an action that would have succeeded, it prompted Turkey [as a guarantor of Cypriot independence] to invade the northern third of the island. The results remain to this day.
We were woken at dawn to the sound of sirens echoing around the capital Lefkosia and just before getting up, the sound of rifle salutes to the Greeks who died in the conflict. The event was marked by televised debates and old footage of gun battles. Later in the day, a demonstration passed my cousin’s house where mostly young people shouted slogans such as “Cyprus is Greek” and “Turks will die at our hand”…. So, this conflict is not dead, it simmers just below the surface.
My cousin’s house is near the Green Line, or ceasefire line and from there, you can see across the plain on which Lefkosia was built to the jagged Kyrenian mountains. There, a huge Turkish flag is marked out in white stones on the hillside, where is remains a symbol of Turkish triumph and daily reminder to the Greeks of their defeat.
After the conflict in 1974, 200,000 Greeks and 30,000 Turks were forcibly removed from their homes in one of the largest population exchanges since the partition of India. The result was huge economic and social disruption and the need for the radical development of the Cypriot economy.
Much of the best agricultural land was in the North and as Cyprus does not have large reserves of mineral wealth, the country turned to the development of tourism as the saviour of the nation. Well, it worked and Cyprus is now a wealthy country and a member of the European Union. Every time I visited Cyprus in the intervening years I was amazed at how many new hotels, resorts and housing developments had been built. New roads cut through the mountains, new airports constructed and most telling of Greek Cypriot aspirations, new schools, colleges and universities opened.
Today, the standard of living is high and Cyprus remains a popular tourist destination, especially with young people coming to party away the summer and Eastern Europeans. British retirees have bought up large tracts of land around the town of Paphos and continue to arrive in there thousands. There remain however, issues that cannot be overcome by economic growth and rising standards of living.
The island is facing huge water shortages as winter rains and melt water from the Troodos mountains come nowhere near the requirements needed by a growing population. Massive ribbon development across the southern coastline has resulted in environmental devastation, especially for sensitive species such as turtles. The island has attracted large numbers of Russian gangsters looking for a home in the sun and larger numbers of Eastern European prostitutes. In addition, there has been a dramatic rise in hard drug use and levels of addiction.
I used to think that I would retire to Cyprus one day but now I’m not sure. The things that used to make Cyprus different have all but slipped away. When you walk along Ledra Street, it’s like anywhere else in the world. You can shop in Debenhams, drink coffee in Starbucks and eat at Macdonalds. Yes, you can still buy the sticky pasteries of the Levant and a cup of “Greek” coffee at a small café but everyone here aspires to the same things. Designer clothes, flat screen televisions and a villa lifestyle.
I’m not against these things and you could say; “Well, what’s the problem. Isn’t that what everyone wants?” Maybe, but it seems to me that the drive for materialism isn’t sustainable in the long run and hasn’t solved the underlying tragedy of Cyprus.