The above lengthy interview from 1996 with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash (1924-2012), which is mostly worthless and embarrassingly conducted by some Greek Cypriot who instead of taking the opportunity to expose Denktash for the nationalist fanatic he was chooses to ask him questions such as ‘Who is the real Rauf Denktash?’ ‘How did you meet your wife?’ and ‘What are your hobbies?’ (I kid you not). Like a lot of Greek Cypriots, the interviewer just can’t get his head around the fact that the Turkish minority in Cyprus developed a political consciousness and will independent of Greek Cypriots; and that the Turks on the island were never prepared to passively accept Greek preponderance, or somehow be persuaded to become less Turkish.
Indeed, in the one or two interesting moments in the interview, Denktash paints an entirely different (and largely unknown to Greek Cypriots) picture of Turkish Cypriot political consciousness as it developed during British colonial rule. Denktash laughs at the often-repeated Greek Cypriot claim that in the enosis plebiscite of 1950, a majority of Turkish Cypriots voted for union with Greece and asserts that for Turkish Cypriots accepting Greek rule was tantamount to accepting colonisation.
Denktash states that just as Greek Cypriots ardently believed that Cyprus is Greek and belonged to Greece, the Turkish minority on the island held that Cyprus is Turkish and should be relinquished to Turkey. ‘We [the Turkish Cypriots],’ Denktash says, ‘were brought up to believe that Cyprus is Turkish and Cyprus has gone from Turkey temporarily and Turkey will come back’.
The axiom that Cyprus is Turkish was so deeply held by Turkish Cypriots, Denktash says, that he was disappointed by Turkey’s decision in 1956 to change its policy of demanding Britain cede to it the entire island in favour of a policy of partitioning Cyprus between Greece and Turkey. ‘Partition was chosen by Turkey as a policy’, Denktash says. ‘We [the Turkish Cypriots] were aggrieved here, because we felt Turkey was abandoning half of Cyprus to the Greeks.’
On the depth of militancy within the Turkish Cypriot community, Denktash reveals that seven years before Greeks took up arms in the campaign for enosis, Turkish Cypriots were prepared to use violence to thwart the political will of the Greek Cypriots, who constituted 80 percent of the island’s population. ‘In the event of enosis,’ Denktash recalls telling a Greek journalist in 1948, ‘we will take up guns and go to the mountains.’
I’m mentioning all this now because I’ve been reading Stella Soulioti’s excellent two-volume work – a must for all serious students of the Cyprus Question – Fettered Independence: Cyprus, 1878-1964, in which the author provides a remarkably detailed and coherent account of modern Cypriot political history, with particular emphasis on the various plans concocted by the British colonial authorities in the 1950s in response to Greek demands for enosis and Turkish insistence on partition; the machinations that led to the London-Zurich agreements in 1959; the period from independence in 1960 to the breakdown of the constitution and the insurrection of the Turkish Cypriots in 1963; and the increasing involvement in the island’s politics of the Americans, who wanted to avoid Cyprus sparking a war between Greece and Turkey, which the USA thought could best be done by partitioning Cyprus between the two NATO allies or offering all (or most) of Cyprus to Greece in exchange for Greek concessions in Thrace and/or the Aegean, such as the ceding of Chios or Kastelorizo to Turkey.
In upcoming posts, I will draw on Soulioti’s book to illustrate how the Turkish campaign for the partition of Cyprus was predicated on violence and stirring up enmity between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Unlike enosis – which was not directed at the Turkish minority on the island but at the British colonial authorities – taksim (partition) was specifically aimed at Greek Cypriots and could only be achieved through their violent expulsion from that part of Cyprus that Turkey proposed to annex.