TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2015
This is an extremely good book.
With that said, let's get its main weakness out of the way first: It's not a history book.
You don't get told how come Greeks and Turks ended up living together on Cyprus. You don't get told about the Byzantine Empire and its thousand year history of moving populations, the Ottoman conquerors who followed and continue that practice (indeed they are post-1989 repopulating Cyprus with Muslims who flee Bulgaria), or the Millet system that split up brothers down religious lines (as in Sarajevo or Salonica).
No attempt is made to understand the context under which the Greeks rose in the nineteenth century or to clarify modern Greece's original "client state" status as a French/British/Russian thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire or the "gunboat diplomacy" that had Greek politics arbitrated by the Foreign Office for the first seventy years of the Greek state's existence. Scant mention is made of the fact that the UK was for centuries the biggest lender to the Porte in Constantinople, switching to Athens after 1896 (and until 1974). There's no mention of the Balkan Wars that started in 1912 and hopefully ended in 1993, providing a much bloodier, but similarly rooted, parallel to the Cypriot saga. The 1922 Asia Minor disaster for the Greeks which marked the end of a hundred-year-long re-conquest of occupied land is not mentioned once. You don't get told the story of what happened in Crete or Rhodes, both of which joined the Greek state, albeit with radically different outcomes for their Muslim populations.
Rather, what we have here is a thorough piece of investigative journalism.
The angle is very much the British angle. Indeed the anti-colonial, liberal British angle.
So this is the history of Cyprus from 1952 to 1974 viewed through the eyes of the liberal British press.
In short, you get ten pages apiece for every year between 1952 and 1974. The authors first go through every meeting that took place between people relevant to Cyprus's struggle to obtain statehood (both Greek and British) and probably list every bomb the Greek guerillas of EOKA detonated to rattle the British, though they stop well short of going through the travails of the Greek resistance fighters and their families at the hands of British commander Harding and his men. You also get good sketches of the Greek and British protagonists of this fight (Makarios, Grivas, Eden and Macmillan) as well as all the intrigue and politics between them, including a long chapter on the Macmillan "coup." The strategic importance of Cyprus is stressed as part of the events in 1948 and most importantly the 1956 Suez crisis and the humiliation of the British at the hands of Nasser and Eisenhower.
The extremely significant point is made that Turkey (which had been on the losing side of WWI and not on the winning side in WWII and thus had had no voice -in stark contrast to Cyprus whose men had been drafted to fight alongside the British) had no horse in the race whatsoever until in 1955 Anthony Eden invited the Turks to participate in the talks about the future of the island as a way to force Greece to back off. It's tough to know if this is right, but it's mentioned as a fact. It's quite significant that the pogrom of the Greeks of Istanbul came right on cue, however. And the authors don't miss the opportunity to mention that this had been standard operating procedure for the British as they lost their empire. Whenever possible, anti-colonial struggle was countered with a claim that Britain was there to arbitrate between two warring factions. They add, moreover, that the British formed an auxiliary police made up entirely of Turkish-Cypriots, precisely to foment Greek-Turkish strife.
The story of the revolution and its success is told, which brings us to 1960 and the circumstances under which Britain, Greece, Turkey and the US jointly drafted in absentia of the locals a constitution for the new Cypriot state that worked for every single one of them but not at all for the Cypriots and contained the seeds of its own destruction, which followed three years later. In short, the document was written to assuage the Americans' fears of AKEL (the very strong Communist party in Cyprus) and the Soviets, to guarantee vast tracts of land for British bases, to make Greece and Turkey both feel like the other would keep out and to make sure everybody locally had a veto, which the Turkish minority got in the habit of exercising on every decision. But what suited Eisenhower, Macmillan, Karamanlis and their Turkish counterparts (who never made it to the signing due to a coup and were hanged for conceding too much) was unworkable for the Cypriots.
1n 1963 Makarios decided to break the political stalemate by effectively annulling the constitution. The bloodshed that followed mainly cost Turkish-Cypriot lives, as it had been the Greeks of EOKA who had the expertise of fighting (against the British) and the weapons to conduct warfare. The authors are quite clear that the Greeks were explicitly provoked, probably with intent, but they were undeniably very keen to respond to the provocations.
The timing was disastrous, however, for the Greeks. The way the authors present it, not only was Britain losing its status as a world power, but the US was by then locked in a mortal fight with the Soviet Union. One year after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was not the time to take matters in your own hands, especially if your island was serving as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" for NATO in its eastern flank, to say nothing of the folly of provoking a NATO ally with a border with the Soviet Union and extensive US nuclear missile installations.
And thus started a dance that could only really end the way things did end. The author details a number of plans to split Cyprus up, to create cantons etc.
Next it feels like the book becomes an account of every single meeting that took place between people relevant to preventing a Turkish invasion (Greek, Turkish, American and British, in all permutations and combinations). If two relevant actors met to discuss Cyprus, the authors document the meeting and have a shot at telling you what was discussed, what the relevant actors meant to obtain from the meeting, what the result of the meeting was and how it was relevant to what happened next. Finally, you get a day-by-day account of the movements of the Turkish invading force in July and August of 1974 and the book ends with an interview with Henry Kissinger.
Kissinger is, to cut a long story short, the villain of this book.
But this is decidedly not the familiar type of nostalgic British tale where everything was fine when Britain ruled and the Americans came next and messed it all up.
Rather, the picture presented is one where for ten years Makarios played off the Americans against the Soviets at the UN, stood between Grivas' EOKA B right wingers and the communist AKEL in Cyprus, and (from the Greek coup of 1967 onwards) also had to fight off the continued hostility (and assassination plots) of Athens. President Johnson is credited with calling off a Turkish landing as early as 1964 and comes off as a hero who found time for Cyprus while losing in Vietnam.
The accusation against Kissinger is very simple: he sought to bring an end to all this (and stability to the Eastern flank of NATO) by instructing the government in Athens to organize a coup in Cyprus, having the leader of the coup declare union (Enosis) with Greece and thus giving the Turks the constitutional license they needed to invade, thereby securing the British military bases, providing new US bases and eliminating the threat posed by the communist AKEL, to say nothing of the nuisance of Makarios. Moreover, while US foreign policy is normally a cacophony of influences from the State Department, Congress, the NSA and the CIA, the assertion is made that Kissinger managed to hijack the NSA, bypass the CIA and ignore Congress to achieve his aims.
The evidence provided is circumstantial (example: Turkey had amassed 80k troops opposite Cyprus and invaded within 4 days of the coup, which must be some type of record if you don't have the heads up), but in light of more recent events in American history, I don't really need to be persuaded that conservative Americans could plan an invasion to bring a new order to a part of the Middle East without fully accounting for what might happen next.
Also, absolutely everything I do know for fact about Cyprus that gets alluded to here checks 100%. So, for example, Evangelos Averoff recounted to my dad the meeting between Papagos and Eden (at which he was present) pretty much how it was presented here. And my friend Renos' dad was a wireless operator for Grivas and remembers him as even more bloodthirsty than he is depicted in this book. And of course I lived through a lot of this as a young boy.
So I buy it.
That said, the conspiracy is not central to the book. The true value is that this is an extremely thorough account and the authors are very careful about presenting facts as facts and guesses as guesses