World War II and Postwar Nationalism

Cyprus Table of Contents

Whatever their misgivings about British rule, Cypriots were staunch supporters of the Allied cause in World War II. This was particularly true after the invasion of Greece in 1940. Conscription was not imposed on the colony, but 6,000 Cypriot volunteers fought under British command during the Greek campaign. Before the war ended, more than 30,000 had served in the British forces.

As far as the island itself was concerned, it escaped the war except for limited air raids. As it had twenty-five years earlier, it became important as a supply and training base and as a naval station, but this time its use as an air base made it particularly significant to the overall Allied cause. Patriotism and a common enemy did not entirely erase enosis in the minds of Greek Cypriots, and propagandists remained active during the entire war, particularly in London, where they hoped to gain friends and influence lawmakers. Hopes were sometimes raised by the British government during the period when Britain and Greece were practically alone in the field against the Axis. British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, for example, hinted that the Cyprus problem would be resolved when the war had been won. Churchill, then prime minister, also made some vague allusions to the postwar settlement of the problem. The wartime governor of the island stated without equivocation that enosis was not being considered, but it is probable that the Greek Cypriots heard only those voices that they wanted to hear.

During the war, Britain made no move to restore the constitution that it had revoked in 1931, to provide a new one, or to guarantee any civil liberties. After October 1941, however, political meetings were condoned, and permission was granted by the governor for the formation of political parties. Without delay Cypriot communists founded the Progressive Party of the Working People (Anorthotikon Komma Ergazomenou Laou--AKEL) as the successor to an earlier communist party that had been established in the 1920s and proscribed during the 1930s. Because of Western wartime alliances with the Soviet Union, the communist label in 1941 was not the anathema that it later became; nevertheless, some Orthodox clerics and middle-class merchants were alarmed at the appearance of the new party. At the time, a loose federation of nationalists backed by the church and working for enosis and the Panagrarian Union of Cyprus (Panagrotiki Enosis Kyprou--PEK), the nationalist peasant association, opposed AKEL.

In the municipal elections of 1943, the first since the British crackdown of 1931, AKEL gained control of the important cities of Famagusta and Limassol. After its success at the polls, AKEL supported strikes, protested the absence of a popularly elected legislature, and continually stressed Cypriot grievances incurred under the rigid regime of the post-1931 period. Both communists and conservative groups advocated enosis, but for AKEL such advocacy was an expediency aimed at broadening its appeal. On other matters, communists and conservatives often clashed, sometimes violently. In January 1946, eighteen members of the communist-oriented Pan- Cyprian Federation of Labor (Pankypria Ergatiki Omospondia--PEO) were convicted of sedition by a colonial court and sentenced to varying prison terms. Later that year, a coalition of AKEL and PEO was victorious in the municipal elections, adding Nicosia to the list of cities having communist mayors.

In late 1946, the British government announced plans to liberalize the colonial administration of Cyprus and to invite Cypriots to form a Consultative Assembly for the purpose of discussing a new constitution. Demonstrating their good will and conciliatory attitude, the British also allowed the return of the 1931 exiles, repealed the 1937 religious laws, and pardoned the leftists who had been convicted of sedition in 1946. Instead of rejoicing, as expected by the British, the Greek Cypriot hierarchy reacted angrily, because there had been no mention of enosis.

Response to the governor's invitations to the Consultative Assembly was mixed. The Church of Cyprus had expressed its disapproval, and twenty-two Greek Cypriots declined to appear, stating that enosis was their sole political aim. In October 1947, the fiery bishop of Kyrenia was elected archbishop to replace Leontios, who had died suddenly of natural causes.

As Makarios II, the new archbishop continued to oppose British policy in general, and any policy in particular that did not actively promote enosis. Nevertheless, the assembly opened in November with eighteen members present. Of these, seven were Turkish Cypriots; two were Greek Cypriots without party affiliations; one was a Maronite from the small minority of non- Orthodox Christians on the island; and eight were AKEL-oriented Greek Cypriots--usually referred to as the "left wing." The eight left-wing members proposed discussion of full self-government, but the presiding officer, Chief Justice Edward Jackson, ruled that full self-government was outside the competence of the assembly. This ruling caused the left wing to join the other members in opposition to the British. The deadlocked assembly adjourned until May 1948, when the governor attempted to break the deadlock by advancing new constitutional proposals.

The new proposals included provisions for a Legislative Council with eighteen elected Greek Cypriot members and four elected Turkish Cypriot members in addition to the colonial secretary, the attorney general, the treasurer, and the senior commissioner as appointed members. Elections were to be based on universal adult male suffrage, with Greek Cypriots elected from a general list and Turkish Cypriots from a separate communal register. Women's suffrage was an option to be extended if the assembly so decided. The presiding officer was to be a governor's appointee, who could not be a member of the council and would have no vote. Powers were reserved to the governor to pass or reject any bill regardless of the decision of the council, although in the event of a veto he was obliged to report his reasons to the British government. The governor's consent was also required before any bill having to do with defense, finance, external affairs, minorities, or amendments to the constitution could be introduced in the Legislative Council.

In the political climate of the immediate post-World War II era, the proposals of the British did not come near fulfilling the expectations and aspirations of the Greek Cypriots. The idea of "enosis and only enosis" became even more attractive to the general population. Having observed this upsurge in popularity, AKEL felt obliged to shift from backing full self-government to supporting enosis, although the right-wing government in Greece was bitterly hostile to communism.

Meanwhile, the Church of Cyprus solidified its control over the Greek Cypriot community, intensified its activities for enosis and, after the rise of AKEL, opposed communism. Prominent among its leaders was Bishop Makarios, spiritual and secular leader of the Greek Cypriots. Born Michael Christodoulou Mouskos in 1913 to peasant parents in the village of Pano Panayia, about thirty kilometers northeast of Paphos in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains, the future archbishop and president entered Kykko Monastery as a novice at age thirteen. His pursuit of education over the next several years took him from the monastery to the Pancyprian Gymnasium in Nicosia, where he finished secondary school. From there he moved to Athens University as a deacon to study theology. After earning his degree in theology, he remained at the university during the World War II occupation, studying law. He was ordained as a priest in 1946, adopting the name Makarios. A few months after ordination, he received a scholarship from the World Council of Churches that took him to Boston University for advanced studies at the Theological College. Before he had completed his studies at Boston, he was elected in absentia bishop of Kition. He returned to Cyprus in the summer of 1948 to take up his new office.

Makarios was consecrated as bishop on June 13, 1948, in the Cathedral of Larnaca. He also became secretary of the Ethnarchy Council, a position that made him chief political adviser to the archbishop and swept him into the mainstream of the enosis struggle. His major accomplishment as bishop was planning the plebiscite that brought forth a 96 percent favorable vote for enosis in January 1950. In June Archbishop Makarios II died, and in October the bishop of Kition was elected to succeed him. He took office as Makarios III and, at age thirty-seven, was the youngest archbishop in the history of the Church of Cyprus. At his inauguration, he pledged not to rest until union with "Mother Greece" had been achieved.

The plebiscite results and a petition for enosis were taken to the Greek Chamber of Deputies, where Prime Minister Sophocles Venizelos urged the deputies to accept the petition and incorporate the plea for enosis into national policy. The plebiscite data were also presented to the United Nations (UN) Secretariat in New York, with a request that the principle of self-determination be applied to Cyprus. Makarios himself appeared before the UN in February 1951 to denounce British policy, but Britain held that the Cyprus problem was an internal issue not subject to UN consideration.

In Athens, enosis was a common topic of coffeehouse conversation, and a Cypriot native, Colonel George Grivas, was becoming known for his strong views on the subject. Grivas, born in 1898 in the village of Trikomo about fifty kilometers northeast of Nicosia, was the son of a grain merchant. After elementary education in the village school, he was sent to the Pancyprian Gymnasium. Reportedly a good student, Grivas went to Athens at age seventeen to enter the Greek Military Academy. As a young officer in the Greek army, he saw action in Anatolia during the Greco- Turkish War of 1920-22, in which he was wounded and cited for bravery. Grivas's unit almost reached Ankara during the Anatolian campaign, and he was sorely disappointed as the Greek campaign turned into disaster. However, he learned much about war, particularly guerrilla war. When Italy invaded Greece in 1940, he was a lieutenant colonel serving as chief of staff of an infantry division.

During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Grivas led a right-wing extremist organization known by the Greek letter X (Chi), which some authors describe as a band of terrorists and others call a resistance group. In his memoirs, Grivas said that it was later British propaganda that blackened the good name of X. At any rate, Grivas earned a reputation as a courageous military leader, even though his group was eventually banned. Later, after an unsuccessful try in Greek politics, he turned his attention to his original home, Cyprus, and to enosis. For the rest of his life, Grivas was devoted to that cause.

In anticipation of an armed struggle to achieve enosis, Grivas toured Cyprus in July 1951 to study the people and terrain (his first visit in twenty years). He discussed his ideas with Makarios but was disappointed by the archbishop's reservations about the effectiveness of a guerrilla uprising. From the beginning, and throughout their relationship, Grivas resented having to share leadership with the archbishop. Makarios, concerned about Grivas's extremism from their very first meeting, preferred to continue diplomatic efforts, particularly efforts to get the UN involved. Entry of both Greece and Turkey into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made settlement of the Cyprus issue more important to the Western powers, but no new ideas were forthcoming. One year after the reconnaissance trip by Grivas, a secret meeting was arranged in Athens to bring together like-minded people in a Cyprus liberation committee. Makarios chaired the meeting. Grivas, who saw himself as the sole leader of the movement, once again was disappointed by the more moderate views of the archbishop. The feelings of uneasiness that arose between the soldier and the cleric never dissipated. In the end, the two became bitter enemies.

In July 1954, Henry L. Hopkinson, minister of state for the colonies, speaking in the British House of Commons, announced the withdrawal of the 1948 constitutional proposals for Cyprus in favor of an alternative plan. He went on to state, "There are certain territories in the Commonwealth which, owing to their peculiar circumstances, can never expect to be fully independent." Hopkinson's "never" and the absence of any mention of enosis doomed the alternative from the beginning.

In August 1954, Greece's UN representative formally requested that self-determination for the people of Cyprus be included on the agenda of the General Assembly's next session. That request was seconded by a petition to the secretary general from Archbishop Makarios. The British position continued to be that the subject was an internal issue. Turkey rejected the idea of the union of Cyprus and Greece; its UN representative maintained that "the people of Cyprus were no more Greek than the territory itself." The Turkish Cypriot community had consistently opposed the Greek Cypriot enosis movement, but had generally abstained from direct action because under British rule the Turkish minority status and identity were protected. The expressed attitude of the Cyprus Turkish Minority Association was that, in the event of British withdrawal, control of Cyprus should simply revert to Turkey. (This position ignored the fact that Turkey gave up all rights and claims in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.) Turkish Cypriot identification with Turkey had grown stronger, and after 1954 the Turkish government had become increasingly involved as the Cyprus problem became an international issue. On the island, an underground political organization known as Volkan (volcano) was formed. Volkan eventually established in 1957 the Turkish Resistance Organization (Türk Mukavemet Teskilāti--TMT), a guerrilla group that fought for Turkish Cypriot interests. In Greece, enosis was a dominant issue in politics, and pro-enosis demonstrations became commonplace in Athens. Cyprus was also bombarded with radio broadcasts from Greece pressing for enosis.

In the late summer and fall of 1954, the Cyprus problem intensified. On Cyprus the colonial government threatened advocates of enosis with up to five years' imprisonment and warned that antisedition laws would be strictly enforced. The archbishop defied the law, but no action was taken against him.

Anti-British sentiments were exacerbated when Britain concluded an agreement with Egypt for the evacuation of forces from the Suez Canal zone and began moving the headquarters of the British Middle East Land and Air Forces to Cyprus. Meanwhile, Grivas had returned to the island surreptitiously and made contact with Makarios. In December the UN General Assembly, after consideration of the Cyprus item placed on the agenda by Greece, adopted a New Zealand proposal that, using diplomatic jargon, announced the decision "not to consider the problem further for the time being, because it does not appear appropriate to adopt a resolution on the question of Cyprus." Reaction to the setback at the UN was immediate and violent. Greek Cypriot leaders called a general strike, and schoolchildren left their classrooms to demonstrate in the streets. These events were followed by the worst rioting since 1931. Makarios, who was at the UN in New York during the trouble, returned to Nicosia on January 10, 1955. At a meeting with Makarios, Grivas stated that their group needed a name and suggested that it be called the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston--EOKA). Makarios agreed, and, within a few months, EOKA was widely known.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress