How big-power agendas and 'green lines' have kept Cyprus divided


BOOK OF THE DAY: Getting it Wrong: Fragments from a Cyprus Diary 1964By Martin Packard, AuthorHouse UK 416pp, $19.98

IN THIS important book, Martin Packard warns that UN and other peacekeeping missions lay down “green lines” to separate antagonists without making efforts to reconcile communities and shows how intercommunal peacemaking from the ground up can spare a country division and partition.

Packard, a Greek-speaking British naval officer seconded to Cyprus during the 1964 crisis, has produced an instructive case study on encouraging deeply alienated communities to reach accommodation and live together rather than seek separation through bloodshed and communal cleansing.

Packard arrived on the island on January 5th, 1964, 10 days after fighting had erupted between Greek and Turkish Cypriots disputing the island’s polity. Greek Cypriots, 82 per cent of the population, demanded amendments to the powersharing constitution to prevent the 18 per cent Turkish Cypriots from using their veto to block the ordinary processes of governance. Turkish Cypriots refused to cede their power while Turkey, their protector, promoted partition and threatened intervention.

Packard recruited regular Greek and Turkish army officers into tripartite teams which went from village to village – 80 per cent of the population were village dwellers – settling disputes, freeing hostages, and encouraging villagers to resolve their own problems. His teams achieved reconciliation in many villages, although in some Turkish Cypriots opted for resettlement in Turkish-army protected enclaves due to intimidation by communal militiamen backed by Athens and Ankara. However, Packard believed the “mother countries” were, at that time, seeking a way out of the crisis and might have found a formula which would have preserved the integrity of the 1960 Cyprus republic. But that was not to be. After Packard described his reconciliation efforts to US envoy George Ball, he replied, ominously: “Very impressive, but you’ve got it all wrong, son. Hasn’t anyone told you that our objective here is partition, not reintegration.”

The Greeks and Turks were being prodded into partition by Cold War allies Britain and the US. They feared that the eastern flank of the Nato alliance could be wrecked by Graeco-Turkish warfare or weakened by an independent Cyprus under its non-aligned president Makarios.

Ball’s remark was not taken seriously until, after several more months of effecting successful reconciliations, peacemaker Packard was banned from Cyprus by his masters in London.

The very same forces were at play in 1974 when Greece mounted a coup against Makarios and Turkey occupied the north of the island, and in 2004 when the UN, guided by the US and UK, attempted to secure approval for a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation which preserved division and legitimised the de facto partition imposed by Turkey.

Greek Cypriots, led by their president, Tassos Papadopoulos, rejected the plan in a referendum while Turkish Cypriots and Turkey accepted it. It is ironic that in 2004 Papadopoulos was castigated by the West as an obstacle to reunification when in 1964 he fully backed Packard’s efforts to promote intercommunal reconciliation and unity.

At both times partition was the name of the game. While Packard admits his diary format has the disadvantage of being repetitive, the narrative picks up and grips as small incidents threaten to balloon into major clashes.Packard rejects demonisation of the Greek Cypriots as well as favouritism for the “underdog” Turkish Cypriots, attitudes which still prevail and also hinder resolution of the Cyprus problem.

Unfortunately, this book is 45 years too late.

Michael Jansen, a Middle East analyst for The Irish Times, has lived in Cyprus for many years