The “Cyprus problem” has been widely misunderstood by most and is usually framed as a complicated conflict with two opposing sides representing reasons for their actions. Across the island, opinions are polarized—to a large extent— with the Greek Cypriots rightfully condemning Turkey and its illegal occupation of almost 40% of the island yet glorifying right-wing extremists. To this day, the Turkish government finds their intervention justified, using the Turkish Cypriots as their scapegoat. In its most primitive form, it is viewed as Turkish Cypriots vs. Greek Cypriots. If one is not entirely ignorant, it may be considered Turkey vs. Greece.
What fails to be taken into consideration is the use of Cyprus as a proxy state, the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” firstly by Great Britain and then later by the USA. Many often fail to put the situation into its correct context regarding the transfer of settlers from Turkey to the occupied northern areas of Cyprus. In essence, this is settler colonialism.
Settler colonialism, supported by the imperialist superpowers, is the principal contradiction in Cyprus, the solving of which is ineluctable if the fate of Cyprus is to be put in the hands of the people themselves. The demographic engineering in Cyprus continues today, with more Turks from Anatolia settling on the island. The Turkish Cypriots still living in the occupied areas of Cyprus are living in tough economic circumstances. They have no political rights and no independence whatsoever. Any attempts to resist the fetters of Turkish imperialism, which today can be looked at as an independent imperialist force—or an emergent one, independent of the USA, albeit, of course, in close contact with it—are violently suppressed. However, the demonstrations in 2011 and 2018 have helped bring the struggle of the island nation to light. Still, much more work must be done in order to bring the Cypriot question to the discussion table internationally. Undoubtedly, this can only happen if Cypriots unite and prioritize ending settler colonialism on our island, like many organizations that have brought the events occurring in Palestine to light internationally. To understand how to change this situation, it is important to learn about the events leading up to it.
Cyprus was under the control of the Ottoman Empire until the Cyprus Convention. This convention was a secret agreement reached between Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, which granted administrative control of Cyprus to Britain in exchange for its support of the Ottomans during the Congress of Berlin in 1878. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and Cyprus officially became a British colony in 1921. Before that, Cyprus was under British control, but it was of no real use to them, having Egypt as an alternative strategic outpost at the time. The inevitable happened, and Egypt was relinquished from British hands. Thereafter, Cyprus suddenly became important to the British colonizers.
While the island was in the hands of the British colonizers, they deliberately encouraged hostility between the Cypriot people to strengthen their rule, implementing—-like they always do—a strategy of ‘divide and rule.’ They asked Turkish teachers from the new Turkish Republic to impose Turkish identity on the Turkish-speaking Cypriots. At the same time, they implemented the same strategy for Greek-speaking Cypriots with help of Church and teachers from Greece. Another example of “divide and rule” strategy is that the police force under British rule was recruited primarily from the Turkish Cypriot population and used against the Greek Cypriots. In 1931, the British abolished the constitution they had implemented in 1882, banning all political parties, instituting tight censorship, and interning hundreds of people. The British supported and armed ethnic extremist groups on both sides, creating a conflict that had hitherto not existed. During this period, the British government also clarified that it would not allow independence for Cyprus. Particularly after the evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal zone in 1953, which saw Cyprus as an essential link in holding its empire together.
After the second world war, however, when the conditions for decolonization were ripe, keeping Cyprus was no longer a sustainable option for the British. In order to keep some of their influence on the island intact, the colonizers mingled with the Bourgeoisie and the Church, the institutions and individuals belonging to the privileged part of society, the ones willing to sacrifice the lives of the workers to take advantage of the situation. The colonizers proceed with caution when decolonization is inevitable to continue extracting value from the nation previously colonized and agree with corrupt elements of it. In addition, as has been repeated multiple times in history, preceding the situation in Cyprus, and continuing to this day, the imperial power armed ethnic extremist elements on both sides, contributing further to the conflict that they created. They use the strategy of ‘divide and rule’ wherever possible.
The end of the Second World War brought a shift in the imperial hegemony, with the USA replacing Britain as the top imperial hegemon. The aim of the US maneuvers was to get the strategic Mediterranean island of Cyprus more firmly into the grip of the United States’ client states, Greece and Turkey, and within the orbit of the US-dominated NATO military bloc of which both these states are members. The fascists responsible for the coup in Greece in 1973, financed and supported by the USA, soon came to Cyprus to do the same. Under this pretext, Turkey, leading the USA’s proxy war, invaded to “protect the Turkish Cypriot people”. The effects of the illegal invasion of Turkey continue to this day, and people cannot go a day without attempting to better the lives of the Cypriot working people. It is not ludicrous to compare the circumstances of the working people in the occupied areas of Cyprus to those of the people suffering in Gaza if the US supported Israeli fascism. The repression of the Turkish illegal satellite state is no different than the repression that Kurdish people face by the US-supported Turkish colonialism or the people in Yemen face by Saudi Arabia.
Today, it is clear that Cypriots must fight against opportunism, ignorance, racism, sexism, and chauvinism island-wide. They must completely revise the Cypriot educational system, which glorifies right-wing militants. Instead, what must be implemented in the educational system is a thorough understanding of settler colonialism and how to fight it—united.
It is the Cypriots’ duty and, more importantly, their right to determine our own future. They do not need big imperialist powers doing that for them. They do not want them to intervene because the imperialist’s intervention leads to destruction. They must viciously fight against imperialism, occupation, and the ongoing settler colonialism if they want a future that benefits everyone. They can only do this by being united against the ruling class.