Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Does Anastasiades’ victory mean a new Annan plan for Cyprus?

A lot of the misgivings about Cyprus’ new president Nikos Anastasiades stem from his support for the Annan plan in 2004 and the assumption that his presidency will see the plan resurrected and imposed on Cyprus.

It’s worth noting, however, that Anastasiades’ support for Annan was never predicated on a belief that the plan was a good and sound basis for a solution to the Cyprus problem, but rather that a Greek Cypriot rejection of the plan would lead to the diplomatic isolation of Cyprus and leave the field open for legitimisation and recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

This black view of what would happen if Greek Cypriots turned down Annan has proved wrong. After nine years, the Republic of Cyprus continues to exercise its sovereignty as the sole legitimate representative on the island and Turkey’s attempts to upgrade the status of the occupation regime have largely failed.

The pressure to accept a UN plan at any cost, which Anastasiades believed existed in 2004, does not exist in 2013.

It’s also worth pointing out that to become president, Anastasiades had to seek the backing of two ardently anti-Annan parties, DIKO and EVROKO. Thus, any attempt by Anastasiades to agree to a confederal solution, as envisaged by Annan, would not only see the end of the coalition that secured him the presidency but would also be doomed to fail in any referendum. Indeed, it is inconceivable that Anastasiades would take a plan to a referendum knowing that it had a good chance of being rejected by Greek Cypriots, for whom voting against another UN plan would be a disaster.

Moreover, it is not clear that Turkey is interested in cutting a Cyprus deal at this juncture. Indeed, Turkey’s reasons for wanting a solution to the Cyprus problem in 2004 do not exist in 2013.

In 2004, Turkey’s relatively new Islamist government, elected in 2002, was prepared to countenance a solution as part of its campaign to curtail the Kemalist deep state and minimise the influence of the military in Turkish politics. A deal on Cyprus would have removed an obstacle to prime minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy of inching Turkey towards EU membership, which he was interested in not out of any genuine commitment to European standards and values, but because it would be a means to undermine the Kemalist deep state.

Since, subsequently, this battle between the Islamists and the Kemalists/military has largely been won by the former, Cyprus has returned to its traditional role in Turkish politics as a nationalist rallying point, which unites Islamists and Kemalists. Having tested the patience of the Kemalist deep state in so many other areas, there is now no need for Erdogan to provoke it further by making ‘concessions’ on Cyprus that the Kemalists and military – which have always regarded Cyprus as their fiefdom – would consider unacceptable.

Currently, there are only two things that might persuade Turkey to moderate its Cyprus policy and consider a solution. First, there is Cyprus’ continuing ability to block Turkey’s EU membership; and, second, there is Turkey’s inability to stop Cyprus from exploring for hydrocarbons in its Exclusive Economic Zone, which threatens to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean gas and oil bonanza (especially if, for example, a pipeline to transfer Cypriot, Israeli and other countries’ gas and oil to Europe bypasses Turkey).

However, since 2004, not only, as noted above, have the internal political reasons that made the EU attractive to Erdogan and his AK party abated, but the Islamists have developed a perception of Turkey as strong enough to do without Europe, which, in any case, they have always regarded as decadent and instinctively hostile to Islam and Turkey. Thus, it is not likely that Turkey will abandon Cyprus for the sake of a club it is not sure it wants to join or that wants to have it as a member.

As for hydrocarbon exploration and transport, Turkey’s tactic at the moment is to bully the Cypriots into suspending their sovereign rights and dispute, both diplomatically and militarily, not only Cyprus’ but also Greece’s territorial waters and EEZ (see here and here). In other words, Turkey’s concern that it might be excluded from Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon developments is not encouraging it to seek reconciliation with Greece and Cyprus but to stoke tension and threaten conflict with the two countries. Indeed, as part of this aggressive policy towards Greece and Cyprus, there have even been tentative steps towards a Turkey-Israel reconciliation, with recent reports suggesting that Israel could be detached from its nascent hydrocarbon alliance with Greece and Cyprus (in which Israel’s gas would be transferred to Europe via an LNG plant in Cyprus and/or a pipeline through Crete and the Peloponnese) with the construction of a pipeline to carry Israeli hydrocarbons that would traverse Turkey.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Eleftherios Venizelos and Greece In Her True Light

Greece In Her True Light is an interesting document published (in English) in 1916, which consists of several memoranda and speeches by Eleftherios Venizelos putting forward the case for Greece’s entry into WW1 on the side of the Allies. It describes the deals Venizelos was prepared to make to secure the maximum advantage to Greece’s national interests, which in this case meant the expansion of the Greek state into Asia Minor, Eastern Thrace and Cyprus. Venizelos’ policy of supporting Britain and France as a means to secure Greek expansion was opposed by King Constantine and other rightist forces in Greece, led by Dimitrios Gounaris.

Just a few points going through the document, which can be read here.

Initially, at the outbreak of WW1, Venizelos’ concern is to prevent Bulgaria – which had never accepted the treaties that ended the Balkan wars in 1912-13 – from joining the German and Turkish axis and threatening first Serbia and then Greece. In order to secure either Bulgarian neutrality or, better still, Bulgarian support in attacking Turkey, Venizelos was prepared to offer, in exchange for Allied backing for Greek demands in Asia Minor, the handing over to Bulgaria of Kavala and Drama in Eastern Macedonia.

Venizelos makes clear that Greek expansion into Asia Minor is not just a matter of creating a Greater Greece, but also protecting the lives of Ottoman Greeks who are already being targetted in a campaign of extermination, similar to the one already suffered by the Armenians. Venizelos adds that the policy of genocide is one the Turks are being encouraged to adopt by Germany.

Venizelos argues that if Greece had participated in the Gallipoli campaign, as requested by the Allies, then that campaign, to capture Constantinople, would have succeeded. He makes clear that Russian objections to Greece participating in the capture of Constantinople – Russia regarded Greece as a rival to claims on Constantinople – would have been overcome by France and Britain.

Venizelos accuses the obstructionist King Constantine of not only admiring Germany, but of desiring German victory in Europe, which would allow the king to sweep away the parliamentary system in Greece and establish a more monarchical system of government.

Venizelos mentions the British offer to cede Cyprus to Greece. Anti-Venizelists argued that such a concession was trifling and not worth Greece entering the war on the side of the British; but Venizelos insists that the addition of Cyprus to Greece would be a significant advance of Hellenism, especially in conjunction with other acquisitions in Thrace and Asia Minor.

It’s worth pointing out that the publication of the document – in English – was intended to convince Allied audiences that Venizelos, not Constantine, represented the ‘true’ Greece. Constantine’s pro-German neutrality was, of course, an outrage to the Allies and, indeed, in Canada and Australia, there were anti-Greek riots (aimed at Greek immigrants). 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Pissarides open to finance minister proposal in new Anastasiades government



Nikos Anastasiades will comfortably win the second round of presidential elections in Cyprus this Sunday, obtaining as much as 60 percent of the vote. The first round of voting merely delayed the inevitable, as all that happened was that enough Tassos Papadopoulos’ loyalists from DIKO refused to back their party leadership’s choice of Anastasiades in favour of independent candidate Giorgos Lilikas, who presented himself as Papadopoulos’ political heir. 

These Papadopoulos loyalists will not en masse (or even significantly) vote on Sunday for the communist-backed candidate Stavros Malas, who edged out Lilikas to make the run-off against Anastasiades. (Other parties that backed Lilikas, such as EDEK and EVROKO, have also already made it clear that they will not be supporting Malas, with right-wing EVROKO now supporting Anastasiades and socialists EDEK likely to recommend a vote according to conscience). 

The most pressing problem facing Cyprus, after the Christofias government’s incredible mismanagement of the economy, is that the state is bankrupt and a loan of some €17bn, equivalent to the island’s annual GDP, is now required from the IMF, ECB and the European Commission. There have been a lot of rumours as to who Anastasiades will appoint as finance minister, to negotiate loan terms with the Troika and restructure and modernise Cyprus’ economy, with the name of Nobel Laureate Christophoros Pissarides emerging as a serious contender. Indeed, today, in an interview (above) with Bloomberg, Pissarides – who was one of the handful of Cypriot notables who formally nominated Anastasiades for the presidency – seems to be making himself available for the post.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Greek-Turkish population exchange: a necessary evil?

Thanks to the HA reader who suggested I go here and watch the talks and Q&A (in English) from professors Giorgos Mavrogordatos and Ayhan Aktar on the 1923 population exchange agreements between Greece and Turkey that saw 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor, Anatolia and Thrace resettled in Greece and half a million Turks go the other way.

Mavrogordatos suggests that the exchange was the best, or at least most pragmatic, outcome to the failed attempt by Greece to liberate Ionia.

Arguing in favour of homogenous nation-states, Mavrogordatos says that the Ottoman Greeks provided a means to complete the Hellenisation of those territories (especially Macedonia) liberated during the Balkan wars; ensured, with the expulsion of Muslims from Greece, that Greece didn’t end up with a problematic Muslim minority, which would now number three million; and that, indeed, since Turkey’s preferred method of dealing with minorities in its midst was physical destruction, having some sort of agreed relocation was the only way to guarantee the survival and future of 1.5m Greeks.

On the other hand, the Turkish professor bemoans the population exchange, guided as it was, he argues, by narrow, nationalist definitions of ethnic identity, which ended up impoverishing both countries and was a disaster for those directly affected.

The discussion to be had on the issues raised is inexhaustible, but I’ll just make a couple of points.

Having experienced the humiliating trauma of the decline and disintegration of the Ottoman empire, the new Turkish republic couldn’t countenance the continuing presence of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks and had an unambiguous policy of annihilating its Christian minorities. This decisive approach is in contrast to the policy of Greece towards non-Greeks in the territories it had liberated in 1913 and was expecting to annex in Asia Minor.

Eleftherios Venizelos was torn between creating a Greece that would be a liberal multi-ethnic state in which non-Greeks (Muslims, Jews and Bulgarians) would be full citizens and have their rights and identities protected, and a more homogenous country, insensitive to its minorities, who would be subordinate to the dominant Greek element and encouraged to assimilate or, in the worst-case scenario, face exchange with Greeks living in Rumelia and Turkey. (Exterminating its minorities, as Turkey was prepared to do, did not appeal to Greece).

In Ionia, Venizelos was inclined to the former policy, insisting that the Turks living in the newly liberated areas should experience no discrimination and be won over to the benefits of Greek government – though at other times (as Mavrogordatos notes) he contemplates exchanging the Turks in Ionia for Greeks living in parts of Anatolia not liberated by the Greek army.

Informing Venizelos’ view of the Turks as susceptible to the advantages of enlightened Greek rule was a sense that Turks were less conscious of their national and religious identity than Greeks. This ignorance of the Turks had disastrous consequences for Greek rule in Ionia. More ruthless treatment of the Turks in Ionia may have suited Greek interests better, though it would have risked alienating Greece’s European allies who, hypocritically, made their support conditional on Greece proving its credentials as a civilised country by the fair treatment of the non-Greek population under its jurisdiction.

A similar Greek underestimation of Turkish nationalism was also evident later in Cyprus where, it should be pointed out that, after the Turkish invasion in 1974, the 200,000 Greeks forced from northern Cyprus and 50,000 Turks encouraged (by Turkey and Britain) to leave the government-controlled for the occupied areas – were not, according to the Turks, ethnically cleansed but the necessary victims of an agreed population exchange.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Thinking about AI Bezzerides



I’m currently having another look at the work of AI Bezzerides (1908-2007), the Hollywood screenwriter and noir novelist, born in Sampsounta, Pontos, to a Greek father and Armenian mother, whose family emigrated to California when he was two-years-old.

Bezzerides wrote the screenplays for several seminal film noirs, On Dangerous Ground (directed by Nicholas Ray, 1951) and Kiss Me Deadly (directed by Robert Aldrich, 1955), while he adapted his novel Thieves’ Market for the film Thieves’ Highway, which was directed by Jules Dassin in 1949.

Thieves’ Market is the bleak story of immigrant Nick Garcos, an independent trucker hauling produce around the markets of California, in futile pursuit of the American Dream of honest hard work, self-sufficiency and prosperity, thwarted by corruption, deceit, ruthlessness and violence.

The novel is based on Bezzerides’ own experiences of riding with his trucker father in the fields and packing houses of California’s Central Valley and in the markets of Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. ‘Long, long ago,’ Bezzerides wrote of this formative time, ‘when I saw what the produce dealers did, I knew that the world was going to end.’

Indeed, this sense of despair permeates Bezzerides’ work. Writing in the foreword to Thieves’ Market, Garret White says that the themes that obsessed Bezzerides were: ‘Man’s self-destructive programming (“tragedy is etched into the genes”); the destruction of nature; the mystery and superiority of women; the exploitation of labor; addiction as a metaphor for American consumer culture; the “sanity of the insane and the insanity of the sane”.’

(Bezzerides’ critical approach to American ideology provides an interesting contrast to that of another Greek-American filmmaker, Elia Kazan, who I posted on recently).

Bezzerides also wrote the screenplay for The Angry Hills (1957, also directed by Robert Aldrich), which is set in Greece at the time of the Nazi invasion and involves Robert Mitchum as an American journalist in possession of sensitive information trying, with the help of the Greek resistance, to escape the clutches of the Germans. It’s a flawed and messy film, but there are several interesting scenes – particularly, the village massacre – and the dialogue is good: at one point the Gestapo chief (played by Stanley Baker) tries to persuade a resistance leader to hand over Mitchum by heaping derision on him for not being a soldier, but a ‘journalist, a foreign correspondent. Do you know, Leonidas, what a foreign correspondent is? It is that brand of intellectual coward who observes while others die in order to publish his own version of events in a manner that will sell newspapers. This is the man you’ve been sheltering.’

I’ll see if I can somehow upload the film to the net, or, if you know how to download rar files, go here for the rapidshare links. (Download each rar file separately, place them into a single folder, then open the first with an extraction program – I use UnRarX – which will then convert all the files as an mkv file, watchable with VLC).

The above video is an interview Bezzerides gave to French TV in 1982.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Bizonality and bicommunalism: the partition of Cyprus by any other name?



There was a very interesting seminar last month at the Hellenic Centre here in London organised by Lobby for Cyprus dissecting the concepts of bizonality and bicommunalism, i.e. the concepts that have come to define what Cyprus will look like if and when it is put back together. Cypriot political leaders routinely argue that the choice facing Cyprus is either a bizonal, bicommunal federation or partition; so it was fascinating to listen to the compelling and sophisticated arguments of the Lobby speakers – Dr Van Coufoudakis and Dr Klearchos Kyriakides – repudiating this dilemma and suggesting that bizonality and bicommunalism rather than an alternative to the ethnic partition of Cyprus would achieve precisely that unwanted outcome. Even if I have reservations about some of the things said – I’m not so confident about our ability to contain the fallout if we were to suddenly announce that we were no longer pursuing a bizonal, bicommunal federation – this is essential viewing for anyone seriously interested in the Cyprus issue.

The above video is Dr Coufoudakis’ presentation. Go here for Dr Kyriakides’ presentation and here for the following question and answer session. Below is the Lobby for Cyprus press release that summarises the arguments put forward at the seminar.


Bicommunalism and bizonalism – redundant concepts in multi-ethnic Cyprus?
On Thursday 24 January a packed Hellenic Centre heard Dr Van Coufoudakis and Dr Klearchos Kyriakides consider whether a bizonal, bicommunal federal solution offered a fair, workable or rational basis upon which to resolve the Cyprus issue.

They were speaking at the Lobby for Cyprus seminar: ‘Are bicommunalism and bizonalism redundant concepts in the multi-ethnic Cyprus of today?’

Dr Coufoudakis in his talk ‘The bizonal federation model and the destruction of the Republic of Cyprus’ illustrated how since the summer of 1964 the US, UK and Turkey embarked on a policy of dismantling the Republic of Cyprus and replacing the unitary state with a bizonal federation. His presentation was a reminder of a similar thesis espoused by Martin Packard a few years previously at a Lobby seminar when he reported having been told by senior US officials that partition was the end game.

Dr Coufoudakis explained that the concept of ‘two communities’ in Cyprus is a throwback to the Ottoman Empire and how Ottoman concepts were introduced into the 1960 constitution of the Republic of Cyprus.

He argued that the proposed bizonal bicommunal model is based on discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and language and is in direct violation of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, an international Convention that is a fundamental EU law. Ironically, both Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Cyprus is an EU member.

Dr Coufoudakis concluded that the unprecedented bizonal bicommunal federation model is divisive, dysfunctional, in violation of democratic norms and international law and that it is actually a confederal constitutional model, not a federal one.

Dr Coufoudakis also expressed his concern that the political leadership in Cyprus negotiates on the basis of a bizonal solution. In response Cypriot politicians stated that this was what was agreed in the 1977 High-Level agreements and they could not do otherwise. However by declaring the so-called ‘TRNC’ in November 1983 Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership had themselves torn up those agreements.

Why then should we continue to negotiate on the basis of bizonality? He argued that the Cyprus government missed a golden opportunity to reject bizonality after more than 70 percent of Greek Cypriots had rejected the Annan Plan in the 2004 referendum.

Dr Kyriakides in his talk ‘The rule of law vacuum, ethical deficit and contradictions at the core of the Cyprus Question’ demonstrated that what was proposed was no different from the apartheid ideology that had plagued parts of the US and South Africa until each country, in its own way, freed itself from the shackles of ethnic segregation and discrimination. Yet this was the apparently “fair” solution that the US (via the United Nations) and the UK were seeking to impose on Cypriots. Cyprus is however now a multi-ethnic state. He argued that the concepts of bicommunalism and bizonalism fly in the face of the changing demographic realities in the Republic of Cyprus as according to census results published in 2011, more than 18 percent of the lawful population of the Republic of Cyprus are not Greek or Turkish Cypriots.

Federations seem to be collapsing around the world. Why should certain powers therefore try to establish a federation in Cyprus, particularly one that ignores the Rule of Law and seeks to legitimise the apartheid arising from Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus? Dr Kyriakides analysed EU laws that applied to Cyprus and concluded that by establishing a bizonal settlement in Cyprus and ignoring fundamental EU laws and human rights provisions, the Rule of Law would be destroyed which would then create a dangerous precedent in the resolution of disputes around the world.

Costas Frangeskides, a deputy co-ordinator of Lobby for Cyprus reminded the audience that Lobby campaigned for the reunification of Cyprus on the basis of the removal of all Turkish troops, repatriation of the colonists and return of all refugees to their homes without restrictions or preconditions. Lobby would not support any settlement that did not guarantee these 3Rs and for that reason has historically campaigned against the Ghali Set of Ideas and the Annan Plan, which attempted to foist an unworkable bizonal, bicommunal federation on Greek Cypriots.

There followed a lively question and answer session. One suggestion from the floor was that the Cyprus government convene a meeting with the UN and Turkish Cypriots to formally reject proposals for resolving the Cyprus issue on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal solution, to lodge a detailed document amending the 1960 constitution bringing it into line with EU laws and current anti-discrimination regulations and to insist that this be the basis of negotiation. What would happen if Turkey (and the UN) rejected this? There was obviously a risk that they would up their attempts to obtain recognition for the pseudo-state but they are doing that already and we have de facto partition anyway. What we do not want is Greek Cypriots legitimising this de facto state of affairs. If the UK and others were genuinely anxious to recognise the occupied area they would have done so by now and it might be time to call their bluff.