Thursday, 28 August 2014

Britain in the Mediterranean: On Robert Holland’s Blue Water Empire

A quick review of Robert Holland’s Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800.

The narrative is compelling and heavily features the fortunes of Greece and Greeks – whether it’s Britain seeking to limit the Greek Revolution of 1821; occupying the Ionian islands and Cyprus; protecting the Ottoman empire in decline; promoting Greece as the rising power in the Eastern Mediterranean after World War One; affecting to shape Greek politics after World War Two; or contributing, wittingly and unwittingly, to the re-emergence of Turkey as a regional force and the diminution of Hellenism in Constantinople and Cyprus.

Holland’s book is, however, marred by the absence of a critical paradigm or depth and Holland’s somewhat patronising tone, manifesting itself in a lack of empathy and even a belittling of those enthral to the British empire, the impact of which Holland portrays as being mostly benign, if not beneficial. Thus, he attributes, for example, the rapid socio-economic advancement Cyprus experienced post-independence not to the Cypriots themselves but to the British legacy and its supposed predisposition to the rule of law and good governance. (In fact, the legacy of British rule in Cyprus was poverty, under-development, mass emigration and, ultimately, devastating partition).

Another striking point that emerges from Holland’s book relates to the abject failure of the British imperial project and colonial culture to win over Greeks in the Ionian islands (which endured British rule from 1815-1864) and Cyprus, where Britain governed from 1878-1960. By contrast, the Maltese and Gibraltarians were much more receptive to British colonialism and, indeed, Malta and Gibraltar provide ominous examples of what Cyprus and the Ionian islands could have become if the Greeks there hadn’t steadfastly and from the outset resisted British rule and attempts to de-Hellenise or Anglicise them.

Finally, Holland’s book allows us to note how – especially in comparison to, say, the Byzantine or Ottoman imperiums – Britain’s empire spectacularly and precipitately declined, disintegrating by the early 1960s, barely 40 years after having reached its apogee.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Christopher Hitchens on the second phase of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the second – and more devastating – phase of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, when the Turks broke out of the Kyrenia bridgehead they had established on 20 July to seize the areas of Morphou, Famagusta, the Mesaoria and Karpasia, clearing out the Greek population and making 200,000 people refugees. Below is Christopher Hitchens’ take on the 14 August assault, as recorded in his Cyprus: Hostage to History.

‘Supposing one takes the most sympathetic view of the original Turkish intervention – that it was a necessary counterstroke to a Greek putsch – and suppose that one regards the Turkish minority as blameless in the disruptions and brutalities of the 1960s. Suppose, further, that one ignores the long and tenacious attachment of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leadership to partition irrespective of the majority will. Suppose, still further, that one can forget or discount the outside involvement of the British and the United States in the same cause. Put the case that there might have been – indeed, would have been – murderous attacks on Turkish Cypriots en masse by a consolidated Sampson leadership. Put the case that the Cyprus problem is purely a question of the security of the Turkish Cypriots. Admit that the first Turkish intervention of 20 July 1974 did everybody a favour by demolishing the rule of Fascism in Greece and Cyprus. Agree and allow all this, and the second Turkish invasion becomes more reprehensible rather than less. By the time it took place, on 14 August 1974, the Greek irredentist forces had fallen from power in both Athens and Nicosia. Negotiations were underway, and relations between the two communities on the island were stable if nervous. The pretext for the original invasion had ceased to exist, and if Mr Ecevit had withdrawn his forces he would have been remembered as the man who rid Greece of the junta, saved Cyprus from its designs, and rebuilt the image of Turkey in the West. The moral and (given such an impressive demonstration of Turkish force) the actual pressure for a lasting and generous settlement with the Turkish Cypriots would have been irresistible. Instead Mr Ecevit and his generals embarked on a policy of conquest and annexation.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Eighteen years after the murders of Isaac and Solomou

Good documentary marking the 18th anniversary of the murders by the forces and supporters of the Turkish occupation regime in Cyprus of Tassos Isaac and Solomos Solomou.