50 years since the signing of the Zurich-London agreements
Five seconds that decided Cyprus’ future
THIS MONTH marks the fiftieth anniversary of the London-Zurich agreements for the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus. With these agreements, Enosis (union with Greece) was officially abandoned, though it had been the stated aim of the armed struggle by EOKA. Cyprus had instead become an independent state, in which the Greek Cypriot majority was to share power with the Turkish Cypriot community.
The fate of Cyprus had been decided in just one critical moment, on February 29, 1956. That was the moment when negotiations between Archbishop Makarios and the British Secretary of state for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed.
Makarios was, in his capacity of Ethnarch, politically responsible for negotiating with the British on the Cyprus issue. He had almost reached agreement with the British on a transitional self-government solution which did not rule out Enosis in the future. But this agreement was never concluded, largely because of Makarios’ tendency to amuse himself at the expense of his negotiating counterparts by deliberate vacillation and brinkmanship.
Makarios himself described his penchant for brinkmanship to Oriana Fallaci in one of the most comprehensive interviews he ever gave. Relating an incident from his early years, he graphically illustrated his negotiating tactics.
Makarios had been a novice monk at the Kykkos monastery. Novices are not obliged to grow a beard and Makarios was in the habit of shaving. The Father Superior, Chrysostomos, kept pressing young Makarios to grow a beard, but the novice refused.
“Father Superior: You will either obey or leave.
Makarios: Very well, then I will leave. (I had gathered my things together because I knew exactly what would happen).
FS: Don’t go! Stay.
M: Very well, I will stay.
FS: But will you grow a beard?
M: No, I will not.
FS: I will beat you if you don’t obey.
M: Strike then. (He then began to strike me, and while hitting me he yelled:)
FS: Will you grow a beard?
FS: Will you now?
Finally, the Father Superior had to collapse into a chair, exhausted.
FS: I entreat you. Just let your beard grow a little. Very little, just enough to show people I didn’t yield.
FS: Very little, just enough for people to ask if you are growing a beard.
M: (At that point, I smiled) As little as that?
FS: Yes, not a centimetre more.
M: Very well.”
Makarios, as he said to Fallaci, did not have the least intention of leaving the Monastery. “I always enjoyed driving myself to the brink of the abyss, and then stopping just in time not to fall”, he said. “The other party, of course, believes that I am about to fall and kill myself. On the contrary, I proceed very calmly, knowing when to put on the brakes.”
The Harding talks
MAKARIOS tried to play exactly the same game he had played with the Father Superior of Kykkos Monastery, with the Secretary of State for the Colonies of an empire. But in contrast to the Father Superior, Lennox-Boyd actually “expelled Makarios from the Monastery”.
Makarios began negotiations in 1955 with the British Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding. The EOKA struggle for union with Greece was in its earliest stages. The tottering British Empire sought to settle the Cyprus issue, offering the Cypriots wide autonomy by means of a democratic constitution, which did not rule out Enosis in the future. The British only wanted to maintain control of defence and foreign policy, as well as internal security until the situation returned to normal.
Makarios’ talks with Harding concluded with a draft statement to be given to the Communal Assembly by the Government, which would outline the basic principles of the new state of affairs in Cyprus.
Makarios was positively disposed towards the draft. He met the military chief of EOKA, George Grivas, in the mountains and informed him of the developments. Grivas announced to his guerillas that the struggle was over. They had a souvenir group photo taken. That is the picture of Grivas in the mountains, surrounded by his men, which is today a well known historical image.
THE SECRETARY of State for the Colonies, Allan Lennox-Boyd, arrived on Cyprus on February 29, 1956 to meet Makarios and secure his final assent to the agreement. Makarios had no intention of ending the talks and rejecting the proposal. But before he assented, he would play one last game with his counterparts.
Makarios welcomed Lennox-Boyd with an unpleasant surprise. Despite the truce observed by EOKA in light of the ongoing talks, on the night on which the meeting was to take place, Nicosia was rocked by the explosions of 19 bombs.
Makarios blamed Grivas for the explosions. Grivas claimed that Makarios wanted to send a “loud and clear” message to Lennox-Boyd before assenting to the compromise, presumably to improve his negotiating position, and was himself responsible for the bombings.
The question of just who took the initiative to bomb Nicosia would only be incidental, had Makarios eventually assented to the agreement. On the contrary, Makarios treated the British Secretary for the Colonies in the same way he had treated Father Chrysostomos, and began to play a stalling game.
Lennox-Boyd, though, already perturbed by the explosions, was irritated. He abruptly concluded the meeting and told Makarios “May God have mercy upon your People”. Makarios was surprised. He attempted to backtrack, but the step over the brink had already been taken. Those five seconds, which were as long as it took for Lennox-Boyd to make his vindictive statement and call an end to the meeting, decided the future of Cyprus. The island is still suffering the consequences.
THE BRITISH exiled Makarios to the Seychelles, took socially repressive measures and attempted to suppress EOKA by force, allying themselves with the Turkish Cypriots. The struggle, which had begun with the aim of Enosis, became an intercommunal confrontation. In two years, circumstances developed which eventually made the partition of Cyprus just a matter of time.
In 1957, Makarios showed signs of compromise and the British allowed him to leave the Seychelles, but forbade him to return to Cyprus. He chose to go to Athens, and according to one of his collaborators of those days, Nikos Kranidiotis, his view was that the EOKA struggle should be ended.
In his first meeting with Kranidiotis, Makarios said that the people were tired and a reasonable period of self-determination should be accepted. He said, “I will write to Grivas. I believe that the struggle has already yielded the maximum it can yield. From now on the struggle can not contribute positively. It is, rather, of detriment. If he agrees, we shall have to end it, and restart negotiations from the point they reached before my exile.” But the circumstances had already changed. When Lennox-Boyd had visited Nicosia in 1956, the negotiations were between the British and the Greek Cypriots. Now the Turkish Cypriots were also part of the problem.
After background negotiations between Greece and Turkey, with the encouragement of the United States, which had become established as the dominant power in the Mediterranean, Makarios accepted, without serious doubt, the Zurich agreements for the creation of an independent state, in partnership with the Turkish Cypriots.
The agreements were countersigned on February 11 in Zurich by the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey, Constantinos Karamanlis and Adnan Menderes. After three years of conflict and killings between Greeks and Turks, and between the left and right, a solution was accepted which was far worse than the one which had been rejected in 1956. Today, it is widely accepted that the Harding proposal was really a lost opportunity, which could have led to genuine independence or even to Enosis.
The agreements were to have been signed on February 17, 1959 by the foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey, and the two Cypriot leaders, Archbishop Makarios and Dr Fazil Kucuk. Makarios called 35 eminent Cypriots to London so he could confer with them. At the first conference held on February 16, held at the Park Lane Hotel, 25 out of 27 speakers took position against the agreements.
This development spread panic among the Greek delegation, which had gone to London in order to sign the agreements. From that moment on, wrote diplomat Angelos Vlachos, “a five-day delirium began, a kind of nightmarish dance around the maypole that was Makarios, with all of us walking around him, each with a ribbon in hand trying to wrap him, and him in the centre, unwrapping”.
Karamanlis steps in
THE CONSULTATIONS continued the following morning, with Makarios insisting that he was unable to sign and threatening not to go to the conference. As soon as he was informed of Makarios’ objections, Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis, who was suffering from an illness in Athens, immediately set off for London. He went straight from the airport to the Embassy of Greece and met Makarios and a delegation of some of the 35 eminent Cypriots. At the Embassy, Vlachos writes, Karamanlis forced Makarios to admit, before everyone present, that “in Athens, he had accepted the Zurich agreements”. Karamanlis then stated that the Government of Greece would sign the agreements and end her involvement in Cyprus.
Makarios remained unmoved and asked to re-negotiate the agreements, saying that he preferred partition to signing a solution of that form. When the conference met on February 18, British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd asked Makarios if he was ready to sign. Makarios replied, “if that is now, it is no.”
The meeting was adjourned, and through the night the Greek delegation convinced 27 of the 35 Cypriots to revise their original position and recommend to Makarios that he sign the agreements. On the morning of February 19, Makarios informed Selwyn Lloyd that he would sign the agreements. The signing ceremony took place at the Lancaster House, without any objections.
“We are victorious”, but...
ON THE night of February 19, Makarios held a reception at the Claridges Hotel. When Makarios arrived, Karamanlis was surrounded by a group including E. Averoff, G. Seferis, A. Vlachos and D. Bitsios.
“We spread out so the Prime Minister could receive the Archbishop,” Averoff related. “Before any other pleasantry was exchanged, Makarios, smiling, said to Karamanlis:
“Prime Minister, did you imagine at any point that I would actually not sign?”
“Then why did you do all that to us?” Karamanlis asked.
“I had my reasons,” said Makarios, a satisfied smile on his face.”
Makarios went to those extremes in London, not because he hoped that he could in any way alter the agreements, but for the sake of appearances. He had wanted to be seen not as the one who accepted the compromised solution, which fell far short of the aim of Enosis, and did not even secure genuine independence, but as the one who was pressurised by everyone around him into signing it.
Karamanlis never forgave Makarios. “We assented together in Zurich, but he exited London’s Lancaster House an Ethnarch, and I was left looking like a sell-out,” he would say later.
Makarios returned to Cyprus as a liberator. Tens of thousands thronged the streets to give him a hero’s welcome with olive branches, and assembled in front of the Archbishopric to hear him give from its balcony an enthusiastic speech written by Kranidiotis:
“Centuries-long darkness already yields to the sweet light of day. And from the depths of distant history rises the immortal spirit of our ancestors, to spread everywhere the great message, ‘We are victorious’. Cyprus is today free. Brothers, rejoice!”
In truth, Makarios never believed in the Zurich agreements. “I am the one who signed those agreements on behalf of the Greeks of Cyprus [...] But not for a moment did I believe that the Agreements would be a permanent state of affairs,” he would later write to Greek Prime Minister G. Papandreou.
He treated the agreements as just one step along the way to self-determination, but he sought the way to his goal walking the brink of the abyss. During the whole of that route, many admired and lauded him for his courage, his persistence and his refusal to compromise. But when the fall came, nobody was there to lend a supporting hand.