Was Independence beneficial for Cyprus in 1960?

Within the overall scope of twentieth century history, issues surrounding Cyprus has not normally gained a lot of attention. What differentiates Cyprus from other historical events though is that it still has not been completely settled. Limitations on achieving peace on the island are usually identified as historical reasons and therefore make the history significant in a contemporary setting. The research essay looked to evaluate whether or not it was beneficial or detrimental to achieve Independence in 1960 from the British Administration it had previously belonged to. What may appear to be a simple ‘yes’ was not necessarily the case depending on the relation to different ethnicities. The essay looked at the effects on and the attitudes held by the Greek-Cypriot population, the Turkish-Cypriot population and the British in relation to whether Independence was a good thing. The birth of the Republic of Cyprus occurred from the Zurich-London Agreements in 1959 in which Greece, Turkey and Britain were the main players in drafting a Constitution for Cyprus.

The Greek-Cypriot Perspective

The Greek-Cypriot perspective came from one that had lived in Cyprus for thousands of years and had never once enjoyed self-determination due to the strategic location of Cyprus in the Mediterranean and small size and power to compete with larger empires. The Greek-Cypriot people were happy for the British Administration in the beginning from the Ottoman Empire as they believed the British would help them achieve Independence. The issue was however that Independence for Cyprus also consisted with a strong national and historical tie to Greece. This gave birth to the notion of enosis, a political union with Greece.

Independence should have bought advantages towards the Greek-Cypriots. However the Constitution from this perspective did not bring them the rights they deserved. It was an unfair Constitution that gave the Turkish-Cypriot population rights not demonstrative of their population ratio. The larger states such as Greece, Turkey and Britain from a Cypriot perspective used the island for their own gain and rivalries against one another. The historical accounts from Greek-Cypriot sources were very untrustworthy and resentful towards foreign powers. The Zurich-London Agreements are usually an example of how Cyprus was left out of matters concerning them. This directly meant other powers could undermine Cyprus such as Britain who were accused of a divide and rule strategy by inciting Turkish nationalist measures of ‘partition’. Indirectly it left unskilled political leaders in Cyprus without any influence on the population. The Church and militant groups could take advantage of this with their own nationalist ideologies.

The Turkish-Cypriot Perspective

The Turkish-Cypriot perspective could exist because of the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1571 and a number of Turkish people migrating to Cyprus and living with the Greek-Cypriots for 300 years. In evaluating the effect of Independence from this perspective is dependent on the time period after 1960 as to whether it was or was not beneficial. The Turkish-Cypriots did not like the British Administration, but they tolerated their rule of Cyprus as they believed it was the last buffer between a Greek-Cypriot/Greek takeover thus potentially infringing their rights. The Turkish-Cypriots fears enosis and wanted partition, which was a movement to physically separate the island and unite one side with Turkey.  

In the beginning the Constitution (from this perspective) was a fair and just governmental system as it managed to retain their rights despite being a minority population. It also stopped any kind of union with an outside state thus halting enosis which is what Turkish-Cypriots feared. However as time went on the Greek-Cypriots were unwilling to follow this fair Constitution and the system was too weak to maintain this Constitution effectively. Britain as well have some blame in the negatives surrounding Independence. During the London-Zurich Agreements, Britain signed as a mediator and guarantor of the island in various matters. After Independence was achieved, Britain took a backseat and stayed largely out of the future matters and therefore the Greek and Turkish populations of Cyprus were left to go head to head against each other and within themselves.

The British Perspective

A British Perspective towards Cyprus is a tricky one to evaluate as it isn’t as one-sided as the writing from Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In viewing Cyprus’ wellbeing as a result of decolonisation, it is generally believed that it was not beneficial. This is because Cyprus was left after Independence in a context that had never experienced governing themselves and in a climate of mistrust between the two largest ethnic populations. Cyprus gaining Independence for the wellbeing of Britain was beneficial however as issues prior to decolonisation had been troublesome and expensive in retaining control of the island in the face of militant uprisings against them.

Further reading

Crawshaw, N. The Cyprus Revolt (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1978)

Dodd, C. The History and Politics of the Cyprus Conflict, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Holland, R. Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus (Oxford, 1998)

Metin Hakki M. The Cyprus Issue: A Documentary History (London: IB Taurus, 2007)

Muftukler-Bac & Guney A. “The European Union and the Cyprus Problem 1961-2003”, Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 41 N. 2 (2005), pgs: 281-293

Richmond, O. “Decolonisation and Post-Independence Causes of Conflict-The Case of Cyprus”, Civil Wars Vol. 5 N. 3 (2002), pgs: 163-190

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One comment on “Was Independence beneficial for Cyprus in 1960?

  1. sarahellem says:

    Hi Matty,

    I can honestly say I know absolutely nothing about Cyrpus’ history! For someone that knows so little about this area of history, I found your post extremely helpful! You write really well and I enjoyed reading your work. I also think it is really great you chose a topic that is relevant to your own personal history – it must have been fascinating learning more about issues that have directly affected your extended family. I do have one question – what is the Zurich-London Agreement?
    Thanks for opening my mind to more than my usual American history passion!

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