Cyprus: Mass protests rocks ruling class

ON 14 January an estimated 70,000 Turkish Cypriots – one-quarter of the northern Cypriot population – marched through divided Nicosia in support of a United Nations (UN) plan to re-unify the divided island.

Under the plan, which must be agreed by the end of February, the island would be governed under a Swiss-style federal system, with a weak central government, headed by a rotating presidency to represent Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.

However, the plan also involves the repatriation of the 40,000 Turkish troops stationed in the North, something the Turkish state is opposed to.

The demonstrators rounded on Rauf Denktash, the ageing authoritarian president of the ’Republic of North Cyprus’. (Only Turkey recognises this entity.) Denktash accuses the protesters of stabbing him in the back. He says that there isn’t enough trust between the two communities to live together again in the proposed new state.

Denktash has spent a lifetime waging a separatist struggle including the use of terrorist violence (see below). He is relying on the reactionary Turkish military to ensure division and keep him in power.

However, Turkey’s new political leader Recep Erdogan is keen to join the European Union (EU) in order to salvage Turkey’s faltering capitalist economy. He sees a settlement of the Cypriot national question as easing Turkish entry into the EU.

The North’s dependency on the collapsing Turkish economy is spelling disaster. Hence many of the 50,000 demonstrators sported EU flags. The workers of the impoverished and isolated north look with envy at the Greek Cypriot south that has secured EU entry.

The prospect of better employment prospects and EU economic subventions to re-establish the tourist industry is driving them to seek a negotiated settlement.

Already some 2,000 Turkish Cypriots have applied for Greek Cypriot passports. People with educational and professional qualifications are leaving in increasing numbers.

UN failure

Aside from the economic issues there are political and social questions that bringing Turkish Cypriots into conflict with their nationalist leaders. Many resent the "Turkification" of the North through immigration from Turkey, the changing of place names and the building of Mosques in a very secular community.

The failure of the workers’ organisations in the past, (in particular AKEL, the mass communist party) to champion workers’ unity and socialism in the struggle for self-determination (see below) enabled nationalists to divide the working class, with terrible consequences.

The United Nations, dominated by the imperialist powers, has a lamentable record on successfully resolving national conflicts; as the divided states of the former Yugoslavian republics show.

Nor has the UN provided economic reconstruction – witness the UN’s failure in East Timor or Afghanistan.

Capitalism is a system of exploitation for profit, not a charitable institution. Therefore, a lasting solution to the national question will be illusive. Indeed, a similar political arrangement to the UN’s plan today in Cyprus broke down in sectarian violence in the early 1960s.

A programme of jobs, decent wages, education and health care, etc can only be realised through a struggle against both the Greek and Turkish capitalist class.

And implicit in such a struggle is the building of a new, mass workers’ party to unite the island’s working class and end a generation of division. Such a movement would open the prospect of a democratic, socialist federation of Cyprus.

A divided island

ON 20 July 1974 the Turkish state launched a military invasion which partitioned the island of Cyprus. The invasion was prompted by a coup on 15 July 1974 by the National Guard, led by Greek Junta officers who wanted to incorporate Cyprus into Greece – a movement known as ’Enosis’.

In the 1950s EOKA, a fascist-terrorist group, attacked British targets (the island was a British colony from 1925-1960), Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots it considered traitors to the cause of Enosis. TMT, a rival armed Turkish Cypriot fascist organisation closely linked to the Turkish state, was formed and led by Rauf Denktash, now President of the so-called Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.

After Cyprus became a republic in 1960 there was a ruthless and bloody tit-for-tat campaign by EOKA and TMT. The United Nations was incapable of halting these atrocities.

The president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, grew increasingly at loggerheads with the military junta in Greece that had seized power in 1967 in the "Colonels’ coup". He wanted to purge the National Guard of Junta supporters but the officers staged a coup precipitating the Turkish invasion. (The invasion order was made by social-democrat prime minister Bulent Ecevit – who was trounced in last year’s Turkish elections.)

The Communist Party (AKEL) which had secured 42% of the vote in recent elections, instead of promoting a policy of working class unity and preparing the working class to resist the impending coup, simply tail-ended the weak liberal capitalist Makarios.

Thousands of Cypriots were killed and half the island’s population made refugees. The failure of the Junta’s adventure in Cyprus meant the end of the road for the Colonels’ seven-year rule in Greece, which ignominiously collapsed.

Since 1974 the dividing line between the island’s two communities – the Green Line – has been patrolled by UN ’peacekeepers’. In the north political freedoms have been suppressed. Left-wing journalists have been assassinated and those who speak out risk persecution.

In recent years there has been trade union action by teachers and a general strike by workers. Members of the CWI have helped organise a peace festival between 4,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots staged in ’no-man’s land’.

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January 2003