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Cyprus: A Modern History I. B. Tauris Revised edition William Mallinson

31st January 2012 History Books 4 Comments

In the troubled island of Cyprus, the national interests and rivalries of Greece and Turkey still collide, the population remains divided between the Greek and Turkish communities and the country is still a cat’s paw of outside powers–especially the USA and the now resurgent Russia–as it has been since the acquisition of the island by Britain in 1878. These are problems that have been brought into sharp focus by Cyprus’s entry into the European Union.

William Mallinsons book is a fast-moving and incisive narrative history which portrays Cyprus as a continuing source of international tension in the Mediterranean and beyond.It features the latest source material from the recently released National Archive, vivid interviews with key players, even reports which raise awkward and embarrassing questions. His critical eye uncovers the underlying story of American and British involvement in the island’s affairs, first as a key territory in Cold War politics with its close proximity to the Middle East and Asia and now as a key asset in the “war on terror.”

“This is an extremely lively and controversial book. [William Mallinson's] views deserve to be read with respect and to be debated.”–Alan Sked, Senior Lecturer in International History, London School of Economics

“Mallinson’s is an important book that will be a great service to those who are interested in the Cyprus problem.”–Tam Dalyell, former Father of the House of Commons

“Offers students of contemporary Cypriot history an amenable reference tool.”–Constantine Buhayer, Anglo-Hellenic Review

“Mallinson, a former diplomat, a multi linguist, academic, author and journalist, brings considerable expertise to bear on his task.”–Robert Giddings, Tribune

“A work that is original, authenticated, witty and useful”–Cyprus Weekly

William Mallinson is a Lecturer at the Ionian University, Corfu, and Professor of Diplomatic History and head of the International Relations Department at New York College in Athens. He is a former diplomat and the author of Public Lies and Private Truths.

“This is an extremely lively and controversial book. [William Mallinson's] views deserve to be read with respect and to be debated.”–Alan Sked, Senior Lecturer in International History, London School of Economics

“Mallinson’s is an important book that will be a great service to those who are interested in the Cyprus problem.”–Tam Dalyell, former Father of the House of Commons

“Offers students of contemporary Cypriot history an amenable reference tool.”–Constantine Buhayer, Anglo-Hellenic Review

“Mallinson, a former diplomat, a multi linguist, academic, author and journalist, brings considerable expertise to bear on his task.”–Robert Giddings, Tribune

“A work that is original, authenticated, witty and useful”–Cyprus Weekly

Cyprus: A Modern History

  • 4 responses to "Cyprus: A Modern History I. B. Tauris Revised edition William Mallinson"

  • Jim Levitt
    14:45 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    For Cypriot readers Tabitha Morgan’s new study into British colonial rule in Cyprus might be disconcerting. As one would expect from a BBC correspondent, the book is engaging and well written, and clearly the product of a great deal of research. But Sweet and Bitter Island is very specifically about the British colonial experience in Cyprus. Indeed, as Morgan states in her introduction, it would be inappropriate for her, as a Briton, to try to define the Cypriot experience. While this might go against the tendency in postcolonial studies to emphasise the colonised rather than the colonisers, this book fills an important gap in our understanding of the period of British rule.

    That said, Sweet and Bitter Island is not an apology for British colonial life in Cyprus. Morgan is in fact astonishingly damning, not through crude polemic, but simply by describing the life and attitudes of the British between 1878 and 1960. As the English say, she gives them enough rope to hang themselves. Yet unlike many other studies on colonial rule, what emerges from this book is not a coherent policy of abasement of the locals by the colonisers, but repeated acts of profound stupidity which frequently shocked officials back in London.

    As Morgan shows, the problem with Cyprus was not that the British were desperate to keep hold of it. The problem was that for most of British rule they did not want the island. Consequently the amount of money spent on Cyprus, and the quality of administrator sent out here, was very low. In Morgan’s account we read of a succession of stupid, ignorant and downright unpleasant British High Commissioners, who seemed to place more weight on maintaining the niceties of social etiquette than taking action to alleviate the extreme poverty that plagued the island. This fuelled a social system that created one of the most extreme divisions between the rulers and the ruled anywhere in the British Empire, to such an extent the Colonial Office in London nicknamed Cyprus the `Colonel Blimp colony’, after David Low’s pompous cartoon character.

    As Morgan shows, however, the British relationship to Cyprus was complex from the outset, as it was recognised that the Greek Cypriot population were descended from an ancient Classical tradition the British revered greatly. Consequently whilst in almost all other colonies the British established schools where local children were taught in English, in Cyprus schools were allowed to teach in Greek. Although this has the appearance of being an uncharacteristically noble gesture by the British towards the local culture, the effect was to exclude many Greek Cypriots from joining the colonial civil service as they lacked the required skill in speaking English. Equally unforeseen was the effect this policy had on the rise of right-wing Greek nationalism, as most teaching materials had to be imported from Greece.

    Despite such repeated incompetence and prejudice on the part of the British, Morgan also shows that some good things did emerge from their rule. The first co-operative bank on the island was set up by the British to alleviate rural poverty, and the British also mobilised massive aid for Cypriots trapped on the wrong side of the lines when Britain and Turkey went to war in 1914. And while malaria was not eradicated by the British (that accolade belongs to a Cypriot named Mehmet Aziz) they did stop the locust swarms that devastated crops each year. But what emerges from this extremely readable book is that the colonial British lacked an ability to recognise when they were doing things well and when they were not. That lack of self-awareness was their undoing.

  • nedendir
    16:11 on January 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I was mildly intrigued by Andrekos Varnava’s `review’ of my book.

    There are four general points that Varnava appears to have ignored. First, that my book is based on archival research, backed by over 650 references. Second, he should surely know that there are so many books about Cyprus, that it is impossible to use all of them in any particular book, even if some are well researched and written, because many tend to contain similar information. Third, he seems to criticise my book for being `diplomatic in focus, neglecting Cyprus’ political, social and cultural past’. Yet the book is a diplomatic history, and books on diplomacy do not tend to concentrate on social and cultural matters. For this, Varnava needs to turn to an Encyclopaedia on Cyprus, or specialist books, of which there are also many. Fourth, Varnava says that because I apportion blame to the interests of foreign powers, I thus focus on the conspiracy theory. This assertion is crooked thinking and illogical: nowhere in the book do I even mention that the Cyprus problem is the result of conspiracy theory. Nor for that matter, do I attach much credence to conspiracy theory. Anti-conspiracy theorists such as Varnava often themselves conspire against the truth. In the case of Cyprus, those who ignore or play down facts excavated from archives are on fact themselves conspiring against reality. Varnava’s accusations are therefore fantastic, since all my views are based on archival revelations, of which Varnava appears blissfully ignorant.

    It is perhaps unfortunate that Varnava has spent years focusing on the `fallacy’ of Cyprus’ strategic importance being established upon the British occupation of 1878, since Cyprus’, Britain’s and other countries’ obsession with Cyprus’ location is certainly no fallacy. Or were Richard the Lionheart, Guy de Lusignan, the Venetians, the Ottomans and the British just playing tiddlywinks? Whatever the debate within the British establishment, Cyprus was undoubtedly obtained for strategic reasons, as a `place d’armes’ to watch over Anatolia and to try to keep the Russians out of the Eastern Mediterranean. Knowledge of the Congress of Berlin and the Cyprus Convention (not to mention A.J.P Taylor’s books, and a plethora of diplomatic papers released from the British National Archives), makes this abundantly clear, but not, apparently to Varnava.

    Varnava also refers to British `efforts’ to cede Cyprus to Greece after 1912. This is fantasy. Britain did not take up Venizelos’ offer of a naval base on Cephalonia in return for enosis. Britain’s sole interest, particularly when it offered Cyprus to Greece in 1915, was to bring Greece into World War One; because Greece joined Britain too late, the offer was withdrawn. Thus, Britain wished to hang on, just as it wishes to hang on to the bases today, on the US’s behalf, and prevent Cyprus from being substantively involved in EU defence structures.

    As regards the Bishop of Kition’s request that Cyprus be ceded to Greece, Varnava ought to have read my endnote, where I quote Robert Holland in stating that the episode has been “somewhat elaborated in the telling”. It has however been established beyond reasonable doubt that the Bishop referred to the union of the Ionian Islands to Greece.

    Varnava is also mistaken in his clear disdain for enosis, when he claims that enosis did not exist in Cyprus in 1821. This is bizarre, given that the Ottomans hanged Archbishop Kyprianos and several other bishops and laymen shortly after the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, and then indulged in a massacre. Thereafter, and despite the British being less brutal than the Ottoman Turks, enosis was clearly on the agenda, particularly from the 1890s, when the British Colonial Office began to discuss it in its correspondence (see Sources for the History of Cyprus, Vol. XI, edited by Reed Coughlan, Greece and Cyprus Research Centre, New York, 2004): Varnava’s knowledge of sources is clearly inadequate.

    Turning to Britain’s `desire to hold onto [sic] Cyprus’ sovereignty in the 1950s’, (how can you hold onto sovereignty of a non-sovereign area?) Varnava claims that Britain’s real motive was the positioning of nuclear weapons. If he had read the voluminous Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office Archives, he would realise that Britain’s obsession (mainly, but not exclusively harboured by the Ministry of Defence) was to hang on to Cyprus because of threats to British possessions elsewhere in the vicinity, particularly after the Suez débacle. The nuclear question (on which many of the most pertinent papers are still unavailable) is only a small part of the picture, not the picture, as Varnava claims.

    I do not share Varnava’s keen interest, bordering an obsession, with analysing EOKA and TMT, which are to be found in no less than 13 pages of my book. EOKA grew essentially out of frustration with the British government (see, for example, Stefanidis’ Isle of Discord), while TMT was the result of Turkish, British and US encouragement. Obviously, both were extremist organisations, in that they used violence.

    Most seriously, however, dangerously dilettante, even, is Varnava’ assertion that Georgadjis orchestrated the tragedy of 1963-64. Notwithstanding Georgadjis’ substantial involvement, it was the British who encouraged Archbishop Makarios to put forward his famous `Thirteen Points’ to amend the constitution. It was this, as my book makes clear (providing archival evidence) that lit the fuse.

    I also disagree fundamentally with Varnava in his assertion that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot both obtain justice. If his idea of a compromise is the Annan plan, then tant pis, since this plan allowed the thousands of illegal Turkish settlers to vote, deprived Cypriots of several rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, denied the right of return of thousands of Greek Cypriots, legalised the pressure of thousands of illegal settlers, permitted foreign interference in the affairs of Cyprus, enhanced Turkey’s `right’ to intervene militarily, obliged Cyprus and Greece to support Turkey’s EU application willy-nilly, and undermined the EU and ignored previous UN resolutions. Britain and the US’s private agenda of creating a weak and potentially failed state took precedence over the public one of a unified state.

    In short, Varnava’s review does not take into account the fact that Britain and the US fanned the darkest and most extreme flames of Cyprus. This is inexcusable, since even a first year student could see that it was Britain’s dividing tactics, together with the use of black propaganda that helped the extremists on both sides.

    In sum, Varnava’s own book, British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878 – 1915, needs to be taken with a sack of salt.

  • Jack Baker
    22:29 on February 3rd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I have read quite a few books re: the Cyprus issue and would have to say this is one of the more unbiased and factual books i have come across. It probably won’t be a hit with Greek readers as it states many of the facts which they choose to ignore of erase form their own accounts of Cyprioy History.
    its also quite up to date as it covers the events surrounding the failed referendum. thanks

  • PaulTheZombie
    23:38 on February 3rd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    A very interesting book which details the recent history of Cyprus and how still it is not permitted to become one again because of its strategic value to other countries. The turks should leave the North, compensate those they displaced and let Cyprus decide their own future!
    The argument about rejecting the application of Turkey to join the EU is valid and thought provoking. After all, Turkey is not a European country and while it allows a generation of Greek Cypriots to remain displaced and not compensated for the forced removal from their homes, the respect I once had for Turkey has now completly dissapated!

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