Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today ended a first visit by a Greek premier to Turkey in nearly half a century. The visit was high on symbolism but did not yield any agreements to end disputes that have pushed the two NATO members to the brink of war three times in the past four decades. Most important for Turkey today, however remains, the Cyprus situation.
The Greek population of western Anatolia and the Black Sea littoral (the Pontus) had numbered around two million on the eve of the First World War. Their communities were very ancient; they had been there for more than two thousand years, a fact to which magnificent edifices like the theatre at Ephesus bore witness. They continued to thrive in the modern world, as any visitor to the busy waterfront of Smyrna could see. Then in October 1915 the German military attache reported to Berlin that Enver wanted 'to solve the Greek problem during the war in the same way that he believes he solved the Armenian problem'. The process began in Thrace.
To the appalled George Horton later, who desperately tried to buy a few Greeks and Armenians safe passage with his own money, the destruction of Smyrna was 'but the closing act in a consistent programme of exterminating Christianity throughout the length and breadth of the old Byzantine Empire; the expatriation of an ancient Christian civilization'. The idea persists that religion was the principal motivation for what happened. Yet the emergent Turkish republic was not an Islamic state; on the contrary, Kemal would later introduce the separation of religion and state and abort moves towards parliamentary democracy precisely in order to stop a nascent Islamist opposition from reversing this. In reality, what happened between 1915 and 1922 was more ethnic cleansing than holy war. As Horton himself noted bitterly: 'The problem of the minorities is here solved for all time.' The New York Times detected the sexual dimension of Turkish policy, reporting that 'the Turks frankly do not understand why they should not get rid of the Greeks and Armenians from their country and take their women into their harems if they are sufficiently good looking.' Kemal saw no need to massacre all the Greeks in Smyrna, though a substantial number of able-bodied men were marched inland, suffering assaults by Turkish villagers along the way. He merely gave the Greek government until October I to evacuate them all. By the end of 1923 more than 1.2 million Greeks and 100,000 Armenians had been forced from their ancestral homes. The Greeks responded in kind. In 1915 some 60 per cent of the population of Western Thrace had been Muslims and 29 per cent of the population of Macedonia. By 1924 the figures had plunged to 28 per cent and zero per cent, their places taken by Greeks.
The Armenian genocide, the massacres of the Pontic Greeks and the agreed 'exchanges' of Greek and Turkish populations after the sack of Smyrna illustrated with a terrible clarity the truth of the Archbishop of Aleppo's warning: when a multi-ethnic empire mutated into a nation state, the result could only be carnage. It was as if, for the sake of a spuriously modern uniformity, the basest instincts of ordinary men were unleashed in a kind of tribal bloodletting. There was certainly no meaningful economic rationale for what happened. Along the Anatolian coast it is still possible to find ruined villages whose inhabitants were forced to flee in 1922 but which were never subsequently reoccupied.
As British imperial power faded after World War II, and Cyprus moved toward self-rule, the island celebrated by visitors for its scenery, its lemons and oranges, and its Mediterranean way of life became known for conflict between its Greek and Turkish residents. This was the final and long-delayed struggle for power between Greeks and Turks in a former Ottoman territory.
Already during the 1950’s the slogan of the day for Greek Cypriots was enosis, or union with the Greek state.
In 1959 however, negotiations between Greece and Turkey in Zurich, was neither enosis nor partition, but an experiment in power-sharing between Greeks and Turks in an independent state created in 1960. Greeks elected the president, Archbishop Makarios, Turks the vice president, and the two communities divided up posts in the cabinet, civil service, and military according to quotas.
After myriad disputes, renewed fighting began on December 21, 1963, and intensified over the following days. Greek Cypriot fighters, led by Nikos Sampson, attacked Turkish Cypriots and expelled them from their homes in Omorphita, a Nicosia suburb. Neither community was swept off the island, but in many locales, civilians-most often Turks-fled their homes. On the other side of the ethnic divide, Greek Cypriots did not emerge unscathed. Where Turks moved in, they moved out, and the island became ever more clearly delineated into distinct Greek and Turkish zones.
Some of the Greek victims of the violence on Cyprus did not live on the island at all but far away in Istanbul. Demonstrations in Turkey soon devolved into anti-Greek riots, including a virtual pogrom on the night of September 6, 1955, with the massive destruction of Greek houses and businesses. In 1964 Istanbul's dwindling population of Greeks again suffered a backlash after violence on Cyprus: Turkey revoked the right, based on a 1930 convention, for some ten thousand Greeks not holding Turkish passports to remain in the country. By September 1965 more than six thousand Greeks, their property seized, had been deported.
The chief symbol of the new Cyprus was the so-called Green Line that divided the island's largest city, Nicosia. Named for the color of the pen used to draw a line on the city's map, the concept for the Green Line dated back to talks in late December 1963 at which British authorities tried to restore peace to Nicosia. Not a single wall as in Berlin but a mixed barrier of sandbags, emptied streets, blocked off houses, sides of buildings, barbed wire, and even oil drums, this neutral zone running through Nicosia and neighboring suburbs became a permanent landmark where United Nations peacekeepers separated Greek and Turkish Cypriot lines.
The end to the Cyprus crisis in 1964 briefly stemmed terror, but in 1967 a military coup in Greece, in which a group of colonels seized control of the Greek government, prompted a new round of violence. The campaign for enosis was now firmly identified with the Cypriot allies of the military junta in power in Greece. The colonels in Athens provided Greek Cypriots with a new chance to attack until November 1967 when Turkey threatened military intervention.
In 1971 a new breakaway wing of EOKA, dubbed EOKA-B was founded to targeted figures in the Cypriot government led by Archbishop Makarios. Makarios had grown more cautious and recognized that enosis might not be feasible, at least not under current conditions. Certainly it was not worth another war, or, as one Greek Cypriot government official said, "The idea of enosis is a feeling, it's nothing more than that. Everybody believes it cannot be achieved." In an open letter to the Greek president, Makarios accused Greece of seeking to abolish the state of Cyprus and supporting EOKA-B. (New York Times, July 16, 1974.)
A coup of July 15, 1974, dislodged Makarios, replacing him with Nikos Sampson, a stunning choice given Turkey's past record of threatening to intervene in Cyprus during times of crisis. Few, if any, other presidents could have so dismayed and angered Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. Sampson, a newspaper publisher, was best known for his killing of British soldiers during the uprising of the late 1950s and of Turkish Cypriots in 1963. Sampson was president for less than a week, just long enough to hold a press conference and see Turkey invade Cyprus. On July 20 Turkish forces landed on the island's north coast and pushed south toward Nicosia. Forced to concede that they could not defend Cyprus, the Greek government of the colonels now generals-collapsed.
Outside the initial Turkish zone of occupation, Greek Cypriot forces blockaded and carried out the ethnic cleansing of Turkish Cypriots. One EOKA-B fighter from the village of Argaki in northwestern Cyprus, recounting an attack on a neighboring Turkish village, told how he "just went berserk" after one of his comrades was shot. "I burst into a house. There were six or seven people inside and a child. I swung the machine-gun and mowed them down. All seven. Afterwards I noticed the child." Turkish Cypriots decided they could no longer live next to Greek Cypriots. Refugees crammed into towns and villages still under Turkish Cypriot control.
In August the balance of power on Cyprus shifted again, and so too did much of the island's population. Almost as soon as negotiations in Geneva collapsed on August 13, hundreds of Greeks, fearing a new Turkish attack, began to flee Nicosia. Sure enough, Turkish forces launched a second offensive on August 14 during which they quickly seized just under 40 percent of the island in a drive that culminated with the capture of Famagusta.Turkish victory brought the ethnic cleansing of many Greek Cypriots. When Turkish forces approached, Greeks fled. As investigators for a U.S. Senate subcommittee discovered, "People moved the instant they saw or thought the Turkish army was advancing towards their town or village. And they moved instantly .... " Fear was the chief cause of flight. "The stories of rough and sometimes brutal treatment of civilians by Turkish forces in Kyrenia, after the first phase of the invasion, had spread over the island like wildfire." In this state of terror it took only a rumor for civilians to flee. That was the case, for example, for the Greek Cypriots of Argaki. As one refugee explained, "We'd heard what the Turks had done before [during the July invasionn, how they'd dishonored women, raped, murdered.""4 These stories reinforced old images of Turks as enemies bent on Greek destruction. Then there was the bombing of the village to send Argaki's Greeks on their way. Some 150,000 to 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled northern Cyprus. Within days, between 30,000 and 40,000 crammed into a small town on the territory of the British Dhekelia base in southeastern Cyprus. Refugees lined the roads of southern Cyprus. As the U.S. Senate subcommittee study mission observed, "To drive along the roads of southern Cyprus, is to drive through an endless refugee camp." (New York Times, August 19, 1974.)
The mass flight triggered by the coup and the Turkish invasion of 1974 made Cyprus an island divided. The Green Line now extended out from Nicosia until it stretched for 112 miles across the entire island. This new internal boundary made Cyprus a Germany in the Mediterranean, long after the 1989 dismantling of the Berlin Wall, though in April 2003 the Green Line was finally opened to travel in the Turkish Cypriot north. To the south of the 112-milelong line lies the Cyprus of the Greeks, or what remains of the Republic of Cyprus; to the north is the Cyprus of the Turks, since 1983 a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that lacks international recognition.
Already in the 18th Century, there was a failed rebellion by the Greeks against their Turkish masters, but the movement for independence only really came about in the 19th Century. The traditional date for the start of the War of Independence is 25 March, 1821. On this day, Bishop Germanos of Patra raised a Greek flag at the Monastery of Ayia Lavra in the Peloponnese and called upon the Greeks to rise up against the Turks. This marked the beginning of the war, and there was plenty of fighting. The rebel peasants were ruthless, killing any Muslims they came across whether they were armed or not. Within a few weeks they had slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Muslims. The Turkish response was to blame it all on Patriarch Gregorios V. He was not only the leader of the Greek Church but also represented the nearest thing to a ruler of the Greeks. So they hanged him.
This was not enough to stop the fighting, though, and gradually, more and more of Greece came under control of the rebels. They were aided in this by the allied support of the British, French and Russians, who weren't officially at war with the Turks but were not far off it; they applied political pressure to try and force the Turks to give the Greeks their freedom.
In one bizarre incident, on 20 October, 1827, virtually the entire Turkish navy was stationed in Navarino Bay, a huge natural safe harbour on the west coast of the Peloponnese. The allied navy sailed into the bay in an effort to show the Turks what they would be up against should they go to war. There was no intention of attacking. But the Turks opened fire, and in the ensuing mayhem, the allies destroyed 58 of the 87 Turkish ships, with a loss of only a few ships of their own.
Eventually on 3 February, 1830, the London Protocol was signed in which the allies recognised Greece as an independent state. This meant that the Turks would have to fight the allies to pursue their claim to sovereignty over Greece.
Things were not plain sailing for the new country. The allies provided a Bavarian prince, Otto von Wittelsbach, as the first king of Greece. He initially set up court in Nafplio, but a year later moved to Athens, at the time reduced to a small farming village at the base of the Acropolis; with the arrival of the king, Athens became the capital and has never looked back since.
Not everyone liked the new king, and there were frequent risings against him. Otto resigned after about 30 years and was replaced by a Danish prince, William of Sonderburg-Gl¨¹cksburg, who became King George I. Relations with the 'allies' wasn't all roses either, as Europe was in turmoil. In the 1850s, the British and the French went to war with the Russians in the Crimea, and Greece supported the Russian side, leading to blockades on Greek ports.
By the time of the First World War, Greece had gained most of the territory it now possesses, with the exception of the Dodecanese Islands which were held by Italy. Greece supported the Austro-Hungarian / German alliance in the war and was occupied by the Allied forces. After the war, the Greeks decided it was time to get back some more land from the Turks. They went to war with them and lost.
The war ended with the Treaty of Lausanne which allowed an 'exchange of population'. Basically, the Turks rounded up everyone in Turkey who was of the Greek Orthodox religion and said that they were Greek; they were kicked out of their homes and shipped to Greece, arriving in Piraeus, the port of Athens. Here they lived in a giant shanty town, bringing much of Turkish culture with them, including the Turkish bouzouki, now the mainstay of Greek 'traditional' music. More than a million people from Turkey arrived in Piraeus, some having fled of their own choice.
At the same time, the Greeks decided that anybody of the Muslim religion couldn't possibly be Greek, so they must be Turkish. About 400,000 such people were thrown out of their homes and sent off to Turkey. Greece is littered with mosques which, without any Muslims to use them, have been converted into museums.
From 1924 - 1935, the Greeks also did without a king, declaring a republic, but they restored the king in 1935. But clashes between ultra-right-wing and ulta-left-wing groups led to much unrest. The king was hardly back on his throne when the prime minister, General Metaxas, carried out a coup d'¨¦tat and seized control, establishing a dictatorship.
Metaxas was in favour of siding with the British in World War II. On 28 October, 1940, when Italian dictator Mussolini demanded that Greece should allow Axis powers to occupy strategic defense locations within Greece, he refused; 28 October is still celebrated as a public holiday in Greece, known as Okhi Day (literally 'No Day'). As a consequence of the refusal, Italy invaded parts of Greece, and later Germany conquered the whole of the country. The king fled to Egypt.
Metaxas died suddenly during the war. After the war, the stage was set once again for clashes between the forces of the conservative Greek government and the communists. This degenerated into a bloody civil war which lasted until 1949. It is estimated that 100,000 people were killed and another 700,000 left homeless by this war. The final victory in the war was to the government forces.
In the late 1960s it looked as if the communists might be gaining popular support again. To combat this, in 1967, the US backed a group of colonels who seized power in a coup d'¨¦tat and ran the country as a fascist dictatorship, led by Colonel George Papadopoulos.
Democracy was restored in 1974 and the country adopted a new constitution which abolished the monarchy. Greece is officially now the 'Hellenic Republic'. It joined the European Community (now the European Union) in 1981, and adopted the Euro as currency in 2002.