Light shed on Cyprus events

The declassification of British government archives, in line with the country’s 30-year rule, have reignited a controversy over the role of Great Britain in Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, on July 20, 1974. The Turks invaded Cyprus five days after a coup organized by the military junta then ruling Greece and hardline Greek-Cypriot opponents of Archbishop Makarios, then Cypriot president. The coup plotters had envisaged Cyprus’s union with Greece, notwithstanding the fact that the treaty of Zurich, which established an independent Cypriot state, gave each of the three «guarantor powers» – Great Britain, Greece and Turkey – the right to intervene if the constitutional arrangements collapsed. Foreign Office documents show that Britain considered the option of sending in 12,000 troops to reinstate Makarios and depose the coup plotters’ government. The Labor government led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided against, saying that should it interfere, it would have a new northern Ireland on its hands, meaning that it feared that the Cypriot hardliners would resort to terrorist tactics against the British. Britain did not warn Turkey against invading and British officials at the time felt they could not prevent an invasion. Wilson warned then Turk PM Bulent Ecevit not to attack the Nicosia airport, guarded by Canadian and British peacekeepers. In one of the strangest twists, documents revealed that the British had asked the advice of deposed Greek King Constantine on what to do with Makarios; the former king had replied that perhaps Makarios ought to be elected archbishop of Athens, in order to keep him away from Cyprus. Cypriot politicians accused Britain on Saturday of playing a «negative» role in the events and of never having fulfilled its obligations as a guarantor.

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