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Cyprus Issues : Historical And Political Barriers

The Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots have been divided along linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. The Greek Cypriots speak Greek and identify with the status, Greek nation, Greek culture and the heritage of classical Greece and the Byzantine Empire. They put more emphasis on “the chosen traumas and glories” of the Greek nation. Almost all them are members of the Orthodox Church, which has had a great place on politics, education, and cultural arena of the Greek Cypriots. On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots speak Turkish and identify with the Turkish nation, Turkish culture, and the heritage of the Ottoman Empire. Virtually all of them are Muslims of the Sunni sect.

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One of the historical-structural barriers between two communities is the Ottoman millet administrative system on the basis of religion and ethnicity. According to this system, each religious ethnic group was treated as a distinct entity. They had a right on their administrative issues and they were carried out with the help of the various religious institutions. After the conquest of Cyprus by the Ottoman Empire in 1571, the autonomy of the Orthodox Church was confirmed and the archbishop was recognized as the religious and political leader of the Greek Cypriot community. As a result, the church became a symbol of political and ethnic unity for the Greek Cypriots and it helped them preserve their religious, ethnic, cultural and political identity. On the other hand, the millet system contributed to the polarization of ethnicity. When the British took control over Cyprus, the millet system was not completely abolished. Although a modern bureaucratic administration was established and two communities have introduced some modern concepts and processes to create a common identity - Cypriot identity - they still retained control over matters of religion, education, cultural, personal status, and communal institutions.

Another historical/structural factor is the two ethnic group’s conflicting views about the political past and future of the island. The Greek side perceived the past history of island embedded in its chosen trauma and glories. Throughout the British period, Enosis (union of Cyprus with Greece) has been the most persistent and rigid goal of the Greek Cypriots. It can be interpreted as part of a wider Panhellenic movement of Megali Idea (Great Idea) which aimed at reconstruction of the Byzantine Empire. The Greeks’ inability mourn the lost of Byzantine Empire and the transfer of this past trauma from one generation to next, combined with the irredentist nationalism of the nineteenth century, found its expression in the term of Enosis on Cyprus. The Megali Idea was result in one major war between Greece and Turkey in 1920-23 and the defeat of the Greece in Asia Minor. Also, it created the exchange of the population which includes 1 million Greeks and 650,000 Turks. This mass . migration also reinforced the perception of enemy image and the egoism of victimization, On the Turkish side, the idea of taksim (partition of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish sections) was introduced by Britain and Turkey as a counter force to Enosis. Both movements were supported by Greece and Turkey respectively. The conflicting goals of Enosis and taksim led to a political polarization between the two ethno-religion groups.

The British colonial policy that was based on “divide and rule” maintained and reinforced the ethnic, administrative, and political separation inherited from the Ottoman period. Unfortunately, the British administration made no effort to create a unifying Cypriot identity and political culture. The two communities were treated as separate groups for administrative purposes and antagonism between them was stirred. The maintenance of a psychological and administrative gap between the two ethnic groups was instrumental in — securing British control over Cyprus.

The political barrier of the Cyprus conflict was based on in fact the London and Zurich accords and the constitution. The agreements were signed on the behalf of the Cypriot people by Turkey, Greece and Great Britain. Also, the constitution that was the part of the accords was never submitted to a referendum and it was imposed by foreign powers. From the beginning, the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the island were limited by the station of military forces and the right to interfere its domestic affairs.

The ethnic dualism was institutionalized in all sectors of public life. A political framework conducive to ethnic separation was established. Although the Enosis and partition of the island was prohibited by the constitution, the alternative system did not promote integrative politics that cut across the political boundaries. This “paralysis state” reinforced and preserved the past practice of the ethnic and political cleavages through , institutionalization. Public institutions that may help to build a common identity and bureaucratic class promoted the ethnic interests. As a result, the system paralyzed most vital organs and functions essential for a state and a society. For example, the disproportional partition of the public service, the police, and the army, veto right in the government matters, and separate majority vote in the parliament intensified the ethnic controversies.

Physically, they lived in separate villages and in separate quarters of towns. In his study on the political geography of Cyprus, Richard Patrick has provided statistical evidence that indicates a substantial decline in the number of mixed villages containing both the Greek and Turks from 1881 to 1931. After 1931, the decrease of mixed settlement became even more eminent, reflecting at the very least the preference of people of both communities to live in areas where there, was ethnic kinship. According to the 1960 census, there were 114 mixed villages out of a total of 634 (395 were entirely Greek and 121 entirely Turkish.).

During the intercommunal conflicts in 1963, both communities accepted a truce that arranged a cease-fire line, now known as the “green line”, patrolled by British forces. With the deployment of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), this line became permanent borders between two communities. After 1974 intervention, a new border was formed in which both sides were physically separated from each other up until now. Interestingly, this line is called as the “Attila Line” that reminds both sides different chosen traumas and glories. For Greeks, Attila was a barbarian who invaded Rome and destroyed the Roman civilization that was the continuation of the Hellenistic culture. On the other hand, Attila is represented glory times for Turkic-Mongol period for Turks. From outside, they seem similar to in some extent, but still they still have “minor differences.”

The segregation of education that inherited from the Ottoman millet system and the British colonial era has reinforced and sustained the ethnic cleavage. During the British rule, the two communities had separate schools which were controlled by their respective religious institutions. In this period, Orthodox priests and Muslim clergies were also schoolteachers. Moreover, they virtually established dependent relations in educational area to their motherlands. The curricula and textbooks used in Cypriot elementary and high schools were mostly imported from the two mainlands.

As a result, they have focused on their religious, national, ethnic heritage and values and imported the long history of Greek- Turkish rivalry into the island. Because of the lack of the college and universities, both communities’ youths have gone other institutions in Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and other countries. This situation has created a lack communal interaction in educational and intellectual fields and reinforced one-sided ethnic way” of thinking among the two communities. For example, the first university in both sides of the island was established in 1992. The University of Cyprus has educated the Greek Cypriots since its establishment. The result was a growing gap in perceptions, attitudes, and conflict behaviours held by the two communities about each other.

The two communities also had their own newspapers and other publications which have mostly produced a media war between two sides. The local press in the island together with imported items from Greece and Turkey emphasizes Greek-Turkish antagonism and enhances mutual fears and stereotypical perceptions.

The above factors- church dominance, millet system, fragmented ethnic education, antagonistic national loyalties, political polarization and the British policy of ‘divide and rule’- contributed to the preservation of the ethnic identity of the two Cypriot communities and the generation of a political schism between them. Four centuries of geographic proximity and physical intermixing did not produce inter-communal co-existence and common Cypriot identity as a counter force the dividing effects of religious, administrative, educational, social, psychological, and cultural differences.

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