Enosis and Taksim

Imagine if, 40 years ago, Canada had invaded the northern half of Vermont and was holding the Green Mountain State in its iron grip with its unsurpassed military might.  There would be hard feelings, naturally, and there would likely be a constitutional amendment banning maple syrup in the US.

At the level of individual cities, however, it would be huge for, say, Rutland, a smallish, unromantic little city in southern Vermont, if Burlington were occupied territory.  Say our cruel Canadian overlords gave the residents of Burlington a couple of weeks to clear out, leaving their heavier Pottery Barn furniture and medical marijuana gardens behind.  They would become very polite refugees, forced to make fancy coffee drinks in other cities.  Suddenly, Rutland would see a massive construction boom, primarily in bed-and-breakfasts, as well as a huge increase in population.

Limassol is basically the Rutland of Cyprus.  After Turkey took over the northern third of the island, non-Turkish Cypriots living in that region largely moved out and relocated in other cities.  Limassol grew dramatically.

I alluded to this history in a previous post, but it’s a sufficiently big deal that it would be a poor discussion of Limassol that didn’t explain “enosis” and “taksim” – the two biggest competing political philosophies in Cyprus since at least the 1950s.

As I said before, this kind of thing goes back centuries.  In this case, you have to at least have a sense of Greek resistance to rule by the Ottoman Empire.  In Greece, armed resistance began in the 15th century.  The fight for independence went bonkers in the 19th century, and Cyprus got swept up in it at that point.  The huge event to come out of this happened in Nicosia, not Limassol, but that’s kind of a good thing, because it was an atrocity, not a bake-off or other pleasant memory.  The Ottomans didn’t like that Cypriots were supporting Greek independence, so they executed several local leaders, including prominent church leader Archbishop Kyrianos.  This was immortalized in a poem by one of Cyprus’ greatest poets, Vasilis Michaelides, entitled The 9th of July 1821 because, appropriately enough, that’s when it happened.  Wikipedia says that Michaelides died a penniless alcoholic in Limassol in 1917.  Also of interest: Archbishop Kyrianos also gets his own street in Limassol, and it’s, like, one up and two over from Richard & Berengaria’s.

While things went badly in Cyprus, Greece won its independence from the Ottomans.  With an independent Greek state out there, lots of nearby places with Greek majorities felt this stirring of “enosis”: unity with the Greek state.  Cyprus was no exception.  While it got stuck under Ottoman and, later, British rule, this dream of enosis was a major political force that morphed into armed resistance.

Though most of Cyprus’ population has traditionally been ethnically Greek, centuries of Turkish rule will leave you with some Turks.  From the Turkish perspective, it made more sense to try and split the island into ethnic regions – an idea known as taksim, “division.”  And that’s what they did in 1974, but of course, they didn’t do it through the kind of rational, consensus-based approach you’d like – they used military force and upset a lot of apple carts.  

What I find odd is that these extremes were the driving forces in Cypriot politics – not competing visions for “A United and Powerful Cyprus that Dominates the Eastern Mediterranean.”  But, again, it’s not like these ethnic grudges just materialized out of nowhere a couple of weeks before Presley played “Hound Dog” on the Ed Sullivan show – these things have deep roots.  And one small demonstration of the persistence of memory is that the city hall in Limassol is on Archbishop Kyrianos Street.

Published by Aaron McKeon

I'm a long-time bureaucrat. I write about the environment, land use, urban public policy, National Parks, and a hodgepodge of other subjects.

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