ATHENS, Greece—Turkish military forces occupying the Northern third of the island of Cyprus killed a second Greek-Cypriot August 14. Solomos Solomou was part of a group of people who entered the buffer zone that divides the island. He was shot in cold blood while climbing up a flagpole to take down the Turkish flag.
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with a population of around 730,000, about one fifth Turkish. It won its independence from Britain in 1960. London, however, maintains two large bases, and along with the governments of Greece and Turkey, signed on as a “guarantor” of the new state. The Cypriot government began to play a role independent of its sponsors as part of the non-aligned movement. This came at a time of rising struggles of the oppressed in the region, as well as intense exploration for oil.
In 1974 the military dictatorship then running Greece organized a coup d’etat against the Makarios government in Cyprus with the aim of annexing the island. Five days after the coup the Turkish government dispatched an invading force that occupied the Northern third of the country on the pretext of defending the Turkish-Cypriot minority. A history of discrimination helped make this pretext stick. Some 200,000 Greek-Cypriots fled from the North and 30,000 Turkish-Cypriots were forced to leave from the South. The question of the ability of the refugees to return to their land and homes remains an open wound.
With 30,000 soldiers on the ground, the occupying forces set up a military state and declare the North independent in 1983, an entity presently recognized only by the Turkish government. Travel from North to South across the Green Line is prohibited. The buffer zone is guarded by 1,200 UN troops and cuts right through the capital city of Nicosia. Other forces occupying the island include 1,000 Greek officers in command posts in the Cypriot National Guard, and 3,000 British troops. All of these forces help maintain the division of the island.
Per capita income in the North is today one third of that of the South. Many Turkish-Cypriots have emigrated to Turkey or other countries in search of a better life. Meanwhile, an estimated 80,000 people from destitute regions of Turkey have been encouraged by Ankara to settle on the island. Thousands of Turkish day laborers illegally cross the Green line each day to work in Greek-Cypriot-owned factories, fields, and hotels, along with immigrants from throughout the Mideast, for cheap wages. Many of the “offshore companies” on the island represent Greek capitalist interests.
In early August several hundred motorcyclists, including dozens who were not Greek, left Berlin for Nicosia, in a ride with the stated aim of drawing international attention to the occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops. The event, whose goal was to cross the buffer zone, was organized in collaboration with the World Federation of Motorcyclists and encouraged by the Cypriot and Greek governments.
On the last day the Cypriot government canceled the permits. However, around 200 right-wingers waving Greek flags crossed into the buffer zone on August 11. The Cypriot police did little to enforce the ban, and the UN troops looked on.
The bikers wore T-shirts that said “Defeatism does not help our nation”—a slogan used by far right groups here. Meeting the incursion on the other side were hundreds of rightist thugs, many brought from Turkey, called the “Gray Wolves,” with iron bars and very large sticks. The Turkish army had left their side of the buffer zone open. With the Cypriot, Turkish, and UN forces standing aside, the two groups clashed, resulting in the death of one Greek-Cypriot, Tassos Isaak. It was after his funeral that the second killing occurred, this time a deliberate shooting by the Turkish occupying forces.
Thousands at the funeral of Solomou, whose body was draped in the Greek and not the Cypriot flag, sang the Greek national anthem. “The objective has been achieved,” said Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus at the memorial service. “To awaken the conscience of the world to the injustice that has been going on in Cyprus.”
A central theme of the flurry of statements by bourgeois politicians has been that Greeks and Turks cannot possibly live together. Greek defense minister Gerasimos Arsenis said the recent events illustrated the “unbridgeable gap” between barbarians and civilized peoples.”, The Cypriot daily, Simerini, identifying the Gray Wolves with Turks in general, declared that the “beating to death of a defenseless demonstrator… by a Turkish mob” has “awakened Greek-Cypriots to the need to demand their rights.”
Two days after the killing of Solomou, demonstrators outside the Turkish consulate in Komotini, a city of Northern Greece, went on a rampage against the Turkish minority that lives there, beating people and breaking shop windows.
“Strong armed forces,” said Greek prime minister Kostas Simitis on his way to Cyprus, “are a guarantee for our policy of peace, friendship and cooperation in the area.” In power for less than a year, Simitis has aimed to smooth relations with Balkan nations and increase Greek capitalist expansion there. As Simitis arrived in Cyprus prominent signs among the crowd read “Turks out of Cyprus” “Greek Troops Here and Now” and “Freedom or Death.” In the past year the governments of Greece and Cyprus signed a mutual defense pact.
“We won’t allow any violation of the border lines,” declared Turkish foreign Minister Tansu Ciller, making it clear that the Turkish rulers consider North Cyprus part of their territory. “Where we come from nobody lays a finger on the flag,” she said at rally in Cyprus August 15. If anyone dares that, we’ll break their hands, she added. Greek consulates around Turkey were targeted by right-wing demonstrators.
All major parties in Athens have rallied around the call for stronger armed forces. “Our main priority is to build up our defense,” declared Miltiades Evert, the head of the rightist New Democracy Party. “There must be no more lost land,” he said, referring to Greece's defeat in Asia Minor (Turkey) in the 1920's.
“Everyone, here in Athens and in Washington and Europe used to preclude up until now the possibility of a general confrontation between the two countries,” said Arsenis during a meeting with the military commanders right after the two killings. “Today nobody rules this possibility out any longer.”
The Greek rulers have seen this recent crisis as a opportunity to advance on the massive program of militarization to the tune of $12 billion in arms spending and their economic austerity plans. Early elections have been called for September 22 in Greece, taking advantage of the Cyprus events to strengthen the government's mandate.