Three Monkeys Online

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Your Beatitude, Mr President – interviewing Makarios 1964.

Nicosia, Cyprus, 1964

I was not allowed to ask him any more than thirteen questions and these had to be submitted to his PR man for the President’s approval upon our arrival in Nicosia, before I had any real chance to assess the situation. I submitted fairly basic questions hoping to expand on them during the interview. We got on with making the film during the following weeks expecting a call from the Palace but there was none. Makarios was probably more concerned with the American, UN, and European opinions on the Cyprus situation and Canada was of minor concern to him. However, the situation changed immediately when Archbishop Makarios learnt that the film would be distributed by Columbia Pictures in theatres across Canada as well as shown on national television and that I had already interviewed the Turkish Vice President Dr. Fasil Kükük. Since we had finished filming and were departing the next day, we were summoned to attend the following morning.

Two comfortable armchairs had been placed in the Presidential gardens and the setting was most attractive, however, we quickly became aware of armed soldiers standing in the bushes, obscured from our view, but we could hear them clicking their guns – a necessary precaution, I suppose, since Makarios was always fearful of an assassination attempt (one was made some time after we had departed when the helicopter he was in was shot down. He was not injured apparently). The Archbishop swept into the gardens to be presented to us by his PR man who was so busy kissing Makarios’s ring that he nearly fell over himself. Makarios then placed my list of questions on the coffee table, held down by a stone against the slight wind and I could see, upside down, that he had penciled in his replies. He looked at me with a benign expression and I began.

Gilbert Will Cyprus ever be able to live peacefully without the United Nations on the island?

His eye contact was always slightly out-of-focus as he spoke in a fairly thickly accented English and licked his lips a lot as he expressed his spirit of cooperation with the United Nations efforts on the island. I didn’t believe a word he said as he gushed with enthusiasm over the UN mandate. He wanted complete control of the island with no political interference from Dr. Fazil Kúchúck, England or Turkey. I remembered his reputation for being totally ruthless.

Makarios: I deeply appreciate the presence of the United Nations in Cyprus and their contribution towards the pacification of Cyprus. It would be, however, unfortunate if Cyprus could not live peacefully without the presence of the United Nations Force. I hope that very soon the time will come for a peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem so that the presence of the United Nations Force in Cyprus may be unnecessary.

Gilbert: Does the presence of the UN Force really postpone the settlement of the Cyprus problem?

Makarios: I could not say that. I believe that it helps to a certain degree for the speedier solution of the problem rather than being a delaying factor.

Gilbert: If the UN Force in Cyprus is granted more authority on the island, will this be a good thing for both sides?

It depends upon the kind of powers and whether these powers do not conflict with the legal structure and authority of the Government. The United Nations Force in Cyprus is not here of course to replace the Government but to assist the Government to restore law and order. It would, however, be a good thing if the United Nations had more power to contribute more effectively in the task of the Government for restoration of law and order for bringing about normal conditions.

Do you think the Greek people of Cyprus still wish Enosis? [Editor’s note: Political movement for the Union of Cyprus with Greece – from the Greek word for union]

Makarios: Certainly, yes. This was always the desire of the people of Cyprus.

Gilbert: If Enosis does come how do you feel, sir, about not being a member of the Commonwealth?

I support the Commonwealth as an institution and as long as Cyprus is not united with Greece, we will continue to be a member of the Commonwealth family. The choice, however, between Enosis and Commonwealth is not a difficult one. I shall feel very happy when Cyprus is united with Greece which is our Motherland.

What is Cyprus’ future?

Makarios: We are aiming at attaining unfettered and unrestricted independence which will allow the people of Cyprus to decide its future in exercising the right of self-determination. And the future we envisage is Enosis with Greece. The solution of our problem would not be difficult had foreign interferences ceased. The Cyprus problem would easily and peacefully be solved between the Greeks and Turks of Cyprus, or through the United Nations and within the framework of its Charter.

Gilbert: What basic principles would have to be fulfilled should Cyprus proceed to Union with Greece?

Makarios: One is mainly the basic principle: No foreign bases in Cyprus.


What about the accusations in the Western press that the Turkish community was allegedly being oppressed?

Makarios: The accusations in question were a conducted campaign aiming at defaming the Cyprus Government. The Greeks of Cyprus lived in peace with the Turkish minority for many years in the past and they can do the same in the future if only foreign interferences cease. We have assurances for support from many countries not belonging to military groups. Their valuable support strengthens us in our determination not to yield to pressures and not to accept solutions of our problem contrary to the interests of the people of Cyprus and the internationally accepted democratic principles.

Gilbert: Your Beatitude, Mr. President. Enosis or no Enosis that is now the question. Fighting has ceased. The situation in Cyprus is static. The hour of politics has come. There exists a diplomatic plan to solve the Cyprus problem; the plan, that provides immediate Enosis, some sort of partition and a Turkish base. Do you think it is a good plan?

Makarios: The question is not Enosis or no Enosis, but a solution based on internationally accepted democratic principles. A solution within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations. The proposed Acheson plan is completely unacceptable because it really amounts to partition or tri-partition of the island under the umbrella of Enosis.

Gilbert: Mr. President, you are said to be an enemy of Enosis.

Makarios: My personal history points to the contrary. I have been and I am always for Enosis. But for an unadulterated Enosis, and not that which is provided in the Acheson plane, where Enosis appears in a very deceiving manner as a heading having no connection with the context of the plan.

Gilbert: You are accused of pursuing a policy which has as its end the expelling of the Turks.

Makarios: I am deeply grieved by this unfair treatment from various circles and a great part of the Western press. Both as a Christian and as a man, I have never contemplated expelling the Turks. I am always ready to discuss ways of fully safeguarding the rights of the Turkish minority with whom we have lived in harmony for many years in the past and with whom we also wish to live peacefully in the future.

If there is no diplomatic solution of the Cyprus problem in Geneva or in the UN what then is your government going to do? Will the last way be continuation of the civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots?

I continue to believe that reason will prevail over lunacy. If Turkey will try to impose a solution of the problem by war, this will constitute an act of lunacy the consequences of which will have grave repercussions on world peace.

Gilbert: Some political analysts say the Cyprus problem has become a Makarios problem. What do you say to this reproach?

Makarios: The criteria to a solution to the Cyprus problem is in the interest of my people. I have no personal interests or ambitions. In any case, what has been said that the problem of Cyprus is a problem Makarios, is true, in the sense that I enjoy the full confidence of the people of Cyprus and that my opinion on an eventual solution of the problem would carry a lot of weight.


The Archbishop stood up, all smiles, and I leapt up from my chair to shake his hand, rattling on with some small talk, hoping to draw him out into making some off-the-cuff comments. I had arranged with Red Lemieux, my cameraman, and Leo O’Donnel, the soundman, to keep the equipment running even though I had clearly called out “cut” indicating that the interview was over. The wily old fox just stood there smiling and nodding his head, fingering the cross around his neck with the picture of Jesus on it but said nothing. As the PR man again pushed between us in order to have another crack at kissing the holy ring, we turned away and started to pack up our equipment.

The Ledra Palace was full at that time with newsmen (no women) intent on reporting the current crisis to their papers. One evening I spoke with Morley Safer, of CBS News, surprised to learn that he was originally a Canadian from Toronto and to learn how he worked his assignment. He had hired a freelance cameraman from Bonn, named Boris, who would film various scenes, return to the hotel, discuss them with Morley who would then stand by a wall while Boris would film him making his comments on whatever Boris had managed to capture on film that day. For Morley there was no going onto the dangerous Green Line that divided the city, where guns were sticking out of shuttered windows pointing right at the vehicle you were in, or going into any dangerous situations to get his stories, Boris took the risks but the viewers wouldn’t know that.

Both ethnic groups moved against each other at night and shooting went on at regular intervals. The first Canadian UN troops on Cyprus in 1964, known by the acronym UNFICYP, was the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment (Van Doos) and the Reconnaissance Squadron, Royal Canadian Dragoons. We arrived in September just as they were leaving after their six months duty on the island. Replacing them was the 1st Battalion, Canadian Guards and the Reconnaissance Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). This involved a rotation of approximately 900 officers and men carried by RCAF Yukon Transport aircraft and took eight days to complete.

There were other nationalities there, small groups of Swedish, Finnish, Danish, and Irish, under the leadership of General Thimayya, from India. He was on the point of retiring and had the stressful job of trying to keep the peace, not only between the Greeks and Turkish Cypriots but also between the various UN personnel. I found him to be a very pleasant, scholarly gentleman, who enjoyed talking about the situation but how he would act in an all-out military skirmish left many doubts. We were to find out soon enough when the balloon went up and the media people were told there would be an emergency meeting at the Ledra Palace with General George Grivas. He was the mystery man who had worked with Makarios to drive the British out of Cyprus, killing many people in the process, striving for independence. He used many disguises, once as a nun, then a priest, and the British never caught him. During the 1964 crisis, four years after they had achieved independence, Grivas spent most of his time in Greece, working for Enosis between the two countries, leaving the day-to-day operations to Makarios. However, on this occasion he was in Nicosia when we were summoned. We got to the room and just had time to set up our camera when in he sailed. A short man, plain, balding and about sixty-five or so, I would guess. He spoke in English and announced that members of the Swedish contingent had been caught red-handed transporting firearms for the Turks and he had just returned by helicopter from the scene.

They had sequestered Swedish Major Olson, who was in charge of the Kokkina-Limnitis area and had with him two of his UN armoured vehicles with Swedish Lieutenants, drivers and machine-gunners. The Swedes had refused to submit to a check and threatened to make use of the weapons on the armoured cars but gave in when a bazooka was pointed at them. General Thimayya was summoned and he instructed the UNFICYP Military police to investigate the situation, collaborating with the Deputy Commander of the Cyprus Police, Savvas Antoniou. The three Swedish officers and men were arrested by the UN Police and the considerable arms and ammunition cache they had been transporting from Kokkina to Lefka was seized by the Greek Security forces. It was a black eye for the UN and the Swedish contingent. For them to smuggle arms for the Turks was stupid but it was an easy way to pick up extra money. It was felt the UN Scandinavian troops were spending their six months on the island getting a suntan in a warm climate and having a holiday.

When we first arrived in Nicosia I had been shown large blow-ups of slaughtered Greeks, people mutilated in their cars and bathtubs – not a pretty sight. Then the Turks took me to their side of the city to show me large photos of similar scenes of atrocities perpetrated on their people. I’d swear some of these photos were identical to both sides. The constant road blocks throughout the country where we were stopped, questioned and often searched, sometimes by teenagers with guns who poked them into the car windows at us, were a real pain especially in Nicosia, passing from the Greek sectors of the city into the Turkish sectors and vice versa. One night, after having had dinner in the charming town of Kyrenia in the north part of the island, held by the Turks, we passed through several tiresome roadblocks and as we neared our base at the Ledra Palace Hotel, in Nicosia, we were again stopped and questioned by the same people who had done it just a couple of hours before and we could see they remembered us but to no avail. There we were sitting in a UN car, with a UN captain who was driving and no equipment but being badgered all over again. No doubt aided by some wine at dinner, we finally took off driving at full speed slicing through piles of sandbags. Shots rang out as we flew along the road, all of us instinctively laughing to offset the tenseness, all except Leo, who quickly hit the floor in the back and saw no humour in the situation. He was right, of course, and the captain was on deck in the morning being reprimanded by his commanding officer.

Everybody knew that Makarios had cut off a number of Turk-Cypriot villages, trying to starve them out with an economic blockade. We were filming Turkish workers in the fields who were being protected by a contingent of Irish UN personnel when Makarios’s police arrived out of nowhere, checking up on us and the Irish UN. We saw the looks on the faces of the Turks who were obviously terrified and would no doubt have taken off had not the UN presence been there.

Meanwhile when Markarios offered small supplies of food to Turkish villages the people refused to accept food from Greek Cypriots and left it to rot on the outskirts of the village, thereby risking starvation. The word among the correspondents was that no tears would be shed by Makarios should a few Turks starve in the process.

Pressure was exerted on Makarios by U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations through his special representative in Cyprus, Galo Plaza, who said: “As you all know, over the last few days General Thimayya and I have been in consultation with the government, trying in every way to ease the economic restrictions that have been established after the Tylliria fighting. I called on Archbishop Makarios this morning and he informed me that he had sent a message to the Secretary-General, through the Cyprus Mission in New York, informing him that he was disposed to take several important steps for the lessening of tensions. I am not in a position to give you in detail what that message covered.”

Makarios began by lifting the food blockade on Kokkina, a village of some 1400 Turkish Cypriots. He left nine tons of supplies at the entrance to the village that would suffice for a few days until a Turkish ship could dock in Famagusta and unload a full cargo for this village and others. We went in with the UN vehicles and Finnish UN personnel.

We were allowed to visit both Greek and Turkish strongholds and we flew by UN helicopter up to the impressive Hilarion Castle, perched on the top of a mountain, held by the Turks but challenged by the Greeks, to film a sequence. Driving through the Troodos mountains we were stopped by a civilian roadblock and the guards, disregarding our official passes, had us turn out every piece of equipment from the station wagon, that they then pawed their way through until we stopped them trying to open cans of unexposed film stock. It got tense and ugly for a time but they finally let us pass and we chose a different route back to Nicosia.

On Saturday, September 19th, a UNFICYP patrol of the Canadian contingent reported that Turkish Cypriots were bringing up dump trucks and dumping loose earth to erect a protection wall across an un-named street in the Kasperian subsection in the north east Trakhonas area, near the Green Line, which could constitute a road block on a street which was to remain open. When the Turkish leader of the area refused to stop work on this, the UNFICYP commander ordered armoured personnel carriers to take up positions on either side of the embankment.
A group of about 15 women, with shovels and sticks, closed in on the soldiers guarding the vehicles. They refused to leave and a company section of men was brought to the scene. The arrival of the troops did not check the women who were now about 20 in number. The troops, with their weapons were able to ease the women back a few yards. As the situation threatened to get out of hand, the commander decided it would be preferable to withdraw rather than cause an incident that would endanger the safety of the women, and to pursue negotiations on the wall with the Turkish Cypriot police officials. Upon withdrawal, the troops were subjected to an intensive bombardment of stones and loose earth thrown at them by the women. Several of the troops were hit by flying stones and sticks. It doesn’t sound like much but these small skirmishes can quickly lead to larger, more dangerous encounters.

By 1969 when there was still no progress towards a settlement, the Canadian contingent was cut in half. In 1974, the Makarios government was overthrown by a military junta in Athens, heavily influenced by General Grivas – if not led by him – who was determined to establish Enosis between Cyprus and Greece. Grivas had turned against his old partner perhaps suspecting that Makarios didn’t really want Enosis and have to relinquish being President of Cyprus. The Presidential palace, once the home of the British High Commissioners of Cyprus and subsequently taken over by Makarios for his presidential headquarters, was destroyed. The charming building with its quietly understated inviting gardens was no more. The Turks responded by invading Cyprus, sending in 40,000 thousand tough troops, resulting in a great movement of refugees. The island was now divided.

The UNFICYP Canadians were told by the UN to do the best they could in coping with the situation and they distinguished themselves by rescuing women and children hostages and keeping vital areas, like the airport, as neutral zones. This resulted in a number of Canadian casualties and the contingent was doubled, but this time they were armed with heavier weapons as they patrolled the buffer zone along the entire length of the island. The result has been permanent tension, frequent outbursts of gunfire, and enormous stress for the blue-helmeted peacekeepers. The Canadians have sustained 27 deaths while on UNFICYP duty, most, but not all, in accidents. The total cost of keeping 6,500 UN troops in Cyprus has amounted to more than 2 billion dollars, costing over 100 million every year it continues. The Canadian government warned the UN in 1992 that it would consider withdrawing their 1,100 men and women from Cyprus unless there was a definite settlement – there is still no settlement. The bulk of the costs fall on the governments who send in troops and make their yearly financial contribution to the United Nations. Unfortunately, many countries do not pay up and the United States is the biggest non-contributor, owing billions of dollars.

In the event, the Cypriots’ problems have continued even until today some 42 years later. Makarios died of a heart attack on August 3rd 1977 at the age of 64. Grivas was never heard from again. The British still have a couple of air bases and a port on the island, at Larnaca, for strategic purposes in keeping an eye on the whole of the Mediterranean. Thriving tourism has long been re-established and the island looks prosperous. I wonder what Aphrodite would have thought, if she had risen again from the sea at Paphos and looked around. Everything pretty much in its place I shouldn’t wonder, even after an eternity of strife and turmoil, people have to get on with their lives.

Richard Gilbert’s documentary, You are Welcome, Sirs, to Cyprus, was released world-wide for television by the National Film Board of Canada in 1965 and as a theatrical release by Columbia Pictures.

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