Andreas Constandinos, The Cyprus Crisis: Examining the Role of the British and American Governments During 1974, Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press. 2012. Pp. 407. 13 Illustrations, 3 maps. Paperback $174.98.
Undoubtedly, 1974 was a turning point for Cyprus. Much has already been said about this turbulent historical period whose effects on the country are apparent to this day. For example, Jan Asmussen’s Cyprus at War: Diplomacy and Conflict During the 1974 Crisis provided a very detailed account of the major events related to the Turkish invasion of the island, and Claude Nicolet, in his study, United States Policy Towards Cyprus, 1954-1974: Removing the Greek-Turkish Bone of Contention, focused more generally on American foreign policy towards Cyprus from the mid-1950s to the Turkish invasion of 1974. Andreas Constandinos’s current publication, The Cyprus Crisis: Examining the Role of the British and American Government’s During 1974, builds on such previous scholarly work but also attempts to move beyond them.
As has been well established, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus generated a wave of anti-American and anti-British sentiment among Greeks—both in Cyprus as well as in Greece. Many believed that the Turkish military operation would never have taken place had Washington and London not tolerated or given it their consent. According to this narrative, America was in a position to deter the Turkish invasion, as the United States had done a decade earlier, whereas the British should have actively (possibly even militarily) interfered in the crisis to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic, as they were obliged to do under the terms of the Treaty of Guarantee. Such assumptions led to the rise of numerous conspiracy theories, most of which were founded on the axiom that the Americans and British had plotted with the Turks to impose a de facto division of the country.
These conspiracy theories led Andreas Constandinos to write The Cyprus Crisis. His intention, as he himself puts it, was “to answer some of the questions and confirm and/or dispel some of the myths that have surrounded and plagued the history of Cyprus” (308), and indeed the author successfully does this. His effort, “to confirm and/or dispel the myths,” is not easily accomplished since the myths are deeply rooted in the minds of not only a large part of the lay public but also in the minds of scholars who write on the Cyprus question. Nevertheless, Constandinos manages to present a coherent and multifaceted analysis, one that dispels many of the myths. Unsatisfied with superficial explanations, Constandinos’s approach is more composite—one that examines the topic holistically and moves well beyond a simplistic, black and white argumentation to offer a more nuanced explanation of developments. This not withstanding, Constandinos’s book would benefit from a more thorough presentation of the various conspiracy theories in order to more accurately present their internal inconsistencies as well as the poor foundations on which they are based (e.g., the allegation of Dimitrios Ioannides, the “invisible” dictator of Greece from November 1973 to July 1974, that Americans had promised they would not allow Turkey to invade Cyprus and occupy a part of the island and the false assumption that the Turkish invasion was orchestrated by Washington).
Another interesting feature of the book is the way the author highlights the impact of political personalities on the course of events. The role of Henry Kissinger and Jim Callaghan (the United States Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, respectively) is a striking case that is analyzed by Constandinos. While highlighting the impact of personalities is not entirely new since others have also focused on the influence of political leaders and decision makers (see, for example, Demetris Assos’s overview of Archbishop Makarios’s major role in the Cyprus question during the 1950s), Constandinos’s work differs as he focuses on multiple personalities, exploring the roles played by not only Henry Kissinger and Jim Callaghan but also Dimitrios Ioannides and Bülent Ecevit, for example.
That said, the main asset of Constandinos’s monograph is that it is based on a thorough examination of both primary and secondary sources. The author has reviewed numerous documents in various archival collections, both in the United States and Great Britain. While this is not entirely new of course, Constandinos uses the archival material well to develop and support his argument. The U.S. Department of State, the British Foreign Office Papers, as well as Richard Nixon’s presidential materials are probably the most important among the collections used, and Constandinos makes good use of these archives to describe in detail American and British policy towards the island. What is missing, however, is the same level of archival research in Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, where much of the material has not yet been declassified and remains unavailable to researchers. While this is unfortunate, it leaves room for future archival research in all three countries. Future scholarship may provide an even better understanding of the 1974 Cyprus developments.
In addition to the use of archival material, the author also utilizes published primary sources extensively, including the memoirs and diaries of key personalities directly associated with the Cyprus events, as well as American, British, Greek, Greek-Cypriot, Turkish, and German newspapers that serve as valuable sources of information. The use of such material is important because it provides readers with a more thorough understanding of political leaders and policy makers’ mindsets as well as an appreciation of the environment at the time the events took place. Yet another very interesting contribution is the personal interviews that Constandinos conducted with many of the protagonists involved in the Cyprus question (both before and during the 1974 Turkish invasion), including Glafkos Clerides and Rauf Denktash who represented Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, respectively, in the second phase of the August 1974 Geneva Conference. As one might guess, these personal interviews add substantially to the narrative by presenting the leaders’ perceptions and revealing a great deal about their way of thinking, their priorities, and their goals. Unfortunately, however, no Greek or Turkish leaders are interviewed. Had such interviews been included, the author would have further expanded the depth of his analysis.
Despite these shortcomings, using a wide variety of sources, Constandinos explains how American and British policy towards Cyprus—both before as well as during the 1974 crisis—was primarily founded on the desire of both countries to safeguard their governments’ perceived interests, contradicting the much-believed myths regarding the supposed intentions of Washington and London. Because the United States was concerned with safeguarding the unity of NATO above all else, American officials made every possible effort to avert a war between Greece and Turkey—one that would have led to the demise of NATO’s Southeastern flank. And while successful in averting a war between the two neighbors, the United States did not manage to prevent Greece’s withdrawal from NATO’s military command—a withdrawal that lasted from August 1974 to October 1980. On the other side of the Atlantic, the British government believed that it lacked the necessary power to take any decisive action in Cyprus during the summer of 1974—let alone confront the Turks. Indeed, its top priority appeared to be the need to avoid jeopardizing the status of its sovereign bases in Dhekelia and Akrotiri. Thus, like the Americans, the British were also working to safeguard their own interests. However, missing from this analysis is the extent to which Turkey’s political and military leadership made decisions based on the assumption that the British would only react if their strategic interests were harmed. Knowing to what extent this was the case would provide a better understanding of the real scope of the Turkish mindset as well as the limitations of Turkish policy. (For example, in August 1974 the Turkish army advanced to the borders of the base of Dhekelia, stopping short of violating the borders out of fear that the British would forcibly defend the base if necessary.)
To sum up, Constandinos’s book provides a thorough and interesting account of the events of 1974. It is well-balanced and well written, presenting the facts impartially. Indeed, The Cyprus Crisis: Examining the Role of the British and American Government’s During 1974 is a monograph that will prove valuable for any scholar interested in the Cyprus question, both from a historical as well as from a political point of view.
Antonis Klapsis is Assistant Professor of Diplomacy and International Organization in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Peloponnese. His research interests include the history of international relations, with an emphasis on Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. He is the co-editor (with Constantine Arvanitopoulos, Evanthis Hatzivassiliou and Effie G. H. Pedaliu) of The Greek Junta and the International System: A Case Study of Southern European Dictatorships, 1967-74 (published by Routledge in 2020).
Asmussen, Jan. 2008. Cyprus at War: Diplomacy and Conflict during the 1974 Crisis. London/New York: I.B. Tauris.
Assos, Demetris. 2020. Makarios: The Revolutionary Priest of Cyprus. London: I.B. Tauris.
Nicolet, Claude. 2001. United States Policy towards Cyprus, 1954-1974: Removing the Greek-Turkish Bone of Contention. Mannheim: Bibliopolis.