The Municipalities Issue, continued


The Municipal Issue After Independence
The Republic thus came into being with the municipal issue still pending. The constitutional commission, having failed to produce an acceptable formula, had passed the responsibility of finding one and enforcing it on to the President and Vice-President. Article 173 is in the future tense. Separate municipalities shall be created—‘by the Turkish inhabitants thereof’.[25]  They were, for the time, being temporarily and partially covered by Foot’s legislation. The law was due to expire in December 1961.

Political developments during the Transition had done little to dilute the strong sense of national identity in each community. The British withdrawal was not enough to requite the frustrated political aspirations of the Greek Cypriots, which found an outlet in frequent cultural and political manifestations of Greekness. Although the agreements forbade activities promoting Enosis or partition, they had been designed to ensure that the Cypriots’ political rights as citizens derived from their communal allegiance and, indeed, to prohibit the already remote possibility of the emergence of any concept of Cypriot nationhood. Any step in that direction was perceived by Ankara to be a threat to her political hold on the island and was determinedly resisted. Perversely, the Turkish formula required the continuation of Greek manifestations as much as it required Turkish nationalist manifestations. These underlined the need for a partnership state (rather than a majority ruled state) as the only way of maintaining a balance which would not upset Greco-Turkish relations. Thus the patronising advice proffered from time to time by visiting dignitaries that the Greeks and Turks of Cyprus should learn to be Cypriots, was not only galling, but irrelevant as long as they, at the same time, insisted that no attempt should be made to revise the constitution. The Turkish Government had indicated during the Greco-Turkish talks at the beginning of 1959 that they did not intend the island to be fully independent. They envisaged it as being ‘neither Greek nor Cypriot but Turkish-Greek’.[26]

All municipal negotiations failed, over the first two years of the Republic, but as time went by, an important change of emphasis evolved so that, by the end of 1962, Makarios had persuaded not only Kutchuk but the British High Commissioner and the American Ambassador that municipal partition was impracticable and that municipal reunification was possible. Although in the autumn of 1960 Greek and Turkish municipal committees in all the towns were beavering away at the unenviable task of trying to delineate mutually acceptable boundaries, by December 1962, the negotiations, which nearly succeeded, were for municipal unification. It was chiefly this shift in emphasis which, in the end, made agreement impossible. How did it come about?
During the first two years, the international dimension of the municipal issue was obscured by the circumstances within the Turkish community on the island. The turbulence within that community at the end of the Transition caused Ankara, through its ambassador in Cyprus, Ermin Dirvana, to concentrate on exerting a moderating influence on the Turkish Cypriots. They hoped that by encouraging moderation, they would facilitate a settlement with the Greek Cypriots of the pending constitutional provisions and especially over municipal partition. The Turkish Cypriot partitionists, however, feared, as the months passed without the legal establishment of municipal partition, that integration of the two communities was reaching dangerous levels in terms of their political control over the Turkish Cypriots. They, therefore, took their own preventive measures. The impression was thus given both to the Greek Cypriots and to diplomatic observers that intransigence in intercommunal affairs was the result of Turkish Cypriot extremism, not backed by Ankara, and therefore transient. This widespread perception discouraged any serious diplomatic drive from emerging to resolve the issue. At the same time, it resulted in the Greek Cypriots considering the matter containable, and instilled in them a dangerous degree of complacency.

Domestic political pressures were always a negative factor, though not the deciding factor, in the municipal issue throughout the period. Whereas it had been the Greek mayors who had aborted two sets of municipal proposals during the Transition, Turkish Cypriot extremists, who had come to the fore after the coup in Turkey in May 1960, were the main obstructive factor until December 1962. It was the Turkish Cypriots themselves, not the Turkish Government, who, using veto rights, blocked the enactment of income tax legislation in February and December 1961 in an attempt to pressure the Greek Cypriots into speedy implementation of the pending intercommunal provisions. This move created a link between the municipal issue and the obstruction of income tax legislation which was to carry through until December 1963. It not only affected the efficient administration of the Republic but opened up a new debate on the desirability of the provision for separate majorities as stipulated in Article 78 of the constitution.[27]  By highlighting a flaw which enabled a handful of Turkish delegates to hold the state to ransom, the Turkish Cypriots devalued the constitution further in the eyes of the Greek Cypriots and detracted attention from the municipal provision which, in Zorlu’s words, was the one ‘the Turks cared about most’.[28]  Turkish tactics, while not dealing a body blow to the country’s economy, had created fiscal complications and thus provided a peg on which Makarios could hang his reluctance to fill the remaining positions in the civil service due according to Article 123, the creation of the Cyprus army and the separate municipalities, all of which required considerable funding.[29]  The Turkish action thus had the effect of delaying implementation of the pending articles, while it encouraged in the Archbishop a habit of ignoring or bypassing constitutional provisions which he did not perceive to be in the interest of the state. While tolerated through 1961, this attitude had, by 1962, begun to cause concern in Ankara as to his future intentions.

By the end of 1961, a new extraneous and distorting factor increasingly impressed itself into the domestic equation - - super-power rivalry. Although the London and Zurich Agreements had been welcomed as a means of retaining Cyprus for the West, the Republic was not specifically aligned, while the Americans had failed to prevent the legalisation of AKEL during the Transition. And although, in contrast to post 1963 perceptions, Makarios during the first three years of the Republic was considered by the Western powers the main bulwark against communism, they now feared the growing strength and efficiency of AKEL. This fear was compounded by the fact that the right wing tended to be riven with anti-Makarios factions resulting from the long-standing polarity between the Archbishop and the EOKA leader, George Grivas, and frustrated national and political ambitions. From the point of view of the municipal issue, the relevance of this attitude is that priority given to what the State Department described as ‘the more immediate problem’ of combating communism, on the grounds that intercommunal friction was containable as long as it did not have the support of the metropolitan governments, tended to put the intercommunal issue on a back burner.[30]  At the same time, the anti-communist drive that was launched in December 1961 inevitably encouraged extremism in internal communal politics. The trappings and ceremonial of Greek nationalism, the natural vehicle of the extreme right, were not conducive to the growth of intercommunal confidence and at the same time provided ammunition for the Turkish Cypriot partitionists. The communist threat that was being forced on the attention of the Cypriots lent an element of respectability to anti-communist activities and breathed new life into the ‘dialectic of intolerance’ nurtured during the nationalist struggles of the previous decade.[31] The ever-present possibility of intercommunal violence, now spiced with the equally divisive polarity between left and right, had led to the creation of rival paramilitary intracommunal gangs offering an alternative route to power. The existence of these armed bands not only encouraged extremist poses but eroded law and order.

In 1962 attempts to solve the municipal issue became further complicated in a number of ways. Perversely, one of these was the growing signs of commercial integration of the two communities in the towns. Turkish Cypriots were returning to Greek market places. Some Turkish municipal employees returned to their old jobs in the Greek municipalities. In Kyrenia all Turkish attempts to create a separate Turkish municipality were given up. The Turkish de facto municipal councils in all the towns were having difficulties in paying their employees and providing services. As a result of this trend, Vice-President Kutchuk had become more flexible on the issue and the Turkish Cypriot partitionists feared that he would agree to a solution short of geographical partition. On 20 March, Makarios had submitted proposals with a view to the reunification of municipalities, and it was the fear that he might succeed that resulted in a deliberate attempt to heighten tension both within and between the communities. A bomb exploded in the Bayaraktar mosque in Nicosia. Almost immediately afterwards, two communist-leaning Turkish Cypriot opposition leaders Ahmed Gurkan and Ayhan Hikmet, who advocated cooperation with the Greek Cypriots, were murdered. They had accused the Turkish leadership of planting the bomb themselves to prevent the municipal talks succeeding.

While in Ankara a flexibility on some of the pending issues disguised the underlying determination to ensure the retention of control of the Turkish Cypriot leadership over their municipalities at all costs, the political crisis in Athens and the resulting weakening of the Karamanlis government through 1962 tended to encourage a negative approach to the status quo within the Greek Cypriot community. Furthermore, Greek Cypriots were encouraged by its anti-Zurich rhetoric, to believe that a Centre Union government, which might soon come to power, would support a radical Greek Cypriot effort to modify the constitution. There was increasing domestic pressure on Makarios, therefore, to resist separatism.

The combination of failed negotiations, the anti-communist leanings of all the guarantor powers and the commercial reintegration of the two communities encouraged Makarios to consider a policy which would combine containment of communist power in the towns with reducing opposition by Greek Cypriot nationalists to a compromise on the municipal issue. He was planning, on the expiry of the temporary municipal bill on 30 December 1962, to appoint committees ‘composed entirely of rightists’ to replace the existing councils in the five main towns.[32] The three communist mayors of Limassol, Larnaca and Famagusta would thus be removed, depriving AKEL of a significant foothold in urban politics. If the Turks could be accommodated within this framework by the provision of very generous funds and autonomy in their allocation, the issue would be resolved. If not, the Greeks would proceed unilaterally. The Archbishop was encouraged by the flexibility of the Turkish Government during his visit to Turkey in November 1962 to believe that, given disapproval by Ankara of the Turkish Cypriot extremists and of communists, agreement with the Turks on this basis might be possible. Moreover, as he told the American ambassador on 5 December 1962, ‘he and Kutchuk had a meeting of minds on the municipal issue and that he now had more hope for agreement than at any time for months’.[33]

In December 1962, all the parties concerned sought, and nearly achieved a solution to the taxation and municipal provisions. Negotiations on taxation legislation had stalled, on the brink of agreement, over the difference between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots as to whether to make the agreed modification by special protocol or by amendment of the constitution. Greek Cypriot insistence on constitutional amendment on this issue suggests as that they were as anxious to create a precedent for constitutional change as the Turks were to prevent it. However, on the municipal issue, there is no indication that Makarios was seeking a breakdown. On the contrary, he seemed confident of success. He also expressed the belief that ‘if the extreme Turkish Cypriots balked, he might be able to bring pressure on them through President Gursel’, the President of Turkey.[34] The taxation negotiations were set aside on 15 December, in a bid to reach intercommunal agreement on the municipalities before the temporary municipal law expired—for the eighth time—on 30 December. Makarios was clearly expecting the issue finally to be resolved.

It was at these negotiations that Kutchuk agreed that geographical partition was impracticable. He admitted as much afterwards to the British High Commissioner, Arthur Clark.[35]  A joint communiqué issued at the end of the meeting stated that ‘common ground had been found for eventual agreement on the subject’.[36]  Banner headlines in the local press on Chrismas Day announced a ‘Breakthrough in Municipal Talks’.[37]  The hopeful atmosphere engendered on Chistmas Eve disintegrated on 26 December when, at the next meeting, the Turks reversed their position. Both Clark and the Americans believed that the reversal of the Turkish position had come after long meetings with Mahzar Ozgol, the new Turkish Ambassador.[38]

By preventing Kutchuk from accepting the Greek Cypriot proposals as a basis for a solution, Ankara had intervened to prevent dilution of the control of the Turkish Cypriot leadership over their community, and not, as the Archbishop had expected, for greater Turkish Cypriot flexibility on the municipal issue. The Turkish willingness to be flexible on the tax issue in order to achieve municipal partition and their apparent acceptance that municipal partition need not be permanent had led to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings regarding the Turkish Government and the Archbishop’s approach to the issue were laid bare by the failure of the municipal talks in December 1962. The unmasking of the international dimension of the municipal issue was to result, through 1963, in Greek Cypriot determination to internalise it. In this sense, it became a measure of the new Republic’s sovereignty. Therefore taking a firm hand, which would ingratiate him to some of his more militant ministers, Makarios brought things to a head by announcing that the partition of municipalities was unworkable and he saw no reason for prolonging the de facto situation further. The Greek delegates in the House of Representatives subsequently voted unanimously against the extension of temporary legalisation, in spite of Turkish pleading for more time. The municipalities were thus left, at the end of 1962, with no legal cover at all. The scene was set for the final stage of efforts to resolve the municipal issue. Ankara’s disapproval of extremist measures had encouraged the Greek Cypriots to believe they had found an unexpected ally in their efforts to resolve the municipal issue. However, Ankara’s flexibility on the issue would not go as far as to allow the loss of communal control over local government. Unified municipalities were a solution to which the Turkish Government were obliged, by 1963, to pay lip service as an ultimately more practical solution, but they would never contemplate it seriously.

The early months of 1963 witnessed a concerted effort by all sides to reach a settlement of the municipal issue. This also ended in failure. Just as the motivation for the Turkish attempt to establish separate municipalities in law from 1957 onwards was not parochial or related in any substantial way to dissatisfaction with municipal services, the failure to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement, or even, in the last resort, to agree to a temporary arrangement for municipal partition, lay not in concern about the future of municipal administration but in differences in perceptions about the way the island as a whole should be governed, and directly related to that, were differences over the limitations on the sovereignty over the new Republic.

Makarios had, in a sense, lost the moral high ground by taking the foolhardy step of appointing Development Boards of dubious legality to run the five main towns without the agreement of the Turkish Cypriots. These were, in effect, the appointed committees he had envisaged since the previous autumn, created unilaterally. However, the Development Boards did not interfere with the de facto Turkish municipalities, which continued to exist, covered by clearly unconstitutional legislation enacted by the Turkish Communal Chamber. Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriots also continued to deny access to the Greeks to the markets and other municipal and private property, they had seized during the riots in 1958. The Turkish Government’s reaction to the termination of the temporary municipal law and the creation of the new boards was to condemn both acts as a violation of the constitution and to challenge Greek Cypriot insistence that the municipal issue was a domestic affair. By insisting that, regardless of constitutionality, the municipal issue was domestic, the Archbishop was, by implication, asserting the right of the Government of Cyprus, and in this case the Greek Cypriots, to modify this and any other basic article of the constitution which they defined as being within the domestic sphere. Thus, confrontation over the way municipal affairs in the island should be organised had revealed the difference between the extent of independence intended by the Turkish interpretation of the settlement and the actual independence now being asserted by the Greek Cypriots. Makarios, however, frustrated by the Turkish attitude to the constitution and gratified by the contrasting welcome and respect he received internationally, now sought to create a truly independent Republic.

Municipal negotiations were carried out in an increasingly tense atmosphere both at an international and local level. While the Turkish Government stepped up threats to intervene unilaterally, if the constitution were in any way violated, they sought concerted guarantor power action to resolve the problem. The British Government, however, followed with relief by the Greeks, insisted that the municipal and other pending issues must be resolved at a local level. On 9 January 1963, Britain’s ambassador to Turkey, Sir Denis Allen, was asked to represent this British view officially to the Turkish Government. Their position on the constitutionality of reunifying municipalities as put to the Turks was as follows:

        We do not wish to take up a position on the details of the December 24 proposals but do not think that they are in   themselves unconstitutional. They are in accordance with Article 173(1).
        If, as seems generally agreed, geographical boundaries within municipalities are impracticable, some form of unified municipality with the necessary safeguards seems a sensible solution. [39]

On the ground, tension rose over the possibility that the Greek Cypriots might attempt to take over, by force of arms, municipal property and particularly the markets, currently held by the Turkish Cypriots. Makarios was under considerable pressure to take this action. If such control were gained and maintained, it would, in practice, entail the return to the traditional commercial and social interaction that had been severed in 1958. The Turkish Cypriots had emphasised to foreign diplomats that they would react violently to any attempt to oust them, and that such a move was, therefore, bound to lead to intercommunal strife. To make the point, another bomb exploded in the Bayraktar mosque, the day after the possibility of such intervention was put to the council of ministers. No intervention took place. Tensions eased after the Turkish Government, in the face of British resistance to internationalising the issue, resorted to the alternative of a Turkish Cypriot recourse to the constitutional court as to the legality of Makarios’s Improvement Boards. The Greek Cypriots counteracted with a recourse as to the legality of the Turkish Communal Chamber’s municipal legislation. The recourses had the effect of taking the heat out of the constitutionality debate and allowed the two communities the time to negotiate, since the hearings were not expected to take place until March 1963. It was expected that both actions would be found unconstitutional so there was some incentive to seek an alternative solution.

British efforts, both in Ankara and Nicosia, concentrated on encouraging a solution to the problem which they now believed to be the key to the viability of the settlement and provided ‘the only hope of establishing mutual trust and confidence between the two communities in Cyprus’.[40]  Since the Turks now acknowledged that unified municipalities should ultimately be established, the British believed the gap was bridgeable. Subsequent negotiations thus turned on the length of the transition period, that is how long separate municipalities should remain in place, before unification. The dilemma for the British through 1963, in fact, became, how to keep Ankara and Makarios negotiating at a local level. The Greek Cypriots had first indicated, when the Turkish Foreign Minister threatened unilateral action in January 1963, that such a step would result in a Greek Cypriot recourse to the United Nations. At the same time the Turks stressed that partition was the only acceptable alternative for them to the existing agreements. Fears through 1963, that these combustious threats would materialise, underpinned efforts to reach agreement at a local level. At the same time, while the diplomatic activity, the intercommunal dialogue and the legal recourses formed the various ways in which real attempts were being made on all sides to reach a mutually-acceptable formula for the municipalities, the Turkish Cypriot irregulars, mounting an armed guard around the central market in Nicosia represented the physical reality of de facto municipal partition and the tensions it could arouse because it involved control over territory once freely accessible to all Cypriots.

Between February and May 1963, the Turkish Government prevented agreement being reached between the two communities on the basis of two sets of proposals. Diplomatic pressure, exerted by all three guarantor powers, had resulted in working level talks between Glafkos Clerides, Minister of Justice and Rauf Denktash in March 1963. The two men agreed to a compromise according to which the existing municipalities under a coordinating committee would be recognised by new temporary legislation for a fixed transitional period, after which, given agreement between the President and Vice-President, separate municipalities would be abolished leaving the coordinating committee as the municipality of the whole town in each case. If no agreements could be reached, the decision would be left to the neutral (Canadian) President of the High Court. Makarios was prepared to accept these proposals and to agree to a joint announcement that the settlement was within the framework of the constitution. Ankara, however, drew back from a settlement that would deprive her of a veto on municipal reunification.[41]  Very similar proposals were submitted by the British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Clark, in May, the salient difference being a much longer transitional period for which the Turks were pressing. Makarios had accepted Clark’s proposals given a transition period of not more than two years. Considering that in January the Greek Cypriots were offering a three-month transition, this was a considerable concession. However, Arthur Clark describes how Kutchuk, ‘who had been in touch with Ankara, not only ran a mile but backwards, saying that he could not commit himself publicly to unification, far less a date’.[42]

However reasonable proposals appeared to be, they would never be accepted, even as an interim measure, by the Turkish Government, as long as they were based on a formula that would prevent permanent municipal partition. By winning the practical argument for unification, the Greek Cypriots had, in fact, made agreement more difficult. The Turkish Government had privately expressed a willingess to live indefinitely with the existing conditions in Cyprus, ‘however unpleasant they might be’, rather than allow the integration of the municipalities.[43]  Here again the municipal issue reflected the respective attitudes of the two sides in the broader Cyprus problem, which were based on Greek determination to achieve the unity and sovereignty of the state, while the Turks, fearing that unity and sovereignty might lead to the loss of their control over the status of the island, negotiated to curtail both. The tactics, like the fears and suspicions that gave rise to them, also reflect tactics used in attempts to overcome the chronic impasse that has characterised the broader Cyprus problem in subsequent years. Having established de facto separate local authorities in 1958, the Turkish Cypriots and Ankara sought to legalise the de facto situation through diplomacy and intercommunal talks. In the event of failure to legalise, they allowed consolidation of their position to take place while the negotiations proceeded. This formula, interspersed by bouts of Greek and Turkish nationalist violence, which tended to consolidate the Turkish position, whittled away, through the years, at the old interdependent social and economic relations of the two communities on which the unity of the state, at least partially, rested.

May 1963 marked the end of attempts to solve the municipal solution per se. After the collapse of the municipal negotiations and the failure of the Constituional Court rulings to ensure that municipal partition would be given legal cover, the Turkish Government could no longer depend on achieving their aims by negotiations alone.44 Fears that the Greek Cypriots might be successful in persuading international opinion to accept a unified state in Cyprus, in which the Turkish Cypriots would have minority status, led them to welcome and encourage circumstances which would introduce an indisputable reason for the need for geographical separation—Turkish Cypriot security. However, since the prevention of a Greco-Turkish war remained the main priority both for Athens and Ankara, the threatened Turkish invasion to partition the island which loomed in the aftermath of the constitutional crisis and intercommunal violence in December 1963, did not materialise. Neither the Greek nor the Turkish Governments were prepared to risk intervention. In both cases, the metropoles had been prepared to train the Cypriots to fight each other but drew back from the prospect of wider Greco-Turkish hostilities. Although Turkish military intervention was threatened regularly in the following years, Turkish policy, which once more concentrated on political leverage over the status of Cyprus, was directed by the principles that had dictated insistence on municipal partition since 1957. Local government was therefore a key aspect of the intercommunal negotiations that took place intermittently until 1974. By keeping the Turkish Cypriots, as far as possible, politically and geographically isolated from the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Government could, as long as the problem remained pending, rest assured that there would be no change in the status of the island. Furthermore, they could argue for a federal solution and thus maintain a political foothold on the island without disturbing Greco-Turkish relations.

The mutual significance of the relationship between the Turkish Government and the Turkish Cypriots is nowhere more apparent than in the interaction that took place between Nicosia and Ankara over the municipal issue. Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots had introduced the municipal issue into the political scene in 1957 in a wave of extreme Turkish nationalism created to counteract the militant Greek Cypriot campaign for Enosis in the event of a British withdrawal. Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots succeeded in transforming the municipalities from the Enosist platform they had become in previous years into the Trojan Horse of separatism. In contrast, the relationship between the Greek Cypriots and Athens, which, in view of the domestic and international problems created for the Greek Government by the Enosis cause, had always been difficult, were distinctly cool during these years. The municipal issue was essentially a struggle between the Greek Cypriots and Turkey. Athens involvement was restricted to urging the Greek Cypriots towards greater moderation and patience. The less consistent British role tended to be a negative factor both before and after Independence.The impracticalities of municipal partition, the natural tendency of Greek and Turkish Cypriots to go about their daily commercial transactions with little concern for or interest in intercommunal politics, the absence of areas in which lines could be demarcated without leaving substantial numbers on the wrong side and especially the Greek Cypriot resistance to geographical separation, resulted in municipal partition being brought about violently in December 1963. The violent solution to a problem which was municipal only in name had been the consequence of broader regional considerations. After December 1963, the tenuous strands of intercommunal interaction which had survived were vulnerable to violence of any form on the island, whether between or within the communities. The inherent irredentism in both Greek and Turkish nationalism and the exploitation of it by broader interests had quickened the nascent insecurity of the preceding years. Violence could demarcate lines without prior agreement and ensure the onset of suspicion and fear that was the essential ingredient for ethnic cleansing. Here too the problem at municipal level was a taste of the violence that was to divide the island in 1974. It is ironic, and perhaps didactic, to reflect on the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the Turkish army’s occupation of the north of the island, one of the issues which immediately proved an obstacle to this move to create a self-sufficient Turkish controlled and administered area in northern Cyprus was, by its nature, a municipal issue. The newly-installed Nicosia sewerage system could not be divided and controlled by two geographically-divided municipalities in the town. However, because, even after1974, ignoring the political impasse, the Nicosia Sewerage Project focused on the practical rather than the political agenda, it became a model of post-conflict peacekeeping.

This article appeared in the Journal of Mediterranean Studies, published at the University of Malta, in 1998.  The article is derived from The Issue of Separate Municipalities and the Birth of the New Republic: Cyprus 1957–1963 (University of Minnesota Press, 2000).