Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Cyprus File" by James G. Pyrros – A Review

"A Catastrophe in Cyprus: The Summer of 1974 Isn't Over Yet"

by Dan Georgakas (originally published in The National Herald, online edition, September 4–10, 2010:10)

The Cyprus File is an engrossing chronicle of the anti-Makarios coup organized by the Greek junta that triggered the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It is the work of James G. Pyrros, then in the midst of a 20-year career as an aide to Democratic Congressman Lucien Nedzi of Michigan. While not in the policy level of government, Pyrros had an inside-the-beltway view of Washington’s reaction to the crisis. In addition to being a Congressional aide, he also had long been part of an informal group seeking to educate American politicians and mass media about the junta that had seized power in Greece in 1967. That involvement provided Pyrros with considerable insights into the agonies of the summer of 1974. The Cyprus File is not an academic study. It is a segment of a larger diary Pyrros began to write in 1943 after reading William Shirer’s best-selling Berlin Diary. Pyrros also wanted to write of events immediately as they occurred. This perspective became especially critical when, “...It came time for me to play a political role as participant and observer.” The resulting diary is exciting reading that accurately records the shocks, fears, and hopes generated by events as they unfolded not only day-to-day, but also hour-to-hour and even minute-to-minute. Although most readers will know the ultimate outcome of events, The Cyprus File is a page-turner in the very best sense of the word.

The diary pulls no punches in its account of who did what, when, and why. Pyrros’ assessments are drawn from private conversations, behind-the-scenes maneuvers, newspaper accounts, government dispatches, and other primary sources. The two great villains that emerge are Henry Kissinger, then America’s Secretary of State, and General Demetrios Ioannides, then leader of the Greek junta, who died recently. The two Greek politicians who emerge most positively are Archbishop Makarios and Constantine Karamanlis. But Pyrros writes at length of scores of political players in Washington. Some of these names will be immediately familiar to readers, others not.


Conspiracy theorists will be disheartened with Pyrros’ view that the US did not create the junta, instigate the coup against Makarios, or encourage the Turkish invasion, but simply acquiesced in them when they occurred. Pyrros considers this behavior a series of policy blunders that allowed the destructive plots of Ioannides and Turkish Premier Ecevit to unfold. Kissinger is identified as the source of most of the blundering. The essence of the Kissinger problem is that he preferred to deal with compliant authoritarian regimes rather than unruly democracies. This attitude was echoed by Ambassador Henry Tasca who opined of the junta: “This is the best government Greece has ever had.” Pyrros reports that during the first year and half of his appointment, Tasca never bothered to meet with civic leaders or dissident forces. Kissinger also believed that Turkey was far more important than Greece in American efforts to contain the power of the Soviet Union. He thought Turkish cooperation would be enhanced by the “double enosis” of Cyprus: part of the island uniting with Greece and part with Turkey. This attitude was further strengthened by Kissinger’s extreme hostility to the non-alignment foreign policy of Archbishop Makarios.

Pyrros praises the insights of ultra-conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak when they wrote: “The generals held tyrannical power so long because of Washington’s coddling .... working-level State Department officials who wanted to condemn Athens for the Cyprus plot after it occurred were overruled by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.” He also agrees with The New York Times evaluation of July 18, 1974, which criticized Kissinger as being “too late, too insensitive, too unheeding, too narrow, too wrong.”

One of the claims made by US officials would be that they did not know a coup against Makarios was imminent. This is preposterous. Pyrros reprints the lengthy letter Makarios sent to the junta that also was published by Apogevmatini an Athenian daily, on July 6. In that letter, Makarios requested the Greek government withdraw its 374 officers in Greece because they were cooperating with the junta-sponsored EOKA-B to violently unseat him. By making his letter public, Makarios was asking for American pressure to be applied to the junta. Pyrros also reports that the CIA was told by Ioannides of his plan to overthrow Makarios at least 10 days in advance of the opera- tion. The junta, greatly weakened by the uprising at the Polytechnic in 1973, believed it could retain the support of the restive army if it were able to engineer enosis with Cyprus. The leak made to the CIA was a trial balloon. Tasca would give different versions of America’s official reaction, but finally in 1975, he admitted the US had never expressed strong reservations about the plot against Makarios. This was tantamount to giving Ioannides a green light to proceed.


The coup launched on July 17 failed to kill Markarios as planned. Makarios obtained refuge with the British forces on Cyprus and soon appeared at the UN and Washington seeking support. Kissinger vetoed affirmation of support for Makarios and expressed possible backing of the junta-appointed George Sampson, now in nominal control of Cyprus. The British were incensed as they had already brought formal charges against Sampson for his earlier criminal behavior. International agreements gave Turkey the legal right to protect Turks in Cyprus in the event of any armed conflict. Ioannides was either too dense to understand the meaning of these rights or he thought the US would restrain Turkey. The first reaction in Washington was that the Turkish military was not capable of mounting a naval invasion. In fact, three days following the coup, the Turks used landing craft previously purchased from the US to land 30,000 troops on a beach-head in northern Cyprus. A month later, when the Turks launched a formal invasion against vastly outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces, Britain and other international parties voiced strong condemnation. The US, the only country with the power to halt the Turkish offensive, remained silent. Pyrros establishes the indifference of the United Sates by noting that despite Makarios’ open letter and the Ioannides leak to the CIA, at the time of the coup Ambassador Tasca was on vacation. Also on vacation were John Day, chief of the Greek desk in Washington, and Thomas Boyatt, chief of the Cyprus desk. Roger Davies, the new ambassador to Cyprus, had not yet presented his credentials. When the Greek government replacing the junta asked for Tasca to be recalled, he was replaced by Jack Kubisch, a Latin-Americanist without previous service in the Mediterranean or as an ambassador anywhere.

Following the Greek military’s ouster of the junta, Constantine Karamanlis was the only Greek leader acceptable to all. He had denounced the junta from its onset and had worked behind-the-scenes for its ouster. Earlier, Karamanlis had distinguished himself by retiring to Paris rather than participating in the cover-up of the murder of Gregory Lambrakis in 1963, an affair brought to interna- tional attention in 1969 by the film Z. Karamanlis also had the skills and trust needed to prevent a full war with Turkey that would likely result in the loss of Thrace. Only his skills and the prestige combined with the international respect for Makarios made it possible to contain the calamity at hand. Illustrative of the long-term consequences of American policy was that soon after his return to Greece, the strongly pro-American Karamanalis was dismayed and then embittered by Kissinger’s policies. Cokie Roberts of CBS radio publicly reported on this phenomenon at the time of the second Turkish offensive.

These overseas events are accurately and clearly presented by Pyrros, but the most original aspect of his work is how he weaves the reaction in various American power circles into his narrative. He comments repeatedly on the general American ignorance of its true national in- terests in the region, the emptiness of America’s mass media, and the general political apathy of the American public. He records the efforts he and his colleagues made to spur Congressional action and provide journalists with accurate information.


Pyrros believes that the Cyprus catastrophe was intimately linked to Washington’s acceptance of the Greek junta. No small factor in that response was that to a large degree, prominent Greek Americans, major Greek American institutions, and the Greek American public were mute about the junta or supported it. The diary is remarkably candid in this regard. Tasca, Pyrros notes, was on intimate terms with the pro-junta industrialist Thomas Pappas with whom he would meet three or four times a week. Pappas, in turn, is said to have influenced Nixon to choose Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Before Agnew’s disgraceful fall from high office, he would be feted by the junta on more than one occasion. Other American politicians, including Greek American Congressmen Gus Yatron and Peter Kyros, also would be feted by the junta. Pyrros, who worked for a Congressman intimately associated with powerful trade unions, laments that, “In the seven years of the Greek dictatorship, the AFL-CIO has been silent.” His own efforts to get unions activated once the Cyprus situation exploded bore little fruit. Pyrros states that even persons like then Congressman John Sarbanes, whom he greatly admired, had not taken a strong public position against the ruthless Ioannides when he took command of the junta in November that year. On the other hand, Peter Marudas, closely associated with Sarbanes, was a noted anti-junta activist. By and large, however, the Congressional opposition to the junta had been led by non-Greeks such as Congressmen Don Edwards, and Don Fraser.

Following the anti-Makarios coup and the Turkish invasions everything changed drastically. All the Greek American politicians (Sarbanes, Kyros, Yatron, John Brademas, and others) spoke out forcefully and worked with great vigor to change American foreign policy. What thrilled Pyrros the most, however, was the response of the Greek American public. Planners of a Washington demonstration had hoped as many as 2,000 Greek Americans would respond. They were joyous when 20,0000 Greeks Americans from all over the nation appeared. This spontaneous and passionate outpouring, which was able to positively influence American foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean for a number of years, was the political backbone for what came to be called the Greek lobby. Gene Rossides appears again and again in Pyrros’ narrative, first for his work against the junta, then for his active support of Makarios, and finally for his leading role in the creation of the Greek lobby. Pyrros also speaks highly of the work of non-Greeks such as Richard Moose and James Lowenstein, aides to Senator Fulbright. Like Rossides, they were key in trying to move the Senate and the House to positive actions. The other happy pages in the diary deal with the fall of the Greek junta. Pyrros wonderfully captures the euphoria felt by Greeks at home and in the Diaspora. Most of his colleagues in the anti-junta struggle were Greek-born. He had mixed emotions as each ultimately decided that it was time for them to go home. Once back, they continued to communicate with Pyrros, providing invaluable insights for his diary.

The uncompromising evaluations Pyrros offers are refreshing and unlike accounts that omit mention of objectionable behavior by persons that are otherwise admirable. For instance he writes that Archbishop Iakovos, perhaps due to his desire to be named Ecumenical Patriarch, was quite late in opposing the junta. Once committed, however, Iakovos is reported to have worked diligently behind the scenes to unseat the dictators. For instance, in August of 1973, he proposed that he, Brademas, and Sarbanes meet with Kissinger to “get something done” about the dictatorship. That meeting, however, never materialized. Andreas Papandreou is judged to be brilliant, charming, but unpredictable. Pyrros reports that at one time the CIA had thought Papandreou might be America’s best hope for Greece, but when Papandreou increasingly drifted to the left, they shifted their support to King Constantine. Pyrros thinks the monarchy might not have been abolished if Constantine had been active against the junta after his ouster from Greece. AHEPA is severely criticized for its general support of the junta and its extremely slow recognition of its misguided policies. When Senator Henry Jackson blasted the junta at the AHEPA biennial Congressional dinner in March, 1974, his address was met with silence. When then Vice-President Gerald Ford stressed the Truman Doctrine in his address without any mention of the junta, he was enthusiastically applauded. What makes The Cyprus File essential reading is that Pyrros has fearlessly recorded how the Greek American community, its politicians, its allies, and its organizations actually behaved in those now distant years. We learn the names of the reporters who did their work honestly and those who simply parroted the government line. We see how difficult it was for important newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times to recognize the errors in their reporting and editorializing. The Cyprus File also is a reminder that these events took place during the same time the Watergate scandal that culminated in Nixon’s resignation from the presidency was unfolding. American mass media seems incapable of seriously dealing with more than one important story at time; the Nixon news easily trumped news about Greece and Cyprus. Again and again, Pyrros notes that Greece and Cyprus are generally afterthoughts to American policy makers, who usually have little grasp of regional issues. Most journalists know even less.

One of the longer-term values of The Cyprus File is what it reveals about process. The mechanisms and attitudes evident in 1974 are largely unchanged. Mass media still doesn’t know much about the eastern Mediterranean, the U.S. still sees Turkey as its major re- gional partner, and not even the Greek American public is par- ticularly active. More broadly, Pyrros is telling us that even though perception often substitutes for reality, reality is independent of perception. In other words, American policy makers may chose to evaluate a dictatorship as they wish, but dictatorships will always behave ruthlessly and will always place their preservation above na- tional interest. Once overturned, their allies are not easily forgiven. Similarly, however American policy makers may chose to view the Turkish state, the reality is that ever since its founding that state has sought to reclaim at least part of Cyprus, various Mediterranean islands, and more territory in Europe. The political task of Greek Americans and Philhellenes is to bring the perceptions of policy makers into closer accord with reality. That task is no easier now than the challenges faced by Pyrros and his colleagues in 1974.

Photograph captions in the original:

1) The Cyprus Files documents the role of Greek American leading politicians at the time of the invasion by Turkey, how some were in support of the Colonels ruling Greece. Then [...] Congressman Paul Sarbanes was said to have been slow to protest, while Congressman John Brademas spoke out against the junta. Gene Rossides became one of the leading voices to save Cyprus. Then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger emerged as the chief villain, as was then U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, a favorite of the Colonels, who feted him.

2) During the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Turkish army arrested thousands of Greek-Cypriots. Some1619 persons were reported missing, with many reportedly taken to Adana, Turkey or detained on Cyprus. Many were said to have been seen in captivity alive and well, by others who were released later, but there’s been no word since.

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