Armitage and Akel

In February 1953, after serving five years as governor, Wright retired, and Sir Robert Armitage, who had spent most of his career in Kenya and the Gold Coast, was named his successor. The Colonial Office sent Armitage to Cyprus without any clear directive, even omitting its desire for the introduction of a constitution.53 Instead, the new governor was concerned with maintaining order after the upcoming UN General Assembly’s decision on the Cyprus question. He claimed that the bishop of Kyrenia had ‘warned all youths to be ready to shed their blood’, citing India and Egypt as inspiration. Furthermore, Armitage argued that:

there is little doubt that fear (repeat fear) of the Church and of communism is widespread. Peasants fear damnation; shopkeepers fear boycott; industrialists fear strikes; professional men fear loss of clients; and all fear that there might be ostracism, the daubing of their houses if they question Enosis, and reprisals on their children at school.54

Armitage also reported a ‘possible threat of desperate men from Greece or the Greek Islands trying to do acts of sabotage and generally to catch us on the wrong foot’. Armitage’s first priority, therefore, was ‘to try and penetrate any sabotage movements that may be now being engineered in Cyprus’.55

The governor thus formulated a two-part strategy. First, he requested that the British Labour Party make a statement demonstrating their opposition to enosis., in order to quash any hope for a British government sympathetic to enosis after the next general election.56 Second, Armitage sought permission to implement

a policy designed to curb Communist activities here and to prevent the indoctrination of incipient Communists in centres behind the Iron Curtain and the free movement of extreme Communists, even with British passports, to meetings behind the Iron Curtain.57

W. A. Morris, the assistant secretary who replaced Bennett as head of the Colonial Office’s Mediterranean Department (1953-1957), found Armitage’s second request illogical, particularly as AKEL was potentially the only Greek-Cypriot party willing to cooperate with the government, while the nationalists were allegedly encouraging violence.58 However, what Morris failed to understand (or perhaps what Morris was trying to rise above) was the entrenched official belief that communist cooperation with the government would only facilitate communist infiltration, influence, domination, and thus victory.

Armitage’s anti-communist proposals, moreover, were not entirely for the benefit of Cyprus’s internal security. Anti-communism was also considered to be the key to preventing the inscription of the Cyprus question (i.e. the colony’s right to self-determination) onto the UN General Assembly’s agenda. By 1953, Britain had blocked applications from Cyprus, Greece, and Poland.

In September 1954, however, the Greek delegation finally succeeded, partly thanks to the US which abstained from the vote.59

The British UN delegation, in its campaign for support against the Greek motion, particularly regarding the US, decided that:

it would be particularly useful if we could insinuate that the issue of Enosis has been gradually exploited and blown up by the Communists, both in Cyprus and Greece, as a cold war gambit, until the Greek Government felt obliged to come forward themselves as its public champion.60

Despite India and the US abstaining, Britain’s diplomatic wrangling paid off, and on 16 December, with help from the Commonwealth delegates and Turkey, Britain defeated the Greek motion.61

 
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