Christopher Hitchens Criticism

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P. J. Vatikiotis (review date 8 October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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SOURCE: Vatikiotis, P. J. “An Island Divided.” New Republic (8 October 1984): 32–34.

[In the following review, Vatikiotis offers a generally favorable assessment of Cyprus, though disputes some of Hitchens's political and historical interpretations.]

On the tenth anniversary of the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus, Christopher Hitchens writes about the complexities and consequences of that episode with intense emotion [in Cyprus]. He also writes in anger about the undoing, or at least the partition, of the island republic. On the whole, he writes cogently and convincingly, albeit in parts with some exaggeration and over simplification.

Unlike Nancy Crawshaw's detailed study of “the Cyprus revolt,” published in 1978, Hitchens's book is a political essay, a somewhat personal and polemical tract. It sets out the author's reaction not only to the events on the island since 1955, but also to the policies of Greece, Turkey, Britain, and the United States, especially after 1964. His contention is straightforward: that the Colonels' regime in Athens (1967–74), in collusion with the United States, was determined to overthrow Archbishop Makarios as a prelude to the partition of Cyprus between Greece and Turkey.

A corollary contention of the author is that Britain, one of the three guarantor powers of Cyprus's independence, with a presence on Cyprus in its sovereign bases, deliberately failed to intervene in July-August 1974 (as it had the right and duty to do under the Zurich and London agreements of 1960) in order to forestall the Turkish invasion. Such failure, the author argues, was due to Britain's dependence on American policy; that in turn was formulated and conducted by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom Hitchens bitterly denounces as the source of evil, criticizing him for his disingenuous support of the Greek junta in Athens and for his parallel condoning of the Turkish invasion of the island.

Although Hitchens recognizes the endemic difficulty of ethnic and sectarian differences in Cyprus, he asserts that these did not constitute insurmountable problems for the young republic. They were simply exploited, blatantly and cruelly, by outside powers. He also accepts the weaknesses of the 1960 constitution, but does not quite come to grips with Makarios's lethargic attitude toward its amendment. Nor does he elaborate on Makarios's unwillingness to extend to the Turkish minority the kind of constitutional arrangement, that is, the guarantees, that would have afforded them a greater feeling of security.

Hitchens fails to give full weight to the fact that the constitution in practice consecrated ethnicity and sectarianism; both sides used it in order to promote the interests of their respective communities. In such circumstances the idea of a “Cypriot nation” was difficult to develop or to promote. The idea of an ethnarch—in Greek perceptions, the leader of the genos, i.e., the Greek Orthodox Greek community, but more generally the religious head of the ethnos, or nation, the identity of which is determined by religion, not by territory—as the head of a secular state and government was not an auspicious beginning, given the history of the island, and the historical relationship between Greeks and Turks, Greece and Turkey.

“The urgency of the battle against British rule,” Hitchens writes,

had put the Greek Cypriots in a position where the Orthodox Church, the Greek flag and the intoxicating slogans of Hellenism had shaped their liberation. … From the start, a strong element of vainglory was present; the boastful conviction that enosis [union with Greece] … was still attainable.

This is all true. Hitchens does not consider, however, the very complex and convoluted Greek notion of ethnos and genos to place these statements in proper perspective. Church leaders were always in favor of the genos (Hellenism), but more often than not opposed to the idea of an independent Greek nation-state, or ethnos-kratos. The latter detracted from...

(The entire section is 79,645 words.)