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I'm on my way home from Cyprus, and while I was there picked up and read two books which give considerable and vivid detail on two aspects of the island's recent history.

23) 30 Hot Days, by Mehmet Ali Birand

This book sports jacket endorsements by both Archbishop Makarios and Rauf Denktash, as well as the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers of 1974, attesting to its accuracy and neutrality. It is a very detailed, almost insider account, of decision-making in Ankara and to a lesser extent in Athens, over the period between 15 July, when the Greek junta overthrew Archbishop Makarios in a coup, and 14 August, when Turkey implemented the second stage of its military intervention. Birand clearly enjoys superb access to Turkish officials, and does a pretty good job with the Greeks as well. Jim Callaghan, British foreign secretary at the time, doesn't come out of it well, nipping out of meetings on the pretence of going to the toilet while actually phoning Henry Kissinger in Washington.

Birand's account is peculiarly thin in one surpising area: Cyprus itself. Apart from brief and enthusiastic details of the initial Turkish military operation, we get only second-hand reports of what else was going on on the island. It is also totally concentrated on the 30 days of the title, so the casual reader would have no idea why the Greek junta hated Makarios so much, or what happened after August 14. Apart from that, though, it's a good account of the parts of the story it looks at, and although Birand states at the outset that he thinks the Geneva conferences were doomed to failure, this isn't totally supported by his own account: it's clear that the Greek side did miss a chance to cut a deal.

24) Glafkos Clerides: the Path of a Country, by Niyazi Kızılyürek

A relatively minor figure in Birand's book, but a major figure in Greek Cypriot politics, Clerides was temporarily the acting Greek Cypriot president in Makarios' absence after the collapse of the 1974 coup, and was subsequently elected in his own right in 1993 and 1998, losing in 2003. He had also been the speaker of parliament and chief negotiator with the Turkish Cypriots at various times. His autobiography, My Deposition, has intimidated me with its size, so I was glad to acquire this book of interviews with Clerides by Turkish Cypriot academic Niyazi Kizilyurek, as a taster.

Again, I couldn't recommend the book to Cyprus novices; a great deal of background knowledge is assumed of the reader. Clerides' record is on the whole a good one - he got EU membership, he got closer to a solution than any previous leader, and he campaigned vigorously in favour of the Annan Plan in 1974. It is not completely positive: he excluded the Turkish Cypriot MPs when they tried to return to parliament in 1965, and he wasn't able to deliver a settlement despite having come so close more than once. He also ruthlessly disposed of his predecessor as President in the 1993 election by a tactical appeal to the right.

But the biographical detail is fascinating - the young Clerides, educated in London, an RAF prisoner of war, a lawyer for prisoners of the British in the 1950s, opposing his own father who stood against Makarios in the 1960 election, his memories of Makarios and Denktash who he worked with so closely (and the rather more lightweight Fazil Kuçuk who was Denktash's predecessor), and his involvement with ongoing peace efforts, hampered always by his eventual successor as president, Tassos Papadopoulos. The book ends on a pessimistic note, written as it was in 2005 and 2006 when prospects for a solution seemed more distant than ever before. I'm glad to say that things are looking up now.

Interestingly Kızılyürek's book sports only one endorsement on the back cover - from none other than Birand.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
frumiousb
Nov. 20th, 2008 10:03 am (UTC)
these sound great. I've read Bitter Lemons and this sounds like a nice counterpoint.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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