Johnny Harris, an independent American journalist and filmmaker, recently released his first video in a four-part series about the history of Cyprus, including the enduring legacy of British colonialism and the tragic impact of the Turkish invasion of the island.
In his first, half-hour installment, Harris visits the island nation of Cyprus and outlines the country’s complex and tragic history.
The journalist notes that, since ancient times, empires have fought for control of Cyprus due to its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Since antiquity, Harris argues, Cyprus has been passed like a prize from one ruling power to the next, from the Assyrians, to the Ottomans, and, most recently, the British.
British colonial forces used “divide and rule” tactic on Cyprus
Cyprus has been under some form of control by the British since 1878, and only won its independence in 1960, after brutal fighting and suppression by the British.
Harris notes that, throughout much of Cyprus’ history, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who arrived on the island when the Ottoman Empire took control of the island around 500 years ago, lived together largely peacefully.
While there were villages that were inhabited by mainly one ethnic group, there were many that were mixed, with both Greek and Turkish Cypriot inhabitants.
When the British took power, however, they used the distinct ethnic groups to their advantage, sowing discord between them for their own benefit, Harris argues.
British colonial officials stoked tensions between the Turkish Cypriot minority against the Greek Cypriot majority, as the Greek Cypriots headed the movement for independence from Britain.
The “divide and rule” tactic laid the groundwork for the years of tension between the two ethnic groups, which eventually contributed to the current state of division.
This strategy has been noted in other former British colonies or regions where the Empire exerted its control, such as India and Pakistan and Israel and Palestine.
Many Cypriots spoke both Greek and Turkish before the Turkish Invasion of 1974, when Turkish forces took control of the northern part of the island, killing countless people and causing the displacement of nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots.
The puppet government in the occupied north that was created as a result of the invasion, called the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” is only recognized by Turkey amongst all the other nations of the world.
In his journey to unravel the complicated history of Cyprus, Harris visited the ghost town of Famagusta (Ammoxostos in Greek) after receiving special permission from Turkish occupying forces.
The area, once a thriving resort town, was completely abandoned after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and has not yet reopened, despite threats to do so from Turkey and the TRNC.
He walked through the empty streets with Takis, a Greek Cypriot who was forced to abandon his life there. In a moving scene, the man, who found his home but was not allowed inside, called seeing the ghost town “a torture.”