Remembering the Legacy of Ambassador Rodger Davies: The Continued Search for a Solution in Cyprus

August 21, 2012

Since fighting erupted between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 1974, the area dividing Greek Cyprus from its Turkish counterpart, abandoned and left virtually untouched by human activity, has fallen within a buffer zone controlled by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). A peacekeeper studies an old poster in the buffer zone. Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo

On July 10, 1974, Ambassador Rodger Davies, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, presented his credentials in Nicosia. He arrived on the small island at a tumultuous time with the ambitious goal of fostering a fair, long-term peace agreement between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

Six weeks later, on August 19, 1974, Amb. Davies was assassinated. A sniper from 100 yards away shot him in the chest as he tried to keep his staff safe during a violent rally outside the embassy. The sniper was a member of the Greek Cypriot paramilitary group, EOKA-B, responsible for the coup d’état that overthrew the government just one month before.

Some thirty-eight years later, the same cultural and political tensions that led to the assassination of Amb. Davies, and prompted the arrival of Turkish peacekeeping troops continue to divide the island to the detriment of its people, its national security, its financial stability and its future economic opportunities. The history of this discord holds the key to reuniting the two faces of Cyprus and commencing a new era of peaceful co-existence.

1963 marked a pivotal year in the history of this dispute. Up until this point the Republic of Cyprus had been a peaceful partnership state with political power divided proportionally between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. However, the situation rapidly devolved when Greek Cypriot members of the government abolished the constitution’s articles that protected the governing rights of the Turkish Cypriots who were subsequently forced to withdraw from the government.

Since this time the Government of the Republic of Cyprus has remained the only internationally recognized authority in the bicommunal state.

Cyprus became further destabilized and in 1964 a UN Peacekeeping Force arrived to prevent further bloodshed and protect the Turkish Cypriots. Newspapers at the time, including the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor, documenting the plight of the Turkish Cypriot peoples reported that they were subjected to extreme violence. Amidst this disorder, the leader of the UN Peacekeeping Force, Major-General Peter Young, drew the island’s first “Green Line,” a demilitarized buffer zone. The Green Line divided the once open island into a northern Turkish Cyprus and a southern Greek Cyprus.

In 1974 Amb. Davies could not have foreseen that five days after his arrival in Cyprus the EOKA-B, would launch a bloody coup overthrowing President and Archbishop Makarios III and installing in his place the more hardline Nikos Sampson. Six weeks later, EOKA-B would strike again, this time taking the life of a revered international peacekeeper.

Over the past 30 years, the United Nations and various international partners have tried in vain to unite the island and create a long-term governing structure that protects the rights of both ethnic communities. In 2004, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a comprehensive plan to break the stalemate and facilitate a political partnership between the two communities.

The plan was finalized after dozens of meetings and summits with heads of state, diplomats, and international bodies.

When put to the Cypriot citizens for a vote, the Turkish Cypriot population voted “yes” and the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly voted against it.

Recent UN sponsored peace talks initiated in 2008 have not made much progress, essentially reaching a stalemate, hampered by the vote four years ago.

The Republic of Cyprus (Southern Cyprus) is now the President of the European Union. Yet, due to an embargo established by the Republic of Cyprus, the benefits of EU membership have not inured at all to the benefit of the people in the North, primarily because Greek Cypriots take the position that, for all intents and purposes, Northern Cyprus and its peoples do not exist.

On the anniversary of Amb. Davies assassination on August 19th, Turkish Cypriots remain steadfast in their support of a plan to unify the island. Right now Southern Cyprus has an unprecedented opportunity to encourage the Greek Cypriots to become active and willing participants in international unification negotiations.

Hope for the future of Cyprus, and an end to the longstanding conflict, will only be achieved through examination of the country’s history, and by remembering those such as Ambassador Davies, who wanted nothing more than for the country to succeed.

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  • Aaron Taylor

    Excellent analysis. I completely don’t remember the Ambassador’s assassination. I had the opportunity to travel to Cyprus some years ago and I unfortunately never had the opportunity to explore the island. Hopefully they sort their mess out.

  • sezanm

    For decades, Turkish Cypriots have tried tireleslly to come to an agreement with the Greek Cypriots. Kofi Annan’s 2004 proposal is the most recent example of Greek Cypriots’ refusal to reach any kind of compromise with the Turkish Cypriots. Unfortunately, there can not be a solution with out BOTH sides coming together. We can only hope that Ambassador Davies’ death was not in vain, and that the conflict between both sides is solved soon.

  • Adil

    Imagine how much we would have been hearing from various Congressmen in states like California, MAryland, New York, Michigan and Massachusetts if a U.S. Ambassador would have been assassinated not by a Greek, but by a Turk? Yet, amazingly, despite this assassination (and several others) by Greek terrorists, there are no sanction, no pressure, no word about the wrongdoings by the Greek side. IF they could assassinate a U.S. Ambassador – and get away with it – imagine what they were doing to the ethnic Turks in Cyprus in the years 1960-1974?

  • rabiao

    Unfortunately, the same mindset that led to the assassination of the Ambassador Davies continues to prevent the country from uniting to this day. It’s interesting how one-sided much of the media about this issue has been and it’s great to read an assessment from an objective and historical viewpoint. We need to remember what created the conflict in this country and understand the rights of both the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots if this issue is to be resolved. It is often considered the responsibility of the Turks to further indulge the demands of the Greek Cypriots and it is often forgotten the great effort and dedication Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have already shown in searching for a solution.

  • Zelda E.

    In order to move forward, one must analyze the past. The historical facts in Cyprus are often overlooked and the present problems are bypassed for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Denying the present tensions and unresolved problems is unjust to the legacy of Ambassador Davies, as well as those whose lives were sacrificed during the conflict. The reality is that the island is encompassed by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, for them this is the only place they have known to be home. Once this issue is viewed from an objective lens, one cannot deny the existence of Turkish Cypriots, and consequently their rights as a people. It is essential - and frankly overdue - for the global powers to accept the fact that Turkish Cypriots do exist. After accepting this reality, we can then take the next step in planning peaceful coexistence.

  • Altay

    The assassination of Ambassador Davies is simply not as well known as it should be. Greek and Turkish Cypriots must come together and accept the Island’s history. Only then can both communities move on and work towards a successful agreement for the future. I also believe the United States and the US State Dept. need to take a more active role in negotiations in Cyprus

  • CerenK

    We see the importance of understanding the history of any island/country here once again. It is always best to know what happened in the past and what can be done today to make the future better than the present. Anyones hope who know the history this article talks about is for the better of all the ethnic communities who live together.

  • ayhan

    Because Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots share such a tumultuous and interwoven history, it is only natural for them to have unresolved conflicts however the time to resolve them is way overdue. Finding a resolution and common ground is something that the Turkish Cypriots, singularly, have worked to achieve for a long time, most notably in 2004 with their strong support of Kofi Annan’s unification proposal in 2004 while the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly opposed it. Although Annan’s feasible and well thought out plan was rejected by Greek Cypriots, that same year the Greek Cypriot dominated Republic of Cyprus became a member of the EU without recognizing the existence of North Cyprus or Turkish Cypriots. Therefore it is important to remember that there are two sides to every story and I thank Mr. McCurdy for his historical and accurate account of the Cyprus issue and for bringing light to the current situation. I also applaud the late ambassador’s efforts to foster a fair and mutual agreement between the two Cyprus’s and hope that his legacy will eventually become fulfilled.

  • Cicek

    I applaud the article’s objective stance on an issue that continues to put Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the wrong. The death of Ambassador Davies should show that any resolution lies in a complete understanding of the history of the island and should take into consideration both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

  • Selen

    father was born a Turkish Cypriot and is an American citizen. Since my birth, we traveled in the summer
    every two years to visit our Cypriot relatives.
    I have seen the United Nations border and I have visited the Turkish
    Cypriot genocide museum. Both sides
    provide their own propaganda, but it is important to remember that because of
    the EU embargo and not recognizing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,
    these people have not only survived but thrived. Visitors from around the world spend their holidays
    there. The uncommercialized Northern
    part is seen as a treasure. We landed at
    the Larnaca airport one summer and enroute to catch our plane, were questioned
    and treated like terrorists. I saw this
    firsthand. Until the Turkish Republic
    of Northern Cyprus is recognized and treated as an equal with the Greek
    Cypriots, there will be no end to the longstanding conflict.