The Day After Russia Attacks
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Two questions in which Greece has long been concerned have developed recently in a manner not at all in accord with her national aspirations. Cyprus, towards which Greece has cast longing eyes ever since she herself became an independent nation, was proclaimed a British Crown Colony on May 1, 1925. The annexation by Italy of Rhodes and the other islands of the Dodecanese has meanwhile been discussed in the Italian press in a manner to remove any idea that Italy might be considering ending her occupation, begun in 1912 as a professedly temporary and conditional measure; but no formal decree of annexation has yet been issued, despite the implications of a speech by Signor Mussolini in September a year ago, in which he declared 1924 notable as the year which had begun with an Italian Fiume, continued with an Italian Jubaland, and would end with an Italian Rhodes.
The term Dodecanese--meaning the "Twelve Islands," used rather loosely of a scattered group of islands along the eastern shores of the Aegean--was not often heard until it became associated with one of the acts of Italy in the Tripolitan War against
Turkey in 1911-12. But the names of many of the individual islands in the group are familiar, especially Rhodes, long an outpost of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and the site of the colossal statue of the Sun God which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and Patmos, the scene of the banishment of St. John, who there saw his heavenly vision. The other islands include Kasos, Karpathos, Kharki, Tilos, Symi, Nisyros, Astropalia, Kos, Kalymnos, Lipsos, and Leros, besides innumerable adjoining islets, mostly uninhabited. The whole population of the Dodecanese is not over 100,000, of whom less than a tenth are Turks, the rest being practically all Greeks. Even these figures do not show how completely Greek the islands are, as all but a few hundred of the Turkish population are found on the island of Rhodes, and even there they are outnumbered four to one by the Greeks. None of the islands are important economically, sponge fishing being the occupation of such of the inhabitants as are not content merely to raise enough produce for their scanty personal needs.
Italy occupied the Dodecanese "temporarily" in 1912 as a move in the war with Turkey, but agreed in the treaty of peace (which ceded Libya to Italy) to hand them back to Turkey as soon as the Turkish evacuation of Libya had taken place. The conclusion of the Turco-Italian war was followed immediately by the outbreak of the Balkan War, in which Greece occupied all the Greek islands remaining under Turkish sovereignty, but was prevented by the Italian occupation from seizing the Dodecanese. The outbreak of the Great War found Italy still in possession, and the islands were part of the grandiose rewards promised Italy by the secret Pact of London which brought her into the war. The natural unpopularity of the Italian occupation was accentuated by the inevitable hardships of war time, nor has Italian neglect of various local privileges enjoyed under the Turkish regime and restrictions on travel between the islands tended to diminish it. Article 122 of the abortive Treaty of Sèvres (August 10, 1920) gave Italy the Dodecanese and the detached island of Castellorizo, but a separate protocol signed by Tittoni and Venizelos promised that the islands (excluding Castellorizo) should be transferred to Greece in compensation for the latter's abandonment of certain other territorial claims. This separate agreement stipulated that the transfer should take place forthwith, except in the case of Rhodes, which, after a plebiscite, should go to Greece fifteen years after the (problematical) cession of Cyprus to Greece by Great Britain. Great Britain for a time protested against the continued Italian occupation. For example, in the House of Commons on February 25, 1924, the Prime Minister spoke as follows: "I find that in concluding with the Italian Government the agreement of April, 1920, regarding Jubaland, Lord Milner made a written reservation in the sense that this agreement could only become effective as part of the general settlement of all the issues raised at the Peace Conference. These issues, as the Italian Government have often been reminded, embrace the question of the Dodecanese, and the Italian Government have for their part recognized that the Treaty which they concluded with Greece on August 10, 1920, was the result of agreement between the Allies, and that the settlement of the Dodecanese question is not only the concern of Italy and Greece." ("Parliamentary Debates," Vol. 170, 1924, pp. 28-29.) Italy, however, considers that the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923) relieves her from carrying out her arrangement with Greece, and the tendency at Rome is to act as though Italian sovereignty were complete and final. Incidentally, a fortified Italian naval base has been constructed at Leros, and another is contemplated for Rhodes.
As far back as 1887 Sir Charles Dilke, in his extraordinarily well-informed book, "The Present Position of European Politics," said of the Greeks: "It is difficult to say whether they more dislike the Austrians or the Italians, and their latest fancy is to declare that not only does Italy covet the Albanian coast, but that she has fixed her view on Rhodes." Time has proved that the forebodings of the Greeks were not unfounded.
Cyprus, an island some 140 miles in length by about 40 miles at the widest point, lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, midway between the coast of Syria and the southern shores of Asia Minor. The descendants of its Greek and Phoenician settlers have known many masters. At the division of the empire of Alexander the Great, of which Cyprus had formed part, it fell to Egypt; in B.C. 58 it became a Roman province; and on the division of the Roman Empire it went with Byzantium. Richard Coeur de Lion conquered the island in 1191 and sold it to Guy de Lusignan, whose descendants ruled it until succeeded by Venice in 1489. The Turks took it from Venice in 1571 and held it for the next three centuries.
On June 4, 1878, Great Britain and Turkey signed what is known as the "Cyprus Convention," by which England was to be allowed to occupy Cyprus so long as Russia occupied the Transcaucasian provinces which she had taken from Turkey, and in return for a promise of aid in case Russia should attempt to extend her rule in Asia beyond the limits fixed by the treaty of peace signed by Russia and Turkey at Constantinople on January 27, 1878. Almost at once Cyprus was put under the British Colonial Office, but was always recognized officially as forming part of the Ottoman Empire. This anomalous situation continued until the outbreak of the Great War. On November 5, 1914, an Order in Council declared void the Turco-British convention of 1878 and proclaimed Cyprus's annexation. By the terms of this and other documents all Ottoman subjects resident in Cyprus on November 5, 1914, became subjects of Great Britain, except that any Ottoman subject who wished might retain his nationality provided he left the island within two months. Only a few persons took advantage of this latter provision.
The inhabitants of Cyprus, known usually as Cypriots, are mainly Greeks, and the language is a local dialect of Modern Greek. A census taken in 1921 showed the population to be 310,709, of whom only approximately one-fifth were Mohammedans (tantamount, for practical purposes, to defining them as Turks, though many of the so-called "Turks" in the Greek islands are often almost as Greek in blood as the "Greeks," being descended from converts), while the rest were almost all Orthodox Christians (i.e., Greeks). In November of that year some 3,000 Armenian refugees arrived in Cyprus from Mersina, and a few hundred Greek refugees from Asia Minor were received in 1922. But although the country is fertile and under-populated the British Government has refrained from allowing to settle there any part of the great horde of Greek refugees and exchanged Greeks who have all but swamped the cities and countryside of Greece proper. In view of the admitted inadequacy of the population of Cyprus ("its sparseness is one of the causes of the slow rate of progress," wrote the correspondent of the Near East, of London, on May 26 last), the exclusion of Greek refugees can only be accounted for by the unwillingness of the British Government further to increase the predominantly Greek character of the island.
The four-fifths of the population who are Greeks have never hidden their desire for union with Greece, and deputations have often visited London to plead their cause. The Turkish minority, however, naturally prefer to remain under Britain. The proclamation of Cyprus as a Crown Colony, which took place at Nicosia on May 1, 1925, was received with dismay by the Greek Cypriots, who realized that it placed still further beyond their reach the goal of their nationalistic aspirations. After the reading of the proclamation, which took place in the public square in the presence of the heads of governmental departments and detachments of British troops, the Greek Archbishop, Kyrillos, handed the High Commissioner a protest, addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, expressing the regret of the Greek population at this denial of their "ethnic rights." To this the Secretary of State for the Colonies replied on June 12 that "you must clearly understand that, as has already been pointed out to you on more than one occasion, the question of the union of Cyprus with Greece has been finally closed and cannot be reopened."
It was announced at the time of the proclamation that the representation of the non-Moslem population in the Legislative Council was to be increased by three. The Council having been composed of nine Greek and three Mohammedan elected members, and six named by the High Commissioner, the Greek population would in that case exercise a preponderant influence within the Assembly's rather limited field of competence. Later reports show, however, that the three new Greek members are to be counter-balanced by the addition of three British. As the Governor has a casting vote, the Greek members remain, as before, effectually check-mated.
Another matter to be adjusted has to do with the £50,000 which Great Britain has been contributing annually towards the £92,000 charged each year against Cyprus for the benefit of the share-holders of the Ottoman Loan of 1855. The Cyprus Treasury has always had to make up the balance, £42,000. Local agitation for Cyprus to be relieved of this annual tribute, which has prevented the development of public works, has received some support in England, but on May 11 last the Under Secretary of the Colonial Office announced in the House of Commons, in reply to a question, that no changes are contemplated in the existing financial arrangements of Cyprus.
To Greece the question of Cyprus is primarily one of racial sentiment, though the island's material resources and the field it offers for the surplus Greek population are of course not lost sight of. It also has an important bearing on the fate of Rhodes, and indirectly of the other islands of the Dodecanese, as noted above.
To Great Britain the importance of Cyprus is economic and strategic. Its agricultural produce includes raisins, fruit, wine, cotton and wheat, while its mineral reserves include asbestos, copper, chrome, etc. (The Cyprus Asbestos Company, a British concern, capitalized at £600,000, has recently been installing new plants and machinery.) In 1924 the exports of Cyprus reached a value of £1,231,703, while imports amounted to £1,243,356. Economic conditions are far from satisfactory, however, and for the first quarter of 1925 the imports exceeded the exports by over £92,000. Of the 1924 exports about 25 percent went to markets within the British Empire, while 40 percent of the imports were of British origin. From the strategic point of view Cyprus has lost much of its importance to England. The fear of Russian predominance in Asia Minor, which led to the agreement of 1878, is no longer a factor. And it has been pointed out that Cyprus, like other islands claimed by Greece but held by other powers, could readily be neutralized before being transferred to Greek sovereignty, as was done with the Ionian Island in 1864. That strategic considerations are no longer really vital is shown by the fact that in 1915 Cyprus was held out to Greece as one of her rewards if she would throw in her lot with the Allies. Subsequently, Great Britain promised France (who was alarmed at the growth of Greek power in the Mediterranean) not to cede the island without first obtaining the French Government's consent. But today Greek fortunes are at a lower ebb than they were ten years ago, and Paris would hardly offer objections if the British nation decided, in the words of Professor Toynbee, "to follow in Cyprus their own example in the Ionian Islands and the American example in Cuba, and to withdraw after arranging that the rights of the Turkish minority should be secured."