History mars ties between queen, ex-colony Cyprus
September 9, 2022 09:45 PM
Queen Elizabeth II's death has triggered a subdued reaction in Cyprus, where the British monarch is intertwined with the island’s painful history of empire, independence and division.
For some Cypriots with long memories, she is the head of state blamed for signing off on the death warrants of freedom fighters against British colonial rule in the late 1950s.
Old wounds reappeared earlier this year during the Queen's jubilee celebrations organised by the British military stationed on the island.
In June, a charity concert celebrating the queen’s platinum jubilee was toned down and relocated to a site within the British bases, after a small but vocal group charged that the event celebrated a "killer queen".
The row stemmed from Elizabeth being head of state during the Cyprus independence struggle from British rule from 1955-1959, during which nine young EOKA fighters were executed.
"She was a good queen but not for Cyprus... She didn't sign to give a life (pardon) the boys fighting for Cyprus, for freedom, and they hung them," said Andreas, an 83-year-old pensioner, declining to give his surname.
But another Greek Cypriot encountered around the capital's busy Ledra Street was less dismissive.
"We're sad and we feel sorrow about her death. We wish that the new king will be like her. Long live the king!" said Alec Ioannou.
Cyprus has traditionally close ties with its former colonial ruler, but the past sometimes gets in the way.
Although Cyprus is also an active member of the Commonwealth, which the queen headed, she got a mixed reception when visiting in 1993.
Some Greek Cypriots jeered her during an October 1993 visit to Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital.
Royal observers say it was one of the queen’s worst receptions on her travels.
During her first and only visit to the island to attend a Commonwealth heads of government meeting, the queen was greeted by angry demonstrators and shouts of "Go home".
But many Cypriots are also pro-British with a large diaspora community in the UK; many Cypriots choose Britain for higher education, and tourists from Britain are the island’s largest source of visitors.
There is also a large British expat community that calls Cyprus home.
Prince Edward and Sophie celebrated the Queen’s jubilee during their first royal visit to Cyprus in June.
They received a warm reception on the island without a hint of dissent.
- Cyprus president joins mourning -
"We offer our most sincere condolences for the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. At these difficult times, our thoughts are with the Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom," Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades posted on Twitter as the world united in mourning her death.
Cyprus marked 62 years since independence from Britain this year, but the small island remains divided and home to foreign bases and a UN peacekeeping force.
Another residue of discontent with Britain is that the country was a guarantor of the island’s sovereignty under the treaty of independence, but the UK did not intervene to stop the 1974 Turkish invasion.
The Mediterranean island, now home to a combined population of about 1.2 million, has been a prized strategic possession for a succession of empires through the ages.
-'Murder Mile' -
Modern history has divided it between a Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north.
Today's busy pedestrian thoroughfare behind the capital’s ancient Venetian walls, Ledra Street, was known as the "Murder Mile" during the bloody Greek Cypriot guerrilla war against the British army.
The island’s majority Greek Cypriot community had fought in 1955-1959 for Enosis, a long-yearned union with "motherland" Greece.
It finally accepted Britain’s offer of independence in 1960, conditional on London retaining sovereignty over two coastal bases before inter-communal bloodshed and Turkey’s 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus.