The British Government has made public thousands of secret colonial era files revealing how British officials ran its overseas territories, including Cyprus.
The documents, which were made open to the public last week at the National Archives in London, are part of a series which will continue to be released until 2013.
According to the first batch of colonial administration records relating to Cyprus, the exile of Archbishop Makarios was planned by the British within a few months of the EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston) struggle beginning. Led by Giorgos Grivas, EOKA began its military campaign in April 1955 by launching attacks on British-controlled targets.
The British believed the Primate to be heavily involved in EOKA’s struggle for independence and exiled him, along with the Kyrenia Bishop, Stavros Papagathangelou and Polykarpos Ioannides, to the Seychelles in 1956.
One of the most surprising declassified documents, dated November 20, 1956, reveals that Makarios was sent a package labelled ‘poison’ when in exile. Wrapped in a newspaper and labelled in Greek and English, the package contained a small amount of strychnine. The package was discovered and confiscated by the British authorities.
Other documents reveal Britain’s fears that Makarios would escape, and describe measures taken to prevent this, including the deployment of Royal Navy ships in the Indian Ocean.
The British strongly believed that his means of escape would be brought about with the help of a Greek Navy submarine.
The documents suggests Makarios was in disagreement with the Bishop of Kyrenia and other exiled colleagues, and claims that Makarios was afraid of giving the impression that he was compromising behind their backs.
Constantinos Procopiou, President, Pan-Australian Justice for Cyprus Coordinating Committee, (PASEKA) told Neos Kosmos that in his view, the documents are evidence of how manipulative Britain’s manipulation of the situation was at the time.
“The British valued Cyprus so much, that they would do anything to keep it,” says Procopiou whose father was a member of the national assembly of Cyprus in the 1950s.
“They weren’t honourable, they were very cunning to create division within Cyprus in order to govern.”
On the matter of the poison, Procopiou believes it was an act carried out by sympathisers of Makarios, to encourage the Archbishop to take on his enemies.
“I don’t think it was an act against Makarios. I suspect it was a symbolic gesture to say get rid of people who are harming the struggle, the people against him.”
Andrekos Varnava, lecturer in Modern History at Flinders University told Neos Kosmos that the documents released were significant, but that any new information needed to be put in context with all the known history.
“The story of the poison is new, it could very well be that it was a symbolic gesture. He didn’t get along with the people who were exiled with him, who were far more extreme than he was,” says Varnava, who wrote a thesis examining British Middle Eastern policy in the 1950s and its connection to Cyprus.
“The other thing that comes out in the documents is that the British had prepared for some time to exile Makarios, though that in itself is not surprising.
“It appears the British had tangible evidence to link the Primate with EOKA, aside from what they published at the time, and that’s interesting,” says Varnava.
“One thing that’s come out is that many documents have been destroyed, and some of these may well have related to the torture of prisoners.”
An independent spokesman told media at the London press conference detailing the release of the documents, that in the next series for Cyprus, no documentation exists of torture of prisoners or the transfer of militants to British prisons.