Editor’s Note: WorldNetDaily international correspondent Anthony C. LoBaido was based in Cyprus from June to November 2000. He filed a two-part series on the divided Mediterranean island and its strategic importance to both the West and Russia.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Strategically located in the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is a small nation that has played a prominent role in the history of southern Europe and the Middle East and whose future plans play into the current Macedonian conflict and Russia’s reaction to it.
Once a British colony, Cyprus gained its independence in 1960, though many trappings of its British past remain. As such, it is not surprising that the nation features left-side driving and plays host to several key British military installations.
Cyprus is an island of immense beauty and diversity. It is divided between the Greek-leaning south and Turkish north. There are fruit trees, olive groves and some of the best vineyards in the region. Snow-capped mountains, Crusader castles and Byzantine churches dot the landscape. Timeless villages grace the countryside, where one can step back in time and watch children run through sun-drenched fields, playing with their goats. Medieval and Roman ruins beckon to curious tourists and archaeologists from around the world. Then there is the new phenomenon of Ayia Napa. This once sleepy fishing village boasts pristine, sunny beaches and a nightlife that make it the top party destination in all of Europe.
Nicosia — the only divided city on Earth — is a city of contrasts. A visitor can hear soft Muslim prayer calls in the morning while walking past centuries-old Orthodox churches. Crime is low in Cyprus, almost non-existent. There are, however, scores of assassinations by rival Russian money-laundering gangs. Cyprus is home to over 45,000 Russian off-shore companies. Many are staffed by former KGB officials, and some are involved in criminal activities. Others are now run by legitimate businessmen trying to escape the economic anarchy of Mother Russia and raise their children in peace.
It appears that Russian money-launderers may be sent packing if Cyprus joins the European Union, as she is being encouraged to do. EU banking cartels would likely come in and clean house, leaving Russian criminal elements homeless.
Some observers believe the specter of that scenario has spurred Russia’s involvement in the current hostilities in Macedonia. If the money launderers are kicked out of Cyprus, Macedonia is one of the few places they may be able to set up shop.
Larry Martines, who works with the American goverment on counter terrorism issues, told WorldNetDaily, “The Red or Russian Mafia in Cyprus is very powerful. They are known as the ‘Thieves Within a Code.'”
Foreign workers are not difficult to spot in Nicosia. There are Thai and Bulgarian women working as waitresses. Additionally, there are scores of Filipina maids, as well as Latvian and other expatriates from the Baltic states working in the banking and finance fields. In general, these foreign workers are diligent and devoted to their jobs. Many are sending money back home to their families.
Says Ingrid Snuzlitski, a Latvian financial manager based in Nicosia: “My parents live on pension, and I must send money home to them. I make only $900 per month in Cyprus, and it is very expensive to live here. But I am rich by Latvian standards. I send my parents money and other items they need. When I first came to Cyprus, I worked as a waitress, but then I worked my way to a higher job so I could use my economics degree.
“Back home, it was impossible to get a job that was not related to the Soviet-dominated government. The Soviets tried to brainwash us against America, capitalism and Christianity. As a schoolgirl, we all shot AK-47s and underwent military training — all that seems like a long time ago. Now, the Russians and other ex-Soviet citizens are here to work hard and make honest money. We want to improve our lives and help our families. Hopefully, the Cypriots will see us as a valuable addition to their beautiful country.”
A storied history
Cyprus was settled between 1050-325 B.C. by the Greeks, who built up a Western culture in the face of seemingly never-ending invasions by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians. In ancient times, the Greeks believed that the goddess Aphrodite selected Cyprus to be her playground. Alexander the Great included the island in his Macedonian state, and Cyprus was the source of great haggling among his generals. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I of Egypt ruled the island, which passed to Roman rule between 58-38 B.C.
After the Apostle Paul and Barnabas converted the Roman governor Sergius Paulus to Christianity at his headquarters in Paphos, Cyprus was the first nation to be ruled by a Christian. In the first century A.D., there were great earthquakes in Cyprus, requiring that entire cities be rebuilt. By A.D. 116, Christians and Jews were revolting en masse against the Roman Empire, and at that time, those of the Jewish faith were forbidden to settle in Cyprus. Around A.D. 488, the Patriarch of Antioch asked the Emperor Zeno to bring Cyprus under his control. By this time, the Byzantine era was under way, with Cyprus under the control of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, which had Constantinople as its capital.
Arab raiders attacked Cyprus repeatedly between the seventh and 10th centuries, so many castles were constructed to help protect the island. In 1191, King Richard the Lion-Hearted was shipwrecked off the coast of Limassol en route to the Third Crusade. When his fianc?e, Berengaria of Navarre, was treated poorly by the Isaac Comnenus, then ruling Cyprus, Richard invaded and captured control of the island. By 1192, Richard turned over the sovereignty of Cyprus to the Knights Templar for 100,000 dinars. The Knights resold Cyprus for the same price to Guy de Lusignan. This started a dynasty that would last for 300 years — a time known as the Frankish period — during which the Catholic Church replaced the Greek Orthodox Church.
Cyprus’ Queen Catherina Cornaro ceded the island to Venice in 1489. Turkey invaded Cyprus and took control in 1570. They slaughtered 20,000. The Catholics were kicked out, and others were converted to Islam. The Greek Orthodox Church was also restored.
During the Ottoman period, between 1571 and 1878, there were several revolts by the Greeks, the biggest coming in 1821. In 1878, Turkey ceded control over Cyprus to Great Britain, in an attempt to secure an ally in case war broke out with czarist Russia.
By the end of World War I, Turkey’s Ottoman Empire was totally vanquished, and the UK formally annexed Cyprus. During World War II, Cypriot partisans volunteered to fight on the side of the Allies. During the Korean War, Greeks and Turks fighting alongside each other often had to be separated because of their deeply entrenched hatred for one another.
On July 20, 1974, using the coup d’etat against President Makarios as a pretext, Turkey invaded Cyprus against the wishes of the United Nations and international community. Over 37 percent of the territory was occupied and is still held by the Turkish military.
Turning the strategic page
The ancient squabbles over control of this island continue. Considering Cyprus’ strategic location, these struggles are not surprising. Just as the Korean Peninsula was coveted and fought over throughout history by the Japanese and other Asian nations, so too the battle for influence and control over Cyprus continues to this very day.
At the dawn of the 21st century, both the Cypriots and the Turks in northern Cyprus are being pressured by the United Nations, European Union and the U.S. to form a singular, quasi-united Cyprus in the form of a confederation. Western influences believe that a unified, peaceful Cyprus will be a boon to investment and trade for all involved.
Northern Cyprus is far less developed than the Greek south. That is obvious to the interloper. WorldNetDaily was granted a one-day pass to visit the north of Cyprus. It is a dangerous place; there are people who have been killed in hostilities in northern Cyprus — Cypriots and British tourists alike.
The island of Cyprus is extremely important to the British, as evidenced by their three major military installations on the island. While flying to Greece, this reporter had the chance to sit in the cockpit of a Cyprus Airlines plane. The commanding pilot, Anfulis Clerides, explained why the bases were important.
“After World War II, Great Britain let most of her colonies go — India, for example — but they still hung on to Cyprus. It was considered that important,” said Clerides.
“During the Cold War, the UK monitored tests of Soviet missiles from Cyprus. This was because the ionosphere exists in such a way that radar and other listening devices are perfectly suited to spy on the Russians from the mountain tops of Cyprus.”
Asked about the identity most Cypriots lean toward — Greek, European or Middle Eastern — Clerides was resolute.
“We are a part of Western civilization,” he said. “We are Greeks. So much of Western culture and thought comes from Greece. Still, many Americans imagine that we are Arabs or some such thing. I have to laugh at that.”
Indeed, the British-controlled radar and military installations on Cyprus are a source of friction between the two nations. For all intents and purposes, the military bases are de facto nation-states within Cyprus, with their own police and legal systems. Last fall, a row erupted when the UK demanded that the Cypriot army move its own new radar station situated on the Troodos mountains.
Cyprus’ Defense Minister Socrates Hasikos was outraged by the demand. British intelligence told WorldNetDaily that the UK wants to be the sole eye in the sky over the Aegean Sea airspace. The Royal Air Force’s 101 radar is now being interfered with, say intelligence sources, by the Cypriots’ new radar station.
The RAF 101 radar is called the “AR327 Commander” and is manufactured by BAE Systems. This new station has a range of over 200 kilometers and covers the entire Nicosia flight region with three-dimensional surveillance and target detection. This radar system is so advanced that it has the capacity to overcome both natural weather effects and high-tech jamming devices. It was first deployed by the RAF in 1997 and since has been set up in the Falkland islands and outposts in Asia, the Indian Ocean and other undisclosed locations around the globe.
The strength of the bilateral “Treaty of Establishment,” which Cyprus and the UK have signed regarding the British military bases, faces a new test over the latest radar flap. France is believed to be selling sophisticated radar equipment to the Cypriots, over British objections.
Says Bryan Hampton, a British MI-6 intelligence agent stationed in Nicosia, “The British radar facility on Mount Olympus was truly the ‘King of the Hill.’ Now, the Brits feel the Cypriots are getting a bit uppity with their new toys. There’s still a little of that colonial mentality going on down there, you know. Since the Russians have sold sophisticated missiles to Cyprus [WorldNetDaily learned the missiles have been impounded at a military base in Greece], the British are a bit nervous. Remember, about a third of the members of the Cypriot Parliament are members of the Communist Party.”
Additionally, said Hampton, “The closer the Cypriots’ radar installation is to Mount Olympus, the more likely it is that the Turks will take it out if and when the next war starts up. The old days when Turkey and Britain were allies against Russia are long gone, it seems. Russia has a lot of influence in Cyprus, and they are trying to drive a wedge between the Cypriots and NATO.”
Hampton said that Mount Olympus serves in a minor capacity with the global ECHELON network as a listening station for communications in the entire region, which includes rogue states like Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It can also monitor aircraft out to 500 kilometers in case of surprise attack.
Concluded Hampton, “The UK cannot and will not lose her bases and outposts on Cyprus — this country is not an insignificant backwater as far as the West is concerned. Its strategic value has been demonstrated from ancient times down through the present.”
In tomorrow’s WorldNetDaily, LoBaido analyzes Cyprus’ less-than-cordial relationship with Turkey and covers the moral slide gripping the island’s culture.