Together with Archbishop Makarios III, General George Grivas (whose nom de guerre was “Digenis”) is the person most associated with the “Cyprus Problem” between the 1950s and 1970s. Born in Trikomo (now Iskele) in northeast Cyprus on May 23, 1898, he, like Makarios, studied at the Pancyprian Gymnasium in Lefkosia. When he graduated he fled to Athens, apparently to avoid an arranged marriage and it was here that his military education began. Having joined the Greek army as an officer, he served in the catastrophic campaign in Asia Minor which ended with the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey in 1922. Despite this setback Grivas gradually moved up the ranks, making captain by 1925 and major by 1935.
During the German occupation, Grivas was involved in what can only be described as the murky deeds of the far-right organization “Khe” – the Greek letter usually represented as an “X” – which he founded and led. It was said to be far more concerned with attacking Greek communist guerrillas than the occupying forces. Indeed, there have been accusations of collaboration with the Nazis – at many times during his career, Grivas’s political hatred of the left seems to have outranked his patriotic Hellenistic pride.
After the war Grivas played a significant part in the Greek Civil War (1946–49), fighting for the government against the communists. He stood unsuccessfully in the Greek elections of 1951, one of several times when his attempts to turn to politics failed, perhaps owing to a distinct lack of the common touch. Following his dream of enosis (unification of Cyprus with Greece), he returned to his homeland. He met Makarios, and the two of them, together with other supporters, formed EOKA, the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or “National Organization of Cypriot Fighters”, which pledged to the overthrow of British rule in Cyprus and union with Greece. If there was any disagreement between the two men at this stage, it was that Grivas favoured full-scale armed rebellion, while Makarios wanted to limit action to the destruction of property.
In November 1954 Grivas landed in a caïque loaded with arms and explosives on the west coast of Cyprus, near Pafos, and on April 1 the start of the armed struggle was announced by explosions all over the island. Grivas led the rebellion from a series of hideouts, in Lemesos, and later, the Troodos Mountains, attracting a price of £10,000 on his head. After Makarios was exiled in March 1956, Grivas led both the military and the political struggle from a hideout back in Lemesos. Finally, when the archbishop accepted a British offer of independence without enosis in 1959, Grivas decamped in disgust to Greece – his exile was part of the final agreement. In Greece he was deliriously greeted as a hero, and promoted to general.
The deteriorating situation in the new Republic of Cyprus attracted Grivas back to the island in 1964, where he led Greek hardliners in the National Guard and a division sent by Greece. Attacks on leftists and on Turkish Cypriots became increasingly outrageous, until the massacre of 27 Turkish Cypriots, many unarmed civilians, in Kofinou and Agios Theodoros caused worldwide revulsion. The Greek division, and Grivas, were withdrawn. The general returned once more to Cyprus in 1969, and re-established EOKA, now called EOKA B, whose aim this time, in addition to achieving enosis and suppressing Turkish-Cypriot opposition to it, was to combat the Greek Cypriot left. Virtual civil war broke out between EOKA B and the left, while Turkish Cypriots formed heavily armed enclaves. Finally, in January 1974 and still in hiding in Lemesos, Grivas died of a heart attack, thus avoiding the disastrous Turkish invasion that his actions had done so much to precipitate.