CYPRUS: The Passing of the Dark Priest

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Suddenly ending an era, Cyprus lurches into crisis

To irreverent British Tommies fighting to preserve colonial rule on Cyprus 25 years ago, he was Mack the Knife. His Turkish enemies reviled him as the Dark Priest, for his Byzantine politics rather than the black beard, cassock and tall kalimavki or clerical stovepipe hat that were his trademarks. Some American diplomats denigrated him as the Castro of the Mediterranean. But last week, after Archbishop Makarios III, President of Cyprus, died suddenly of a heart attack ten days before his 64th birthday, even enemies could agree with the tearful epitaph of one mourning Cypriot. "To the world," cried the man, wiping his eyes as he left Nicosia's Cathedral of St. John, where Makarios lay in state, "he was Cyprus."

Makarios had been President for 17 years, the only elected President that the sun-drenched island had ever had, and so his unexpected death created yet another lurching crisis. No one else had the loyalty and affection of the 515,000 Greek Cypriots who comprise four-fifths of the population. No one else had the political power to accept compromise with the Cypriot Turks who make up the remainder of the population and who have held some 40% of the island territory since a massive Turkish invasion of Cyprus was made in their behalf in 1974.

With some foreign statesmen, Makarios could be cold and obstinate. With his own people, however, he was warm and effusive. Although he suffered a mild heart attack earlier this year, Cypriots were unprepared for his death. The vigorous archbishop had never really designated a successor. The mourning, as a result, was electric as Greeks filed past the bier, where he lay in splendid gold crown and mantle. The Greek Cypriot government declared a 40-day mourning period.

Greece's Premier Constantine Karamanlis has steadfastly kept his distance from Cyprus since an attempted putsch against Makarios by the military junta that preceded him, but in Athens last week the government sympathetically declared six days of mourning. In Turkey, the new government of Premier Suleyman Demirel tactfully decided neither to gloat nor to salute his adversary. Most Turks, however, agreed with an Ankara grocer who declared that "God has finally heard our prayers."

For the archbishop, it was fitting that those who for so long found it difficult to live with him were suddenly so worried about living without him. But this was not surprising: Makarios has been the hub of Cyprus' political ambiguities ever since he was elected archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus in 1950 and assumed the traditional title of ethnarch (literally ethnic or national leader). Like a medieval Pope, the ethnarch is both a secular and religious leader. Makarios practiced the politics but preferred the spiritual title. He wanted to be addressed formally as "Your Beatitude."

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