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Response to Review no. 845

First I would like to say how deeply honoured I feel to have my first monograph British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878–1915: The Inconsequential Possession reviewed in Reviews in History and how pleased I am at Dr Hubert Faustmann’s thorough and careful reading, and generous and insightful comments.

I have two specific comments I would like to make in reply to Faustmann’s review and a few broader comments in relation to Cypriot historiography.

Faustmann’s point that it could be argued that Cyprus had a ‘negative’ strategic value because the British occupation denied the island to another power is not new, having being put forward by Dr George Georghallides in 1979. The notion is in my view debateable. It implies that imperialism can be understood as the denial of territory that is theoretically strategically located to rival powers and therefore imperialism is justifiable as a negative reaction to potential rather than actual threats from rivals. In the case of Cyprus I am not even sure if its so-called negative strategic value played a part in its retention: it seems more likely, as I argue in the book, that Cyprus was retained because there was no reason to give it up and when reasons did arise the British attempted to give it up, thus it became a pawn. It failed as a pawn and after Greece rejected Cyprus in 1915, the British retained it as a potential military and naval base – repeating much the same rhetoric as they did in 1878 and 1879 to justify this policy. The fact that prior to the First World War the other European powers, namely France, Germany and Russia did not consider Cyprus to be of strategic value indicates that they were no threat to the British position in the island nor interested in taking the island for themselves.

The second point where I wish to differ from Faustmann is his assertion that chapter three contains nothing new. Previously, the received wisdom had been that Lord Beaconsfield’s government had occupied Cyprus rashly in the heat of the moment of the Treaty of San Stefano upon the advice of the Intelligence Department of the War Office: my research has shown that Cyprus figured prominently in the minds of both Lords Beaconsfield and Salisbury from late 1876; they ignored the advice of their military and naval experts (which is not a new revelation); and then tried to justify their decision by having the Intelligence Department of the War Office, who agreed with their decision, draw up a report on why Cyprus was chosen over various other places considered and another on its suitability based on evidence from consuls dating back some decades.

This leads me into my comments on Cypriot historiography. In my view it is very insular and, with few exceptions, works on the history of Cyprus are not situated in the broader historical, comparative and theoretical contexts. This is reflected in Faustmann’s review. His review, seen in terms of Cypriot historiography, is insightful and reflects his deep knowledge of the secondary reading. He provides a thorough overview of relevant works on the history of Cyprus for the period which my book covers, most of which focus on Cyprus as the subject rather than as the object. No doubt I am being harsh on Katsiaounis and especially Bryant, both are excellent monographs. But my point here is that my book looks at Cyprus as the object rather than the subject – the subject in fact being British imperialism. My interest in this book is not so much Cyprus, but how British imperialism played out in Cyprus – I am interested in the theme rather than the object. And this is the fundamental problem with historians and other scholars researching and publishing on the history of Cyprus: they are too focussed on Cyprus and do not comprehensively – sometimes not at all – explore the historical, comparative and theoretical contexts so necessary to explaining the past and so necessary to making research relevant to scholars outside Cypriot historiography. It is this that I hope to have achieved, but I am sceptical as to how much of an impact my study of British imperialism in a case drawn from its small and neglected (in terms of academic interest) ‘European empire’ will be widely read and appreciated by scholars of British imperialism, given that Cyprus has been ignored by them in the past.

Finally, I share Faustmann’s hope that British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878–1915: The Inconsequential Possession will ‘enter the public discourse of Cyprus, which is so ignorant of many of the findings of this book’. I fear, despite Faustmann’s review, that the divide between academia and public, wide in various countries and societies, will continue to be very wide in the Cyprus context, until Cypriots of various heritage become inquisitive about who they are and where they have come from, and learn to think critically, outside the square of the Cyprus conflict.