Archbishop Makarios III of the island of Cyprus, Greece, was a strong advocate for self-determination in Cyprus in the middle of the twentieth century. His activities gave the British authorities sufficient reason to exile him to the Seychelles for a year. During this period of banishment he had a distinct impact on the people of the Seychelles, an effect on the country’s relations with other involved nations, and developed a relationship with the people of the island.
Cypress was declared a British colony in 1925 when the young Cypriot Makarios III (then known as Michail Christodolou Mouskos) was not yet a teenager. After completing his education he embarked on his church career as a priest in the Cypriot Orthodox Church, the Bishop of Kition in America and the Archbishop of Greece which he became in 1950. During this period in the 1940s and 1950s he actively supported ‘enosis’, the controversial union of Cyprus and Greece.
The Turkish Cypriot community were opposed to enosis and devised the idea of ‘Taksim’ (partition), with the belief that their own safety could only be guaranteed with either Turkey or Britain maintaining sovereignty over some of the island, as opposed to being ruled by the Greeks.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this opposition and the continued rule of the British, Archbishop Makarios was resolute in his views and visited many different countries to promote his campaign for the liberation of Cyprus. In 1954 he persuaded the United Nations officially to consider the options for Cyprus. So EOKA was born – the “National Organisation of Cyprus Fighters”. It was viewed as a troublesome guerilla group by the British, and in order to deter demonstrators the colonial Government strengthened and upheld laws concerning sedition. Archbishop Makarios fought against this and continued to be determinedly vocal about the need for Cyprus to be emancipated.
Considering that the situation was becoming increasingly violent towards the British and the fact that organised talks on the subject had failed, British authorities planned carefully to arrest the Archbishop and send him into exile to Mahe Island in the Seychelles. This was a convenient place for the British to send freed slaves and exiles, as it was isolated from other countries, it was difficult for media and other nations to gain information about it, it kept a low profile and it was a British colony.
They believed that they were acting in the best interests of Cyprus to establish order and peace in what was becoming a volatile time. The operation was carried out on March 9th, 1956 and the Archbishop became a ‘guest’ of the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Seychelles, Sir William Addis, along with three other Greek Cypriot nationalists. He was released after one year with orders not to return to Cyprus. In 1959 he participated with the British in the establishment of the London Agreement. He was then allowed to return to Cyprus to an immensely proud and supportive welcome by the Greek Cypriots, and he became the President of Cyprus, which was named an independent republic.
During his exile Archbishop Makarios significantly influenced the people of his new country of residence. The first thing that occurred was a sudden change of accommodation due to the fact that the place that he and his three fellow exiles were intended to stay in was called “La Bastille”. This was unacceptable to the British because of the negative prison connotations associated with the name, so they insisted that another place be found. The Governor, under immense pressure, had to use his own house at Sans Souci and it eventually became called Makarios House.
The routine of Archbishop Makarios’ life became about eating, sleeping, reading, studying Scriptures and English, enjoying the climate and environment, discussing issues with the other detainees, and importantly, listening to an Athens radio station bulletin at night for news of the homeland that remained in his thoughts and plans. As security relaxed he was able to do some shopping in Victoria and some unescorted mountain climbing.
His visits to Victoria enabled him to interact with the people and he befriended Bishop Olivier Maradan (head of the Roman Catholic Church) and Mr Gustave de Comarmond, the “Le Seychellois” independent newspaper’s editor. These and the very many other people who met him personally were so friendly and positively inclined towards the Archbishop that after his release he continued to speak highly of the beautiful country and its people, and maintained his place in the heart of much of the nation. He established the Makarios Fund which assisted students to afford their education which was prohibitively expensive for some of them.
Not only did the Archbishop have an impact on the Seychelles, but the island had a lasting effect on him too. He planned to return to the Seychelles and was having a house built for his retirement, but the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 halted the plans and he only revisited the Seychelles once more in 1975 before his death on August 3rd, 1977.
International relations were affected positively too. Years after returning from his year’s detainment, a formal diplomatic relationship was established between the Seychelles and the Archbishop’s beloved Cyprus in 1976. Relations between the two countries continued to be strong and some Seychellois were given scholarships to study in Cyprus, sports teams were practically and financially assisted by Cyprus, and the nations worked together on aid projects and tourism. An airport had been opened in 1971 in Mahe and flights between Cyprus and Mahe occurred twice a week. The publicity due to the exile had also created a greater international awareness of and interest in the Seychelles.
Having lived to promote and achieve independence for Cyprus even at the cost of his own exile, Archbishop Makarios also used his life and circumstances to positively influence the people of the Seychelles and to initiate and maintain good connections between Cyprus and the Seychelles, setting an example for other nations.