Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Hunger for Justice: The Impact of the Cyprus Tragedy

David Koyzis


By David Koyzis

June 23, 2014

The contrast between justice and injustice could not have been starker. In a matter of days, they had lost everything dear to them, refugees in their own land unable to return to their homes or to the villages where they were born and grew up. All they had worked for was gone, and they had to start over again in a new place. Tourist hotels were empty and would remain so for the next four decades, and perhaps much longer. Sandy beaches were now bereft of the sunbathers who had flocked to them from all parts of Europe.

This was the sorry fate of my paternal relatives in Cyprus during that tragic summer of 1974, when they found themselves caught up in a civil conflict complicated by the machinations of the surrounding states. It began with a coup d’état against President Makarios instigated by the military régime in Athens in an effort to annex the island to Greece. The Turkish Cypriot minority was scarcely enthusiastic about such a union, and neither were many Greek Cypriots who preferred independence to seeing their island become a distant province of “mother” Greece.

The initial coup took place in the middle of July. Days later a Turkish flotilla established a beachhead at Kyrenia on the island’s north coast. The Ankara government’s action led to the collapse of the military régimes in both Athens and Nicosia. In August, Turkey’s military expanded its foothold to cover some 37 percent of the island, including the largely Greek Cypriot district of Varosha, south of the old walled city of Famagusta.

Because the vast majority of my relatives lived in Varosha at the time, they became exiles in their own country. Varosha became a ghost town trapped inside a United Nations patrolled buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors of the island. Seeing Varosha even from a distance is an eerie experience for the visitor, as the wind howls incessantly in that part of the island against the backdrop of whitewashed buildings decaying along the horizon.

The events in Cyprus had a huge impact on the course of my own life, moving me to change my undergraduate major to political science. Like so many other young people then and now, my interest in politics was fuelled not by admiration for the capacity of governments everywhere to do justice, but by outrage at injustice.

Manifestations of injustice are not difficult to find. In February, Vladimir Putin’s Russia marched into the Crimean Peninsula, effortlessly seizing it from Ukraine in defiance of international law. In April, Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok. Civil wars continue in Syria and South Sudan. Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in a troubled relationship lasting nearly three-quarters of a century. And, as I write, Islamist militants are expanding their grip over northern Iraq, threatening to undo the current precarious régime in Baghdad.

Of course, not all injustices are as obviously egregious as these. Some are more subtle and may not even be generally acknowledged as such. A government downgrades religious freedom to a mere private freedom to worship. A university Christian student club is denied the right to uphold its own faith-based principles. The law fails to protect life in the womb. Over nearly three decades of teaching, I have found that students coming to the study of politics are motivated by recognition of any or all of these injustices and the apparent inability or unwillingness of political authorities to correct them.

Yet working to correct injustice makes no sense without having a positive vision of justice. Young people with a hunger for justice must be equipped with the tools to work for it in concrete ways, beginning with their immediate neighbors.

Shortly after the events in Cyprus, I discovered the distinctive approach that informs the work of the Center for Public Justice, sometimes known as principled pluralism. Here I discovered that positive vision I was looking for—an active but limited role for the state in doing public justice amid a diversity of societal agents all working as well for the common good. Injustices will continue in the present age, of course, but, by God’s grace, we have every reason to work for “a forward-looking, comprehensive approach to public life that will lead to a more just republic and international order.

- David T. Koyzis is an American citizen teaching politics at Redeemer University College in Canada and is the author of We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”