20 July 1974: day of shame


20 July 2016 marks a dark anniversary: another year and another day of shame, in which the Turkish government maintains its illegal hold on the northern area of the Republic of Cyprus, through its occupation with 43,000 troops. 

For 42 years, Ankara’s unlawful invasions of 1974 and ongoing occupation in Cyprus continue to be tolerated by the international community. Western governments, the media and human rights organisations persist in turning a blind eye to Turkey’s ongoing human rights abuses and violations of norms of civilised conduct in Cyprus.

Following the short-lived coup orchestrated by the US-backed Athens junta in July 1974, Turkey unleashed a military onslaught on the independent island state of Cyprus, under the pretence of restoring “constitutional order” – a claim that has been debunked as a Turkish ploy to conquer foreign land and turn an area populated by Greek Cypriots for millennia, into a province of Turkey. 

The facts on the ground speak for themselves. 200,000 Greek Cypriots were violently uprooted from their ancestral lands. Their uninterrupted presence in the area was ended by the modern Turkish state, which achieved what no previous foreign occupier even sought to do: completely segregate Cypriots and almost totally eradicate Greek Cypriot society, from a large area of the island. Today, all that remains of the Greek Cypriots in the north is a dwindling population of a few hundred, mainly elderly people, in the Karpasia area. 

Turkish politicians have not shied away from admitting that their policies on Cyprus are a means to pursue Ankara’s own interests. Turkey invaded Cyprus in order to partition the island and to reconquer lands once controlled by the Ottoman Caliphate, hence the de facto Turkification and Islamisation of the occupied areas.

Turkey not only persecuted Greek Cypriots but it exploited the Turkish Cypriot community as a strategic minority, much as Germany did with the Sudetan Germans of Czechoslovakia before World War Two.

A cursory glance at statements by Turkish politicians exposes the reality that Turkey has long harboured plans to overrun Cyprus and turn it into a Turkish fiefdom. Turan Gunes, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey at the time of the invasion of Cyprus stated:

“Cyprus is valuable as a right arm for a country interested in its own defence or for its own expansionist aims if it harbours such aims… Many states to a certain extent because it suits their interests, want to see the Cyprus problem as our desire to protect the Turkish community on the island, whereas the actual problem is the security of 45 million Turks in the motherland together with the Turks in the island and the maintenance of the balance in the Middle East.”

The Turkish Foreign Minister in 1980 commented:

“…we are not dealing here with a mere duty but with a mission. Our mission is to make Cyprus our motherland.”

With the collusion of some of its Western allies, Ankara set about making the unimaginable imaginable and the unacceptable acceptable: the segregation, ethnic cleansing and partition of Cyprus. For the Turkish government, the 200,000-strong majority population of Greek Cypriots in the northern area of Cyprus was hardly considered an obstacle to such outlandish plans. 

Following Turkey’s initial invasion, land-grab and forcible expulsions from the Kyrenia district and other areas, Ankara violated a cease-fire agreement and surrounded Greek positions. Turkey issued a callous ultimatum to the Cyprus government: that the entire Greek Cypriot population should permanently evacuate the areas to be Turkified. Needless to say, this abominable demand was rejected. The Turkish military set about achieving its objectives with means that can be described as medieval.

In order to create a homogenous Turkish zone, during the second phase of the invasion, the Turkish military committed the most horrendous violations imaginable: mass murders, mass rapes, acts of torture, the bombing of civilian areas and the forcible transfer of citizens. These affronts to humanity were reported in detail years later in the Sunday Times from a report of the European Commission of Human Rights that was leaked to the press, to the consternation of some in the Western world.

Ankara’s abhorrent race crimes in Cyprus were committed against non-Turkish Cypriots. People were persecuted purely on the basis of their ethnicity and religion so that Turkey could carve out a separate Turkish zone within the Republic of Cyprus. All Cypriots suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the Turkish invasions and occupation.

Occupied Cyprus had its Greek population uprooted, its Christian culture almost entirely eradicated through systematic destruction and it has been colonised by Turkish citizens, in a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. For too long, Ankara has had a blank cheque from the West to commit such abuses in Cyprus without censure, because of its perceived geo-strategic importance.

But what of the future? A Cyprus settlement should suit the Cypriots and not those whose main objective is the appeasement of Turkey. The only hope for a true unitary state is to abandon the pretence that a loose confederation of two ‘constituent states’ will hold. A viable solution should ensure the removal of Turkish occupation troops; the end of Turkey’s policy of colonisation; and the right of refugees to return to and reclaim their homes and lands. The fundamental rights of Cypriots can only be respected through a non-discriminatory, non-racist settlement that does not deny rights on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

Surely Cyprus has learned the lesson of accepting a settlement that does not firmly close the door on the possibility of partition? Cyprus deserves better: a common future for Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite and all other legitimate Cypriot citizens. Cypriots should not be denied a unitary state that rests on the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

What could be worse than an inherently segregated post-settlement Cyprus with ‘two communities’ living ‘side-by-side’ on two sides of a refurbished buffer zone, under the illusion that their country has been reunified, when in reality, Turkey’s plans for segregation and partition have been legitimised.