Commentary: Cyprus at a Crossroads

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

There are many mini states and ethnic enclaves which clamor for recognition, but their right for self determination has been too politicized by the interested parties or the major countries, who try to let the wounds fester, because down the road, that volatile state may yield political dividends.

One such issue is the problem of Nagorno Karabagh. The Minsk Group member countries and regional powers all state that any settlement that satisfies the opposing parties will be acceptable to them. Yet no one tries to push the parties for a compromise solution, since any unresolved issue remains handy for the major powers, to be manipulated for their own advantage.

In all the cases, background history, legal status and common logic is the same, yet once one begins to compare those conflicts, there are many explanations and excuses to make every case a unique one. For example, when the West decided to dismantle the former Yugoslavia to break the back of Slavic dominance in the heart of Europe, an artificial country was created in Kosovo, whose inhabitants did not aspire for self determination and the sacrosanct principle of territorial integrity was not even brought up. And one of the holiest pieces of territory for the Orthodox Slavs became the homeland for Muslim Kosavars. And Serbia was bombed into acquiescing to the forced reality. Yet when it comes to Karabagh, all the powers that be have created a rectangular wheel trying to join the two irreconcilable principles of territorial integrity and right for self determination. Today more than 80 countries have been coerced to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

To counteract the West’s forceful creation of Kosovo, Russia acted unilaterally to wrest South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia, creating independent nations, although only recognized by Nicaragua and Venezuela, besides Russia. While Russia upholds the principle of territorial integrity in the case of Karabagh, it does not hesitate to trample on that principle when it comes to Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Today one of the hot issues in the Middle East is the forced division of Cyprus, a sovereign country, which was the victim of the Turkish aggression and remains divided to this date.

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Recently, the Turkish prime minister visited Northern Cyprus to celebrate the 37th anniversary of Turkish aggression, which they call a “Turkish intervention.” The Turks on the island were not threatened by the Greeks in any way and they were well integrated into the general population.

But Bulent Ecevit, the Turkish prime minister at the time, decided to “liberate” the Turks in the north and unleashed his Attila campaign to occupy 38 percent of Cypriot territory. To this day, 30,000 Turkish troops are stationed in Northern Cyprus to force down the throat of the Greek majority the concept of the division of the island. During the Turkish invasion, Armenians suffered as well, when the Melkonian Educational Institute was bombed, and the Armenian church and a large property around St. Makar Monastery came to be under Turkish occupation.

The Turks used as an excuse the Geneva agreement over Cyprus to come to the “rescue” of the Turkish minority, with the help and collusion of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

For 37 years, Turkey stubbornly has kept its occupation army in place to force down its own solution, which is the partitioning of the island. In 2004, Kofi Annan presented a plan on behalf of the UN, which, in essence forced the Greeks to become the bad guys for the international community. Under the guise of a federal state, a formerly sovereign country would be partitioned, Greeks and Turks having their own autonomies in their respective designated territories and both enclaves operating under a federal government and a joint presidential council. Turkey through its armed aggression and illegal occupation of the island was raising the Turkish minority into a co-equal position, and thus was being rewarded, rather than being reprimanded or punished. Sixty-five percent of the Turks voted in favor of the Annan plan, while 76 percent of Greeks voted against it. After the failure of the plan, the Greek government of Cyprus joined the European Union, infuriating the Turks.

During the 37 years of occupation, Turkey tried to change the demographic profile of the island to have a stronger say in any negotiation. Today two-thirds of 250,000 Turkish Cypriots are imports from Anatolia; while Anatolian peasants flooded the island, many Europeanized native Turks left for England, further tightening Ankara’s grip over the island.

Although Ankara provides the majority of the budget in Northern Cyprus, during the current year, riots broke out and native Turks called for an end of the occupation of the “colonial” forces.

Following the recent parliamentary elections in Turkey, victorious Prime Minister Erdogan took two trips, one to Cyprus and the other to Baku to make claims, which presented duplicity of the Turkish foreign policy.

While in Baku he chided Armenia as an aggressor and demanded an end to the “occupation of Azeri territory,” and in Northern Cyprus, he praised continued Turkish occupation of that country. His trip also coincided with the announcement of the Greek Cypriot government to become president of the European Union, during 2012. Erdogan’s vintage temper rose again and announced that Turkey would freeze all the relations with EU.

Unlike Kosovo, although no country has recognized Turkish government in Northern Cyprus except Ankara, the thrust of Erdogan’s policy seems to be to solicit that recognition from the international community before the upcoming Greek and Turkish negotiations in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the member countries of the European Union do not always have consistent and unified policy visà- vis Turkish threats or intimidations.

For example, last year, when the EU set a deadline for Turkey to open its harbors to Greek-Cypriot boats for trade, Ankara continued to play hide-and-seek until the last moment. Before midnight of the deadline, Ankara announced that it had decided to open one single symbolic harbor for Greek Cypriot merchant ships but did not announce the name of that particular port. Today, the deadline is long behind us, and no Greek-Cypriot ships are allowed to Turkish ports, without any consequences.

While the world community recognizes the Greek-Cypriot government as the legitimate representative of the island, Ankara refuses even to recognize that government.

Erdogan’s administration takes bold and challenging initiatives, and in the end, greater powers give in, allowing Ankara to have its way.

Recently, Russia, China and the NATO countries rushed to supply arms to Turkey, and despite NATO warnings, Ankara decided to leave its options open, once again reasserting its independent stand.

Turkey has the strongest standing army in the NATO structure after the US, yet many countries continue to supply arms — including Israel which has recently sold $180 million of fighter jets, despite the public row with Ankara — and then they allow Turkey to dictate its will in any negotiation or confrontation. The trend is ominous, and if Turkey continues its policy of bullying, it may create cracks within the ranks of the EU and still allow Turkey to entertain the prospect of joining the EU.

The island of Cyprus was ceded by the Ottoman government to England, at the conference of Berlin in 1878. It was a price paid by the Sultan to check Russian encroachment of its territory. Britain used the island as a military outpost in the eastern Mediterranean, and in 1960, it gained its independence after decades of a liberation war by General Grivas.

Today, as Ankara promotes its ambitions of new Ottomanism, it looks like part of the island will revert to Turkey. Turkey was allowed to occupy part of Cyprus, accusing the Greeks of planning to unite the island with Greece (Enosis). The ironic twist is that Turkey is trying to attach a chunk of Cypriot territory to the mainland, thumbing its nose at the world.

Erdogan administration’s Ottomanist guru, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has his eyes not only on Cyprus, but on many of the former subject nations; Turkey’s influence has already infiltrated the Arab world, just paying some lip service to the Palestinian cause. Turkey has launched an extensive trade and cultural expansion in the Arab world. When there was a danger of partitioning Iraq, Turkey was there to extend to oil rich areas of the country to “protect” its Turkman brothers.

Davutoglu has created inroads in the Balkans through Muslim Kosovo and the fifth-column Turkish community in Bulgaria. Bucharest, to this day, cannot recognize the Armenian Genocide, although Bulgaria has suffered very much under Ottoman rule, because of the Turkish  communities’ clout in that country. Ankara has decided to bankrupt Greece and Armenia through its arms race in the region. It already has Azerbaijan under its wings. Cyprus is becoming a casualty of this new Ottomanist expansion, through the self-interest and myopic policies of the great powers.

We hope at least one power realizes the danger and keeps in check this Turkish expansionism, before Armenia becomes the next victim.

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