The Cyprus Issue: Enabling Turkish Revanchism

The West has allowed Turkey to commit cultural genocide, to aggressively expand, and to bully their way into a position of higher power without any consequence. Thirty-six percent of the Republic of Cyprus stands occupied today, as it has for half a century. This aspect of Cyprus is so sparsely spoken of, perhaps because the island is so small and seemingly insignificant, or perhaps because of the way that the West views the invader, but it’s an issue which must be addressed. The relatively small population of Cyprus, being around 1.3 million people, means that its calls for aid are seemingly quiet compared to the vastly more audible and visible ones from areas of more traditional strategic import. Yet, we must address the ongoing occupation at hand. Our relationship with Turkey must shift.

To begin, let’s make clear some background; Cyprus is a Mediterranean island inhabited primarily by Greek Orthodox people, but there is a large Muslim-Turkish population in the North. It was made a protectorate by the British in 1878, and granted its independence in 1960 following violent uprisings by the Greek majority. At that point, Cyprus was de facto one complete nation with two ethnic groups living within it. The government structure, however, as dictated by the London-Zurich Agreements, granted a great deal of power to the Turkish minority. Legislation that the Greek Cypriot government wanted to pass, thus had to obtain approval from the Turkish Cypriot portion of the government. This infuriated some Greek Cypriots, and culminated in a coup and the installation of a pro-enosis (union of Cyprus and Greece) government. With violence and discrimination against Turkish Cypriots, Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus in their defense. This action, of course, went against all international law, but if we were to take it at face value and see it as an act which they found necessary to do out of moral obligation, then perhaps the act of invasion itself could be justified. But even if you see it that way, it was what the Turkish did next that is so inherently abhorrent.

Turkey formally established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983, and is the only nation to recognize this breakaway state. That, in and of itself, is a blatant overstep of the mission they portrayed. They claimed that they invaded Cyprus to defend Turkish Cypriots from the aggression of Greek Cypriots who were aiming for enosis, but the pro-enosis government lasted only eight days. Even if we are to say that the pro-enosis sentiment outlived the government, Turkey was supposed to help guarantee the independence of Cyprus as a signatory of the London-Zurich Agreements, not violate it. They could have cooperated with Britain and Greece, the other guarantors of Cyprus, to work to ensure the safety of Turkish Cypriots. But the Turkish armed forces, in conjunction with Turkish Cypriot forces, looted and repossessed Greek Cypriot houses, destroyed cultural and religious sites, and pillaged archaeological digs. Turkey devastated the Greek presence in Northern Cyprus and sent in over 100,000 settlers from Turkey proper, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The fact that Turkey had done so just once is unforgivable as is, but they continue to do this sort of thing over and over. Perhaps the first time that Turkey, in recent years, has done anything akin to what they’ve done in Cyprus was during the Armenian Genocide, which occurred during World War I. Similarly, they wiped out Armenian culture in southeast Anatolia, killing more than 80 percent of all Armenians in the region, and were punished so little that it spurred Hitler to say, in justification of the Holocaust, “who now remembers the Armenians?” Today, they continue to oppress not just the Greek Cypriots but also the Kurds. They did not stop at military raids against Kurdish groups; they now occupy almost 10,000 square kilometers of land in Northern Syria. Under this occupation there have been allegations of ethnic cleansing, which, really, is just a euphemism for genocide. 

As the 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus approaches, I would like to urge you to consider what Turkey has done, and what we continue to allow them to do to this day. Turkey must be checked. They are actively becoming conquerors and colonizers. This expansionist dream the country is vying for is deplorable. It is more unsettling that this dream is based not only on expanding the power of the state, but on the power of a particular nation state, meaning a state whose citizens are relatively homogenous in ethnic makeup. Turkey may be a useful strategic ally due to its proximity to the Middle East and Russia, its control of the Bosphorus Straits, and its willingness to host United States of America assets, but there is no strategic value that could ever justify the moral cost of gaining such a partner. At some point, our national interests cannot blind us to the undeniable atrocities before us. We are at a crossroads: either Turkey must change its policies, or the West must renounce Turkey.