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Invasive Actions of Turkey Against Cyprus. Who is to Stop it?

Invasive Actions of Turkey Against Cyprus. Who is to Stop it?

Since July of this year the news about the escalation of the situation on the island of Cyprus spread worldwide. As it is known, the island is divided into the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus (EU member) and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey. 

It all started in May this year when the two Turkish drill ships “Fatih” (“The conqueror”) and “Yavuz” (“Fearsome”) started conducting geological exploration in the territorial waters of the island for hydrocarbon extraction. According to the international law, the territorial waters are included in the exclusive economic zone of the recognized Republic of Cyprus, which means that the activities of the Turkish side are illegal. The situation is complicated by the presence of the Turkish Navy which is actually a military intervention and a violation of the borders of a sovereign country. 

 A Turkish policeman on the background of the drill ship “Yavuz” / bdtonline.com   

In order to figure out the complex relationship between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots and to understand how the island was divided into two parts, we should go back to history.  

Three  Thousand Years of Greek-Christian History 

The island of Cyprus was inhabited by the ancient Greeks from the XIII-XI centuries BC. Despite numerous conquests (the rule of the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Franks and Venetians), the Greek language and traditions defined the cultural image of the island for almost three thousand years, and weren’t seriously threatened until the end of the XVI century. 

The Conquest of Cyprus by the Ottoman Empire 

With the birth and expansion of the Ottoman Empire and the following Islamization of the Middle East and the Balkans, Cyprus became the last and the most significant  Christian bastion in the Eastern Mediterranean, but as it turned out, it was a matter of time: the first Turks appeared on the island at the end of the 16th century, when the island had been conquered by the Ottoman Empire. In 1570, completed the final transition of Cyprus from Christian-European rule to the Muslim. In an attempt to change the demographic situation of the island, Sultan Selim II ordered to settle 20,000 Muslims in Cyprus, simultaneously killing the Greek and the Armenian population and committing forced Islamization.

Greek Cypriots in traditional costumes, 1873 / wdl.org 

 Greek Cathedral of St. Sophia of XIII-XIV centuries turned into a mosque Selimiye, the Turkish part of Cyprus / David Millican

British Rule on the Island 

In 1878, after the defeat in the Russian-Turkish war, the Ottoman government concluded an agreement on the transfer of Cyprus under the British protectorate with a formal stay in the Ottoman Empire. The agreement aimed at weakening the Russian influence in the region. However, with the beginning of the World War I, in 1914, Britain annexed Crimea in response to the fact that the Turks entered the war on the side of the German Empire (the Fourth Alliance), opposing the British Empire (Entente).

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne was concluded, according to which the republican Turkey which was already under the rule of the Kemalists, refused all claims to Cyprus, and in 1925 the island became a full-fledged Crown colony of Britain. Being ruled by the British, the Greek Cypriots raised the issue of unification with Greece (these ideas were called “enosis”, the movement for reunification with the historic homeland).

 Demonstration of Cypriot schoolchildren in support of enosis, 1959 / histclo.com   

The louder were the calls for enosis and the anti-colonial movement, the worse the Anglo-Greek relations were becoming. Britain began to secretly cooperate with the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish government. The goal was to keep the confrontation between the Greeks and the Turks and act as a mediator between them, thereby to retain the power. As they say, divide and rule. 

The close secret cooperation between the British and the Turks led to the creation of a militarized organization in the 1950s - the Turkish Defense Organization (Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı), supporting the idea of ​​taksim (the secession of the Turkish part of Cyprus), the opposite of enosis. The divisive policy, which the British were so eager for, was almost impossible to realize naturally, as the Turks / Muslims were settled all over the island and almost never constituted the majority, hence the division of Cyprus strictly into two parts would be impossible without mass displacements. Actually, with a light touch of Britain, the ideas of the so-called taksim  were actually fulfilled. 

On August 16, 1960, according to the Zurich-London Agreement, Cyprus was  declared an independent republic, became a member of the UN and the Commonwealth of Europe. According to that agreement, Britain was to leave two of its bases on the island to control the situation. The “British-style” compromise was the appointment of the head of the Cyprus Orthodox Church, Archbishop Makarios as the president of Cyprus, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Fazil Kyuchuk – the vice-president.

However, the ceasefire between the Turks and the Greeks imposed by the third part was like a powder keg: the ideas of enosis and taksim did not disappear, and the new escalation was just waiting in the wings.

The most serious phase of the escalation of the conflict occurred in July 1974 and was called “Black July”. Then the Turkish plans to seize part of the territory of the island of Cyprus were  put into practice. On July 20, 1974, Turkey initiates the first stage of the invasion of Cyprus, using air forces. Despite the repeated calls by the UN Security Council to end the intervention, on August 14, 1974, Turkey begins the second stage of the invasion of Cyprus and occupies 37 % of the island’s territory. A solid foundation for the division of Cyprus into two parts was already laid. On November 15, 1983, on the territory occupied by the Turkish army was proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

 The Turkish army in Cyprus, 1970s/ aljazeera.com 

The realization of the idea of taksim: the map of Cyprus after the division of 1974 / Golbez

Three days after the proclamation of the TRNC, the UN Security Council recognized it “legally invalid”. The repeated calls to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the island are still ignored by the Turkish side.

Currently, there are about 160,000 illegal settlers in the occupied northern part of Cyprus, which is almost three times the original population of Turkish Cypriots.

The consequences of the occupation and turkization of the Northern part of Cyprus:

- 1,400 missing Greek Cypriots;

- cultural and economic damage;

- ethnic cleansing;

- destruction of the Christian / Hellenistic cultural heritage.

The Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Aram I, in the destroyed Armenian monastery of Makaravank in the 10th century, the Turkish part of Cyprus, June 2019 / armenianorthodoxchurch.org

Despite the fact that the Greek Republic of Cyprus is an internationally recognized state and an EU member (since 2004), with the support of Turkey the unrecognized TRNC manages to carry out illegal geological exploration and drilling in its territorial waters, violating sovereignty of the country. 

 The exhibition “Cyprus: 45 years of occupation”, Athens, Greece / Christos Avramidis

Neither the calls of the USA, Israel, Egypt, France, Russia, nor the sanctions imposed by the EU Council could obstacle the activities of the Turkish side. Moreover, Turkish president Erdogan made a threatening statement: "The whole world is following our commitment. No one must doubt that the heroic Turkish army, which regards Northern Cyprus as a homeland, will without hesitation take the same step that was taken 45 years ago (referring to the events of “Black July”), if it is necessary for the life and the security of the Turkish Cypriots."

Sources: The World of Cyprus by Panayiotis Zaphiris; Cyprus: a Historical Overview by Dr. William Mallinson; newspaper "Bulletin of Cyprus."

Translated by Manan Ajamyan.

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