Cyprus - a divided island

blood divider

"Excited voices roared across the walls of the other courtyards ... War! Ecevit had ordered Turkish troops into Cyprus to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriot citizens, who were being oppressed by the Greeks. At least that was the 'truth' as seen by the Turkish journalists." -- Midnight Express, Billy Hayes

On the 20th of July 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus. On the 18th of November 1983 the North was unilaterally declared as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. A state that no other country with the exception of Turkey recognises.

Cyprus today is a divided island. A Green Line divides the island. On the Turkish side razor wire, minefields, watch-towers every few hundred metres. A scene reminiscent of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain dividing East and West Germany. Famagusta is a ghost town. Many refugees, both Turkish and Greek Cypriots fled to the South.

An estimated 40-50,000 Turkish troops illegally occupy Northern Cyprus. Possibly as many as 100,000 Turkish settlers, many against their will, have moved into Northern Cyprus. Stories of atrocities filter across the border. Reports filter out of systematic and widespread plunder and destruction of Greek archaeological sites.

It takes two to tango. In the early 1970's Turkey was looking for an excuse to invade. A handful of Greek Cypriots gave Turkey that excuse. Spurred on by a fascist military junta in Greece they mounted an abortive coup against the legitimate government of Cyprus. With genuine fears for the Turkish Cypriot minority Turkey initially had the tacit approval of the International Community.

In the first invasion (20 July 1974) Turkey secured an area around Kyrenia. In defiance of a UN Security Council resolution to withdraw its forces, Turkey mounted a second invasion on the 14th of August 1974. Within two days, Turkey had captured more than a third of the territory of Cyprus.

The fascist junta in Greece has long given way to a democratic regime, the Turkish occupying forces remain in place.

Turkey occupies 37% of the island's land. 165,000 people fled from the North of the island, not only Greek Cypriots but also Turkish Cypriots. 45,000 Turkish Cypriots were 'helped' to flee to the North by attacks by out-of-control Greek Cypriot paramilitary units and attacks by Turkish Cypriot terror units. More than 200,000 people became refugees in their own land.

A tiny handful of Greek Cypriots remain in the North, determined not to be driven from their homes. Many of those that remain are elderly and in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

A steady stream of Turkish Cypriots has continued to leave the North to live abroad. They find that their cosmopolitan world view is increasingly at odds with the repressive regime back home. Denktash has called these migrants 'traitors', conveniently forgetting that it is his repressive regime that is driving these people to leave their own country. A Turkish Cypriot opponent of Denktash described occupied Cyprus as 'a prison in the sun'. He was one of many Turkish Cypriot critics of Denktash, who is seen by many Turkish Cypriots as nothing more than a puppet of Ankara.

Tourists who visit occupied Northern Cyprus describe on their return to freedom a holiday spent in a Police State - soldiers and police everywhere, watching every movement.

Turkey is a repressive, brutal, Islamic regime, on a par with Indonesia, Iran or Iraq. Repression against its own people is well documented. Repression of lawyers, writers, intellectuals, students, trade union officials, human rights campaigners, minority groups within Turkey, especially Christian, Armenian, Greek and Kurdish minorities. Human rights groups who monitor the level of abuse and attempt to collect evidence find themselves in turn subjected to harassment and abuse.

Human rights offices are closed or threatened with closure. Officials are threatened and intimidated. On Tuesday 12 May 1998, Akin Birdal, head of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) was gunned down at his office in Ankara.

Early May 1998 a sit-down protest by the Mothers of the Disappeared was attacked by the police and those present arrested. Even this small, low key demonstration has proved more than the repressive regime can stomach. The protests are now banned.

To a hushed committee room in the House of Lords, two young lawyers gave a chilling account of their attendance as independent, international observers at a political trial in Turkey's State Security Court, April/May 1998. The court was ringed by troops and tanks, within, the accused were faced by armed soldiers. Those on trial were executive members of HADEP, a political party. Their 'crime' to was speak on behalf of the Kurds.

To the same meeting, chaired by the eminent Lord Hylton (Moses Room, 2 June 1998), speaker after speaker highlighted the atrocities, wide scale abuses of human rights that were taking place in Turkey, the breaches of international agreements. Calls were made for international sanctions against Turkey. To coincide with the meeting, a damning report, documenting the widespread atrocities in Turkish occupied Kurdistan was launched.

During 1996 a group of EU parliamentarians produced a damning report of Human Rights violations in Turkey and Northern Cyprus, and the lack of fundamental democratic rights. The UK Parliamentary Group produced an equally damning report on human rights abuses and the lack of democracy. In March 1998, the European Commission produced a report stating 'No substantial progress has been achieved as regards human rights and democratic reform', since their last report. These are but samples of many such reports on Turkey produced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other Human Rights groups.

In 1996, and again in 1997 the House of Lords debated human rights abuses in Turkey. Both sessions were highly critical and carried some harrowing accounts of the abuses taking place. The instigator of both debates, Lord Avebury, is a banned person in Turkey on account of his tireless campaigning for the oppressed in both Turkey and occupied Cyprus.

During the Gulf War two RAF aircrew were shot down in a bombing raid over Iraq. A few days later they were paraded on Iraqi TV badly beaten up and forced to 'confess' their actions. Whatever the thoughts of Saddam Hussein, his actions were counter-productive as it hardened the resolve of the world to rid itself of Hussein.

During the 1996 rout of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein one of these airmen spoke out publicly against the West's policy of protecting the Kurds. This was not because the airman had no sympathy towards the Kurds, far from it, his attack was on the hypocrisy of the West. One day British aircrews would be risking their lives to protect the Kurds from Iraqi incursions, the next day they would be asked to stand down to allow Turkey to carry out bombing raids against Kurdish villages. Raids using a military machine financed and built by the West.

14 May 1997, Turkey launched an invasion of northern Iraq. 20 May 1998, Turkey launched a second invasion.

In the Summer of 1996 a couple of Greek Cypriots were killed during disturbances on the neutral Green Line dividing the illegally occupied North of Cyprus from the rest of Cyprus. In the first case demonstrators against the Turkish occupation strayed into the Turkish side. One of the demonstrators was beaten and bludgeoned to death. Yes, they were foolish to stray across the line but that in no way justifies the brutality of the response. A few days later, at the funeral of the first victim and with tempers running high, a cousin of the victim ran across the neutral zone, shinned up a flag pole and attempted to tear down the Turkish flag (the flag of the hated oppressor and occupier). He was shot down in cold blood.

A few days after the killings Turkish Foreign Secretary and ex-Prime Minister Tansu Ciller arrived on the scene. Demonstrating that she herself was no less a thug she remarked that anyone who touched the Turkish flag would be cut down. US papers and press reports late 1996 linked Tansu Ciller to organised crime and death squads. Members of the Turkish parliament have accused Tansu Ciller of having links and called on the State Prosecutor to investigate.

The killings in the Summer were not the only tragedies to take place that year. In the Autumn a Cypriot, ironically a refugee from the occupied North, was out collecting snails. Foolishly he strayed into the neutral zone. He was shot dead. He was shot dead even though he had his hands in the air in an act of surrender. To make doubly sure several shots were fired into his body as he lay on the ground.

Digitally enhanced pictures of the killers have been posted on the Web in attempt to bring the killers to trial.

In total four people were killed on the Green Line during 1996. Earlier in the year, a Greek Cypriot National Guardsman was killed on the Green Line.

On Sunday 15 December 1996 UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind arrived in Cyprus on a two day visit. He was accompanied by special envoy Sir David Hanney. They put to the people of Cyprus a 10 Step Programme. Noticeable by its absence was any call for Turkey to withdraw, though Rifkind did refer to this in his statements. The 10 Steps refers to the setting up of a a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, with give and take on all sides and the need for confidence building between the two sides. Rifkind emphasised that he was acting for anyone other than the UK, conveniently forgetting that the UK was and still is a guarantor of Cyprus's independence. Putting to one side my own reservations on the plan, Rifkind is at the very least to be commended as the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Cyprus since the Turkish invasion with the sole intention of attempting to resolve the Cyprus problem.

Were Cyprus to agree to the 10 Steps it would be all give by Cyprus and all take by Turkey. In effect it would legitimise the occupation and partition of Cyprus.

From discussions with the UK Foreign Office it is all too clear their lack of understanding of the situation in Cyprus. Their constant reference to the two communities is illustrative of this. It is questionable whether they have anyone on the ground who understands the situation.

We are all hampered by the cultural baggage that we carry around with us. How we perceive a situation very much depends upon where we are coming from. The cultural baggage for anyone in the UK is Northern Ireland - two sharply divided communities, decades of hatred between the two communities, with no sign of that hatred diminishing, inflamed as it is by the bigots on both sides of the religious divide.

This is not the situation in Cyprus. The two communities were, until recently, intermixed and lived happily side by side. In fact it is probably a misnomer to speak of two communities. The danger then is that we fall into the trap of referring to the Greek side of the island and the Turkish side, when what we should refer to are Cypriots (Turkish and Greek) and a free Cyprus and an occupied Cyprus. If we don't get the semantics of the language straight then we are unlikely to move forward as we are failing to understand the situation. Prior to the Turkish invasion and occupation, there was not one part of the island that was predominately Turkish Cypriots and another part that was predominately Greek Cypriots.

That is not to belittle the atrocities that have occurred between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, these should remain as part of the historical record if for no other reason than as a warning of what can occur when things go wrong. Nor should we overlook the need to establish constitutional rights for minorities and ensure that every citizen defends and upholds those rights.

The situation in Cyprus is not that of two sharply divided communities, it is that of an independent country, part of whose territory is currently occupied by a repressive regime.

The Turkish Cypriots living in the North do not see the Turks as liberators as is so often claimed by Turkey, on the other hand we should not underestimate their fear and trepidation at re-integration with the rest of Cyprus with the knowledge of inter-ethnic atrocities still within living memory. The withdrawal of Turkish troops would require their replacement with Nato Bosnia style peace-keepers as part of the confidence building measures.

Cypriots have patiently stood by, sometimes not so patiently when frustrations erupt into mad demonstrations, but on the whole they have been prepared to rely on the world seeing the justice of their case. The world has conveniently looked the other way. There are signs that this patience is wearing very thin and will soon be at an end. The rest of the world walks on by. Attempts to buy arms on the World market (tanks and missile systems) is not the answer. Apart from the downside of a slide from angry confrontation to armed conflict there is the very real possibility of Turkey mounting a pre-emptive strike before the missiles are in place. It should be made very clear to Turkey that a pre-emptive strike would result in very serious consequences for Turkey. Cyprus has a thriving tourist industry, so once did Lebanon and Yugoslavia. Does Cyprus really want to be reduced to another Lebanon or Yugoslavia?

The way forward is a propaganda offensive in the West and Russia against Turkey. Turkey is no friend of the West, neither is Turkey a friend of Russia. Turkey is active with Iran and Iraq in attempting to form an Islamic Common Market. It has been active in attempting to destabilise Russia's southern republics, within Russia it has provided military support to Chechan separatists. It has been meddling in the Balkans, in particular Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania.

In the early hours of Wednesday 18 December 1996 BBC World Service reported a statement by the Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of his intentions to establish a defence pact with Iran.

If the will existed Turkey could be kicked out of Cyprus overnight. Cyprus has to be far more pro-active in putting its case to world opinion and in highlighting that in backing Turkey the world is backing the wrong horse. Cyprus has to emphasise that it is a Western democracy with a cosmopolitan world view and contrast that with Turkey and in particular highlight the lack of democracy and human rights abuses that are the norm for Turkey.

Post-Cold War offers an unparall