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In light of Ankara's recent criticism of what it calls Israel's "open-air jail" in Gaza, today's date, which marks the anniversary of Turkey's invasion of Cyprus, has special relevance.
Turkish policy toward Israel, historically warm and only a decade ago approaching full alliance, has cooled since Islamists took power in Ankara in 2002. Their hostility became explicit in January 2009, during the Israel-Hamas war. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan grandly condemned Israeli policies as "perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction" and even invoked God ("Allah will … punish those who transgress the rights of innocents"). His wife Emine Erdoğan hyperbolically condemned Israeli actions as so awful they "cannot be expressed in words."
Emine Erdoğan, wife of the Turkish prime minister.
Their verbal assaults augured a further hostility that included insulting the Israeli president
, helping sponsor the "Freedom Flotilla,"
and recalling the Turkish ambassador
This Turkish rage prompts a question: Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts:
- Turkey's invasion of July-August 1974 involved the use of napalm and "spread terror" among Cypriot Greek villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast, Israel's "fierce battle" to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and entailed virtually no civilian casualties.
- The subsequent occupation of 37 percent of the island amounted to a "forced ethnic cleansing" according to William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, the Jews, in 2005.
- The Turkish government has sponsored what Mallinson calls "a systematic policy of colonization" on formerly Greek lands in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots in 1973 totaled about 120,000 persons; since then, more than 160,000 citizens of the Republic of Turkey have been settled in their lands. Not a single Israeli community remains in Gaza.
- Ankara runs its occupied zone so tightly that, in the words of Bülent Akarcalı, a senior Turkey politician, "Northern Cyprus is governed like a province of Turkey." An enemy of Israel, Hamas, rules in Gaza.
- The Turks set up a pretend-autonomous structure called the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Gazans enjoy real autonomy.
- A wall through the island keeps peaceable Greeks out of northern Cyprus. Israel's wall excludes Palestinian terrorists.
The division of Cyprus since 1974.
A sign on the fence around Varosha, Cyprus.
And then there is the ghost town of Famagusta
, where Turkish actions parallel those of Syria under the thuggish Assads
. After the Turkish air force bombed the Cypriot port city, Turkish forces moved in to seize it, thereby prompting the entire Greek population (fearing a massacre) to flee. Turkish troops immediately fenced off the central part of the town, called Varosha, and prohibited anyone from living there.
As this crumbling Greek town is reclaimed by nature, it has become a bizarre time capsule from 1974. Steven Plaut of Haifa University visited and reports: "Nothing has changed. … It is said that the car distributorships in the ghost town even today are stocked with vintage 1974 models. For years after the rape of Famagusta, people told of seeing light bulbs still burning in the windows of the abandoned buildings."
Curiously, another Levantine ghost town also dates from the summer of 1974. Just 24 days before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Israeli troops evacuated the border town of Quneitra, handing it over to the Syrian authorities. Hafez al-Assad chose, for political reasons too, not to let anyone live in it. Decades later, it too remains empty, a hostage to bellicosity.
Signs on a metal gate in the capital city of Nicosia.
that Turkish troops are not occupying northern Cyprus but are there in "Turkey's capacity as a guarantor power," whatever that means. The outside world, however, is not fooled. If Elvis Costello
recently pulled out of a concert in Tel Aviv to protest the "suffering of the innocent [Palestinians]," Jennifer Lopez
canceled a concert in northern Cyprus to protest "human rights abuse" there.
In brief, Northern Cyprus shares features with Syria and resembles an "open-air jail" more than Gaza does. How rich that a hypocritical Ankara preens its moral plumage about Gaza even as it runs a zone significantly more offensive. Instead of meddling in Gaza, Turkish leaders should close the illegal and disruptive occupation that for decades has tragically divided Cyprus.
Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
July 20, 2010 update: I lacked space above to mention, much less quote from, the angry speech that Cypriot Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II delivered on July 4, 2010, to Pope Benedict XVI. Excerpts:
since 1974, Cyprus and its Church have been experiencing the most difficult times in their history. ... Turkey has implemented a plan of ethnic cleansing. It drove out the Orthodox Christians from their ancestral homes and brought -- and continues to bring -- hundreds of thousands of settlers from Anatolia, thus altering the demographic character of Cyprus. In addition, it has changed all the historical place names into Turkish ones.
Our cultural heritage has been plundered relentlessly and our Christian monuments are being destroyed or sold on the markets of illicit dealers in antiquities, in an attempt to rid the island of every last trace of all that is Greek or Christian. ...
In this struggle of ours, Your Holiness, which the Cypriot people are waging with the guidance of their Leaders, we would greatly appreciate your active support. We look forward to your help in order to ensure protection and respect for our sacred monuments and our cultural heritage, in order that the diachronic values of our Christian spirit might prevail. These values are currently being brutally violated by Turkey -- a country desirous of joining the European Union.
Dec. 26, 2010 update: Imagine Israeli forces stopping a mosque service on a major Islamic holiday. Well, that's what Turkish troops did yesterday, on Christmas, at a church in northern Cyprus:
For the first time in 36 years Christians trapped in the occupied area were forbidden from celebrating Christmas. On Christmas morning, Saturday 25 December 2010, Father Zacharias and a large number of people went to the Church of Saint Sinesios in Rizokarpaso (photo) to begin Matins for Christmas. Meanwhile men of the occupied forces rushed to the church, interrupted the service, urged the priest to remove his vestments, and ordered everyone leave the church. When everyone had left, the doors were sealed.
Church of Saint Sinesios in Rizokarpaso, northern Cyprus.
Nov. 27, 2011 update: It's not just Turkey in Cyprus; it's also Turkey in Kurdistan. For some strong views on that topic, see Chia Shojaei, "The Dirty War in Northern Kurdistan." Here's the first paragraph:
Imagine a great empire, the Kurdish Medes, has been a colony and everyday are killed reality owners of this land, Kurdistan, by the Turkish immigrants. Oppressed people are Kurds and cruel nation are the Turkish government. The Turks came and got Kurdistan under their power on 11th century. During the Othman power until recently, they killed more than two million Kurdish and Armenian people. Right now there is fighting between colonist, Turks, and colony, Kurds. For almost 30 years, Turkish government has directly started the war against Kurdistan. This war has many reasons but the primary roots of war between Kurdish nation and Turkish government are cultural, political, and economical issues.
Dec. 22, 2011 update: Speaking in Washington, the foreign minister of Cyprus, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, noted that "Mr. Erdogan sees no contradiction in pontificating from the UN General Assembly podium on the failure of Israel to abide by UN resolutions, while Turkey is in violation of numerous mandatory UN Security Council resolutions in Cyprus."
Oct. 31, 2012 update: Arsen Ostrovsky, previously of Hudson Institute and EYEontheUN.org, notes in "Erdogan, Sovereignty, and Israel" the contrast in Erdoğan's policies toward Syria and Gaza:
In the past week, the government of Turkey – understandably – launched military action against Syria in response to mortar fire by the Assad regime, which killed five Turkish civilians in the town of Akcakale. In retrospect, this represents an opportune time for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan to consider apologizing to Israel for some of his vitriolic attacks against the Jewish state following their response against Hamas rocket fire from Gaza in late 2008.
Responding to Syria's unprovoked attack against Turkey, Erdoğan said "Turkey is a country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue." Further, in tabling his motion in Parliament on October 4th, seeking approval for military action, Erdoğan added: "This situation has reached a stage that poses serious threats and risks to our national security. Therefore, the need has developed to act rapidly and to take the necessary precautions against additional risks and threats that may be directed against our country." …
Erdoğan's decision to send Turkish troops into Syria came after a single mortar attack, which the Syrian authorities claim was accidental, but nonetheless killed five Turkish citizens.
Yet, Israel endured something in the vicinity of 8,000-plus rockets, and many more causalities from Gaza, before retaliating against Hamas in Operation 'Cast Lead' in December 2008. Rocket and mortar fire still continues from the Gaza strip today.
At the time of Israel's response, Erdoğan unleashed a barrage of vitriol against Israel, the likes of which were unprecedented in the history of relations between the two states, calling Israel's actions against Hamas terrorists in Gaza a "crime against humanity" and saying that "Israel must pay a price for its aggression and crimes". He even went to so far as to call for Israel to be barred from the United Nations.
Jan. 4, 2013 update: Dore Gold of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs adds an important dimension in "European settlements and double standards" that I did not cover in my article: foreigners coming in and buying discounted vacation homes in Occupied Cyprus.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Turkey and Turks
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