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The Turks, the Egyptians, the Greeks and NATO

Reader comment on item: Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza
in response to reader comment: Cyprus and Nasser

Submitted by Ianus (Poland), Aug 9, 2010 at 17:37

Hi , dhimmi no more !

Again you ask fundamental questions and it is not so easy to give a reliable answer to them as long as the archives in Turkey, Britain and America are not freely and fully accessible.

So let me make just a few tentative introductory points without striving to provide a final answer at all. Let me start with something simple. You write :

> many people in Egypt had vivid memories of the turks and their brand of imperialism [...]My interest here is in the relationship between Gamal Abd el-Nasser and his friendship with Makarious [...]It is very clear that the Greeks and Makarious sided with the Palestinians and this fact was not appreciated by Israel or by our policy makers here in the US.<

You're correct that the memories of Ottoman misgovernment in Egypt have contributed a lot to the enmity between the Turks and the Arabs. Many other minor, some very amusing , incidents

reinforced that ancient hatred.

But to understand the rationale behind the collective feelings it is rather necessary – I believe – to take a glance at the political game in the Near East after WWII and especially the role played by Turkey there. It turns out that until mid-1960-ies Turkey had been conducting an openly unfriendly and domineering policy towards the Arabs states, in particular towards Egypt. And this is the main reason for Nasser's hatred towards the Turk and his friendship with Makarios. Now as Turkey was allied with Israel and Israel supported Turkish demands, blackmail and aggression in Cyprus, this Israeli position forced the Greeks -whether they wanted it or not - to oppose Israel and support their enemies - Palestinians and other Arabs. The Israeli embassy in Nicosia was opened only after Makarios was presented on 13.01.1961 with a harsh ultimatum from the Turkish leaders Kucuk, Denktash and Orek (the defense minister).

But let's come back to Turkey. Nowadays Turkey has a reputation of an arrogant, contemptuous country with self-important self-assured politicians that don't recoil from insulting Israel and America. It is surprising therefore when one looks at their behaviour some 60 years ago and sees craven, servile bootlickers imploring help and protection.

Yes, the Turks were fearful and panic-stricken when Stalin put forth his demands and territorial claims after 1945. Turkey had conspired with the Nazis, conducted anti-Soviet Pan-Turkic propaganda during the war, let Nazi war ships in and out of the Straits to either fight or escape the Soviet Armybreaching the Montreux Convention. Turkey cringed first to Britain and after 1947 to America to be rescued by protective alliances, military and economic help. And indeed it got amply what she was begging for. Buta s a result she became totally dependent in terms of its economic development, military equipment, know-how and training.

The subservient and bootlicking character of Turkey between 1945-1964 is no exaggeration at all. I could have never suspected that until I recently read a study on Turkish foreign policy after WWII with excellent bibliography and extensive quotes from primary sources. Indeed, until the Cyprus crisis of 1964 and Johnson's letter no Turkish politician or party - except the banned Turkey's Workers' Party for obvious reasons – had ever questioned or complained in public about this subordinated and subservient status of Turkey towards its overlords. Quite the contrary! The press , all political parties, opinion leaders were enthusiastic about the situation !

And Turkey acted according to this new situation. Whatever initiative Britain or America proposed Turkey always supported it - be it in the denial of a seat in the Security Council to Mao's China or in America's initiative to deploy nuclear weapons in NATO member states. Turkey always voted 'yes'.

This unconditional support for the Western policy worldwide had a far-reaching consequences for countries that had recently been under British control. It bred suspicions, mistrust and anger first of all in Egypt towards Turkey. To start with Turkey opposed the Egyptian demands for the withdrawal of the British forces from the Suez Canal Zone arguing this would damage the free world and bring no advantage to the Egyptians themselves. On several occasions Turkey put pressure on Egypt to join different defense projects in which she it either itself involved in or hoped to join like the Middle East Command, the Mediterranean Defense Organization , the Baghdad Pact. The aim was to bind again Egypt and restrict its indepedence as alliances tend to do exactly that. The importunate Turkish demands and pressure led in 1954 to breaking diplomatic relations between Cairo and Ankara.

When Egypt moved the question of the withdrawal of the British forces from the Suez Canal zone to the UN, Turkey opposed it vehemently. This opposition was used by Britain as an argument to include a clause in the agreement bteween Egypt and Britain stipulating a possibility of re-activating the Suez military base in case not just any Arab country but also Turkey were attacked by a third power. It provoked fury in Egypt.

But it was not just Egypt that felt the growing pressure from Turkey. Also other Arab countries were targeted. Syria faced deployment of Turkish troops along its borders with military exercises and armed incidents. The Turkish intention was to force Syria to enter an alliance with Turkey or the Baghdad Pact and the powers that stood behind it. When Britain joined the Baghdad Pact in 1955 it caused even more resentment in Egypt as nothing better showed that Turkey was a Trojan horse used by Britain to restore its influence in the Arab world.

But the peak of hatred against the Turks was reached when Abdel Gammal Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956. The Turks immediately protested vehemently and supported the US plant to transfer it under the UN mandate or make a consortium of Suez Canal Users , i.e. to in fact withdraw it from Nasser's control. When the invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956 by the British and French troops commenced the Turks were among few countries which openly supported teh operation even though the US didn't do that.

It is worth remembering that the British made use of Cyprus as their base where they concentrated the troops and launched their attack against Egypt from. Nasser never forgot this war and did his best to neutralize the island.

Yet, this obedient and even bootlicking policy of Turkey brought many advantages to her. Between 1947-1964 it received some $4,3 billion alone from the US . 60% of this sum were purely military expenditures. It is with US money that huge Turkish budget deficits were covered. Investments, new roads, pipelines, ports , airports were built with American help across Turkey. The backward Turkish army was modernized with American arms and training program. In Izmir were located the headquarters of all the NATO land armies of South Eastern Europe and the Command Centre of the 6th Tactical Air Force and in Ankara the headquarters of the Command Centre for the Eastern Mediterranean . In short Turkey grew in importance and was changed within two decades into a huge NATO arsenal and a modern military camp.

But Turkish obedience brought also another important victory.Britain invited it to participate as a "rightful" partner in the "solution" of the Cyprus problem , although Turkey had no right whatsoever to Cyprus because it had given up all claims to the island in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Now imagine your worst enemy out of a sudden receives a right to decide the future of a possible bridgehead to start invasion of Egypt from! What could Nasser policy be other than siding with and supporting by all means the force on the island that opposed the Turks, that wanted no British military bases, that chose neutrality and non-alignment ? Such a Cypus without Turkish or British bases was the only guarantee for the island's independence and Egypt's security.

So , essentially , the positions and interests of Makarios and Nasser on the Cypurs issue and the wider Middle East were identical , especially the moment it became clear that enosis could not be achieved because Turkey would never accept it and the British would not abandon their bases voluntarily. Nasser and Makarios joined hands as both knew that should NATO Turkey get what they wanted, Cyprus would become a huge NATO base, a potential permanent threat to the Suez Canal or as one journalist put it metaphorically "a knife directed at the back of Egypt".

This alliance gave in turn Makarios very tangible results starting from the day when Britain having refused to allow enosis the Cyprus issue was brought to the UN forum in 1954. All the League of Arab Nations voted against Turkey's claims . When one adds the vote in favour of Makarios by the USSR and the socialist countries natural enemies of NATO and Turkey in particular, then it becomes clear that if the UN had been allowed to decide the Cyprus issue, then without any doubt it would have been solved justly on behalf of the Greeks. First , the right to self-determination would have been accorded immediately and a referendum would have been conducted. The referendum would have had two outcomes only – enosis or independence with Greek majority ruling the country and possibly -on grounds of another eferendum - the eviction of the British bases. In both cases Turkey – and her British protector and NATO - would have lost and so none of them could allow the UN to solve the Cyprus issue.

They had quite a different concept that eventually won – with disastrous consequences. They saw Cyprus as an internal NATO problem. Turkey was invited as a partner because it was a faithful NATO ally which it had been proved on many occasions. Now if the Cyprus issue was allowed to be "solved" within NATO, the solution would mean NATO military bases and NATO control on the island. This was the real meaning of the Zurich-London Agreements which made three NATO countries - Greece , Turkey , Britain - guarantors of Cyprus' independence. But exactly this triple guarnatee is what made Cyprus so dependent and unfree. We see one power that have two large military bases and another one secretly allied with it, with no legal claims , but ready to intervene and dictate its own pro-NATO conditions on the island.

With Turkey as a guarantor no UN solution of the Cyprus problem was possible, only a NATO-dictated solution , i.e. NATO control. Makarios saw it clearly and did all he could to avert the NATO solution with its disastrous effects and bring the Cyprus issue back to the UN where he was sure of success relying on all the anti-Turkish forces.

In this context it is worth stressing that the NATO solution which finally prevailed in 1974 makes any hopes for a UN-sponsored resolution of the Cyprus problem which is so advertised at its present stage totally illusory. Turkey acted as a NATO power , used NATO weapons to bring about a NATO-sponsored solution. This solution is subsumed in the sad fact that the Turks occupying Northern Cyprus are part of the Turkish army which is integral part part of NATO force.

Rump Cyprus without many natural resources and with huge refugee problems and trauma was left 'independent' as it was only such "rump independence" without resources and force that seemed safe to the authors of the NATO solution of the Cyprus issue , first of all to Kissinger.


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