Europe's Last Divided Capital Remembers Anniversary of Turkish Invasion

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: Jul 20, 2015 5:06 PM
Europe's Last Divided Capital Remembers Anniversary of Turkish Invasion

At 5:30am today, sirens echoed across Cyprus marking 41 years since Turkey invaded the island nation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Using the military coup instigated by the Greek junta as pretext, Turkey invaded and captured 4 percent of the island on July 20, 1974 with the illegal use of U.S.-supplied arms and equipment. Then, nearly a month later, and after the legitimate government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched another attack, this time taking another 33 percent of the island.

On August 16, 1974 a United Nations ceasefire resolution was declared, bringing the invasion, dubbed Operation Attila by Turkey, to an end. But Cyprus would never be the same.

When all was said and done, thousands of Greek Cypriots were killed; women of all ages raped; nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots became refugees, forced from their home and property; cultural property including scores of churches were defaced and destroyed; roughly 1,600 remain missing; and 37 percent of the island continues to be illegally occupied and now illegally settled by more than 180,000 Turks from Anatolia.

Nicosia is the last divided capital in Europe, with more than 1,000 U.N. peacekeepers still patrolling the buffer zone in the country, and Turkey continues to be the only nation that recognizes the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” as a country.

After decades of negotiations between the two sides a settlement remains a distant hope, though Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades recently said ‘progress is being achieved’ in the current round of talks.

Nevertheless, while today is celebrated in the north, it continues to be a somber day for the republic and the diaspora Cypriot and Greek communities around the world.

“[The invasion] was, and remains to this very day, an intolerable act; one that is a gross violation of the rule of law, human rights, and democratic ideals,” American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association President John Galanis said in a statement.

In a similar statement condemning the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on Monday, the American Hellenic Institute also noted some of the obstacles that have hampered progress on settlement talks.

“Turkey’s threats and inflammatory rhetoric toward Cyprus are a disappointment,” the statement said. “In addition to the 43,000 illegal Turkish troops occupying the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish threats against Cyprus have been clearly evident. From October 2014 to April 2015, Turkish incursion into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was provocative and unnecessarily elevated tensions, which led to suspension of settlement talks. During this period, Turkey authored its Navy for full implementation of amended rules of engagement off the shores of Cyprus, Egypt and Israel, and sent warships into the area. AHI also recalls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s November 2013 comment, “There is no country named Cyprus. There is the local administration of south Cyprus” as evidence of Turkey’s incendiary rhetoric.”

Galanis argued that Ankara holds the key to a successful settlement by letting the Turkish Cypriot community have the freedom to negotiate a solution within the UN’s framework and removing its 40,000 troops from the country. Moreover, urging Turkey to take these steps would be in the United States’ best interest, he said, as a solution would bring peace and potentially energy security to the eastern Mediterranean region, EU, and other U.S. allies in the region.

AHI’s statement also served as a reminder that Cyprus is a valued U.S. ally on security and counterterrorism issues, which VP Joe Biden publicly affirmed last year. Thus, the U.S. has an important role to play in helping settlement talks move forward, the organization argued.

“AHI contends the U.S can play a crucial role in finding a solution to the Cyprus issue by getting realistic with Turkey and eliminating its double-standard policy that has rewarded Turkish aggression and ignored countless violations of the rule of law in Cyprus,” the statement continued. “In light of the resumption of settlement talks, AHI calls on the U.S. government to place pressure on Turkey to advance the Rule of Law on Cyprus. Turkey must demonstrate that it will cease its intransigence on Cyprus and play a constructive role in the settlement process.”

AHEPA for its part said it hopes the time will soon come that the anniversary of a settlement can be celebrated instead.