This was a letter to The Age which was not published by that newspaper, even though I shortened it for the editor as requested. It was published instead, in its unshortened form, in the English section of the Greek-Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos.
To The Editor,
The Age, Melbourne
Wednesday, July 27, 1994
With reference to the article “Cyprus Disharmony Leaves Tragic Echoes” which appeared in The Age on the 21st of July, it is at the very least ironic that your European correspondent bemoans the continuation of what he calls the “sad, little tragedy” of Cyprus, since he himself is contributing to its continuation by misrepresenting the situation in Cyprus.
It is now twenty years since the Turkish army invaded Cyprus [Yes, it was an invasion, and not just because that is how “the Greeks like to describe it”. See “The Terrible Secrets of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus” in The Sunday Times, January 23 1977.] and instead of using the anniversary of this unacceptable invasion as an opportunity to call once again for Turkey to heed at last the UN resolutions on Cyprus and withdraw its forces from the island, and to condemn Turkey for exporting Turkish settlers to Cyprus in order to alter the island’s demography, Mr Ellingsen can only give us an inadequate and sometimes inaccurate potted history of the tragedy and inform us that there is nothing to celebrate!
On the contrary the Turkish government has much to celebrate. It has managed to hold on to illegally gained territory for twenty years and is even now, as Mr Denktash’s recent statements suggest, probably preparing the ground for the annexation of northern Cyprus. But there is no hurry, time is on Turkey’s side. For the present all the Turkish side has to do is keep the UN sponsored peace talks going but back away from any solid agreement, in the knowledge that no significant action will be taken against Turkey by any of the major powers. The Turkish side has been doing this for twenty years, it can do this for as long as is necessary. But perhaps it is no longer necessary: in your correspondent’s article I see little evidence of moral indignation at the prospect of Turkey making northern Cyprus a Turkish province. What I do see is subtle misrepresentation of the Cyprus issue in order to make such an eventuality seem both inevitable and justifiable.
For example, it is clear to anybody willing to do some basic research that there has been an enormous influx of Turkish settlers into the northern Turkish occupied part of Cyprus, while at the same time emigration of Turkish Cypriots from Cyprus has risen. One excellent study of recent demographical trends in Cyprus calculates that “by 1988, the actual Turkish Cypriot population, as a percentage of the island’s total population, had dropped to 14.2 per cent. The introduction of settlers, however had artificially raised the TRNC population to about 25 per cent of the country’s total population by that time.” [Christos P. Ioannides, In Turkey’s Image: The Transformation of Occupied Cyprus into a Turkish Province (N.Y., 1991), p. 22.] Your correspondent, however, whilst acknowledging the existence of settlers in northern Cyprus, still talks of the Turkish Cypriots as comprising a quarter of the population of Cyprus, without offering clarification, and reduces the amount of territory held by the Turkish army from the actual figure of 38 per cent to a mere third of the island, in this way totally misrepresenting the reality, which is that a minority of 14.2 per cent and falling is claiming the right to 38 per cent of the island! And in real terms that 38 per cent, which contains the most fertile land and the two best tourist resorts, amounts to a much larger slice of the economic resources of Cyprus than the figure itself indicates.
But is it really the Turkish Cypriot minority that is claiming this massive chunk of Cyprus. The northern part of Cyprus is now dominated by Turks from Turkey, present there as members of the Turkish army or as settlers. Apart from the 74,000 plus settlers there are also approximately 35,000 Turkish troops on the island. Turkey claims that this is a defensive force, and your correspondent implicitly accepts this claim when he describes the Turkish soldiers as “defending” the northern half of Cyprus. However the Turkish army is in fact deployed offensively against the part of Cyprus that the Greek Cypriots have not yet been forced out of, and that part is defended by a mere 10,000 Greek-Cypriot soldiers with only a tiny fraction of the firepower that the Turkish army has at its disposal. When one considers the area that the Turkish forces are supposedly defending one can only conclude that the Turkish military presence in Cyprus is massive. One wonders why the Turkish Government feels the need to deploy so many troops in Cyprus. Two reasons come to mind: a) that a further offensive against the Greek Cypriots is not regarded by Ankara as completely out of the question, and b) that the army supplements the settlers politically in the northern part of Cyprus. Given the demographic and military facts of the situation in northern Cyprus, one is justified in asking who Mr Denktash really represents? The Turkish Cypriots or the Turkish government, whose military forces and settlers dominate his illegal state, and outnumber the Turkish Cypriots? Logic tells us that even if he did want to take a line independent of Ankara, Mr Denktash is not in a position to do so. He is, to put it bluntly, a puppet of the Turkish government, and cannot be regarded as fully expressing the political will of the Turkish Cypriots, many of whom have voted with their feet and emigrated. What the Turkish Cypriots really want we cannot know as long as northern Cyprus remains under Turkish military control.
A major problem in arriving at a settlement of the Cyprus dispute is that after the 1974 invasion by Turkey the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots was transformed into a dispute between the Greek-Cypriots and Turkey. It is little wonder then that there has been no progress towards a settlement. While the government of Cyprus is locked into fruitless negotiations with Turkish Cypriot representatives who, logic tells us, can only be puppets of the government and armed forces that occupy and wield the real power in northern Cyprus, Turkey pretends to be the peacemaker concerned only for the lives and safety of the Turkish Cypriots. In reality however the long term aim of Turkey is to annex at least the northern part of Cyprus. Following his exhaustive study of Turkish policy with regard to Cyprus, Dr Christos P. Ioannides concludes that: “Since the early 1950’s, Turkish policy has been inspired by the fundamental belief that Cyprus is a Turkish island. This belief has been sustained by historic and ideological rationalisation.” [In Turkey’s Image, p. 191.]
But Cyprus is not a Turkish island, even though many journalists who write on Cyprus seem unable to face the obvious. It is a Greek island with a Turkish minority. Its language and culture since ancient times have been the same as those of Greece and its fortunes have paralleled those of Greece. Like Greece, Cyprus has been ruled by one foreign power after another. Like Greece, Cyprus was a part of the Byzantine Empire and later of the Ottoman Empire. Like Greece, Cyprus has a Turkish minority (a legacy of the Ottoman Empire). Unlike Greece however Cyprus ended up a British possession and when it struck its blow for freedom in 1955, it was savaged by Britain’s divide and rule tactics. Yes, Cyprus has never officially been a part of Greece, but then there was no Greek state for it to be a part of until 1832, and after it became a British possession in 1878 the only way it could become a part of Greece was by taking on Britain.
The Cyprus issue is a moral issue. Should a regional superpower like Turkey be allowed to invade a small defenceless island and annex territory to which it has no real claim, or should the major powers exert real and effective pressure on Turkey to pull its armed forces and settlers out of Cyprus and give the negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots a chance to work.
I regard all Cypriots as brothers and fellow countrymen, and would like to see an agreement that allows the Cypriots to live side by side and in peace. It is still not too late, but it can only happen if Turkey allows it to happen. I see no evidence of such goodwill on the part of Turkey.
Head, Modern Greek Section