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Cyprus Problem: War Crime not just an Inter-Communal Dispute

By on September 13, 2014

by Dr. Costi Sofocleous*

The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision against Turkey vis a vis the 40 year long Northern Cyprus Occupation and control by the Turkish military poses important questions regarding the credibility of democratic nations that proclaim adherence to international law and justice. The ECHR clearly and correctly identified the forced division of the island along ethnic lines and the resulting missing persons, enclaved and de rooted as violations of human rights. Common sense implies that these not only constitute violations against human rights but classic examples of ethnic cleansing of the Greeks from their ancestors’ lands, currently Turkish controlled northern Cyprus. The UN and the Security Council have thus repeatedly indicated that the only legal government on Cyprus is the one based on the 1960 constitution and that the Greek Cypriot majority can represent the Republic and the entire island until a solution is found and the Turkish Cypriots return to the government.

Costi Sofocleous (right) with Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC, in front of the Capitol, during the recent PSEKA conference

Costi Sofocleous (right) with Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC, in front of the Capitol, during the recent PSEKA conference

Despite multiple UN resolutions for Turkish troops to withdraw from the island, Turkey maintains 40,000 soldiers on the ground and continues to transfer Anatolian settlers into the Greek occupied properties in the North. Unfortunately the UN as well as Britain, the USA and the EU have placed enormous pressure on the Greek Cypriots (barely an 800,000 population) to negotiate with the Turkish Cypriots (backed by the 70 million heavily militarized Turkey) a new constitution where the Republic of Cyprus will evolve or be replaced by a partnership bi-communal and bi-zonal Federation. It is clearly a political decision to accommodate the Turkish interests and in one way or another legitimize the illegal partition, occupation and all resulting war crimes committed by the Turkish military with NATO weapons in 1974 and through to date.

The ECHR clearly identifies the situation in Cyprus as continued violation of human rights and has asked for (90 million euros) monetary reparations to the relatives of missing persons as well as to those few enclaved in the KarpasPeninsula in the occupied territories. More importantly the court recognizes the rights for future reparations and similar claims for those that became refugees or were forced off their property due to the continued Turkish occupation of the island’s North.

To make things even more complicated, the recent discovery of natural gas in Cyprus territorial waters, still under Cypriot government control, have raised the stakes. Turkey refuses to recognize Cyprus since 1963 and continues to pose threats despite rhetoric for good will in an attempt to reunify Cyprus. The USA may have a renewed warm interest for Cyprus after a clear turn of the new right wing elected Cypriot government towards NATO and western allies. Israeli interests and conflict with Turkey as well as the West’s desire to decrease EU dependency on Russian energy, further enhances a tight relation of Cyprus to the US. In a recent historic visit of US vice president in Cyprus (the first since 1962), Mr. Biden was loud and clear, calling Cyprus and specifically the recognized Republic of Cyprus a new strong strategic partner of the United States in the tense area of the Easter Mediterranean.

Despite these facts and developments, Turkish Cypriots continue to present the Cyprus problem as simply an injustice towards them because of their isolation from the recognized government and the international community.  While they still carry passports of the EU member, Republic of Cyprus, and want to share the resources that may lie under the sea, they fail to acknowledge that any isolation of and certainly the lack of recognition towards their self proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is not due to discrimination but because their break away state is simply the result of war crimes inflicted by Turkey on the Greek Cypriots and to a lesser effect to Turkish Cypriots, now becoming a minority in a military controlled territory with a Turkish settler majority.

Despite the continuous good will of the Cyprus president and his pro bi-communal, bi-zonal Federation entourage, the victims of war, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike will never rest or trust any power or foreign intervention until there is recognition and reparation of war crimes on Cyprus and a recognition that this problem is not at all a simple inter-communal conflict. It is a complex international problem, the aftermath of war crimes against humanity, a post Second World War incident of ethnic cleansing. Those that claim and want to be just and democratic should propose a settlement that adheres on democratic principles, complies with international and European law and complies with the spirit of the recent decision of the ECHR.

Mr. Biden made a very good introduction to this new approach clarifying that the Republic of Cyprus is the only recognized entity in Cyprus and that there is no American intention to change this, but rather strengthen the position of this Republic as a strong and valuable US strategic partner.  It remains to be seen whether this declaration will be put in effect with a change in the US foreign policy vis a vis Turkey and Cyprus.

What is more important however, is whether the internationally recognized EU member Cypriot government will show the minimum courage to build on these new developments. The minimum requirement is to demand implementation of UN resolutions and EU as well as ECHR decisions with regards to Turkey and Cyprus, before continuing any type of negotiation with the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey. The continuation and progress of Turkey-EU accession talks should also be influenced accordingly. Anything less than that is simply wrong: politically, strategically but most importantly ethically.

* Costi Sofocleous is a physician practicing in NYC. He is a Greek-Cypriot refugee from the Turkish οccupied part of Cyprus.

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