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A Tale of Two Anniversaries

By on May 10, 2024
Endy Zemenides

by Endy Zemenides

In two months, we will be marking 50 years since Turkey launched its invasion of Cyprus and the beginning of a violent division that has proven over and over again to be the exception to the rule of a “Europe, whole, free and at peace.”

Turning 1/3 of the Greek-Cypriot population into refugees; violating multiple UN Security Council Resolutions; murdering thousands; desecrating historic churches; ethnically cleansing the northern part of Cyprus – there is much that Turkey has not yet been held to account for.  But let’s add to the bill of indictment: Turkey has turned Cyprus into an ongoing crime scene.

Finding a new way to violate international law on Cyprus has become an annual tradition for Turkey, but here are just some ways Turkey and it puppet occupation regime keep this “frozen conflict” active:

The Missing

Nearly 1,000 Cypriot remain missing since 1974.  This situation persists despite US law requiring that Turkey locate and turn over the remains of 5 American citizens that went missing during the invasion and despite the 2001 European Court of Human Rights decision holding Turkey liable for failing to investigate the fate of/locate the remains of the missing.

Ethnic Cleansing

Despite its insistence that its occupation presence is a “peace operation” they have enforced a regime of restrictions that ensure that the Greek Cypriot presence in the northern 37% of Cyprus will disappear with the enclaved Greek Cypriots.  The most striking example of these restrictions are the consistent violations of religious freedom and suppression of Christian heritage in occupied Cyprus.  Turkey – monitored as a Special Watch List country (one of the designations used by the US Commission of International Religious Freedom) – and its puppet regime in occupied Cyprus block dozens of Greek Orthodox religious services every year.  This may be bloodless, but it is still evidence of ongoing ethnic cleansing.


The “ghost city” of Varosha has long been considered a key to facilitating a solution to the Cyprus problem and the Anastasiades government made it the centerpiece of what could have been a game changing confidence building measure.  It is also the subject of its own UN Security Council resolutions.  So Turkey’s partial opening of the city over the past few years is brazen: it is simultaneously a brand new violation of Security Council resolutions and a declaration that Erdogan and Tatar are not genuinely interested in a peace process.

Buffer Zone

Turkey has employed it occupation military force to make regular incursions in the buffer zone – in which UN Security Council Resolutions prohibit entry by forces other than UN Peacekeeping troops.  These incursions culminated in the violent assault by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces on UN peacekeeping personnel last summer around the village of Pyla.

These are just some of the crimes Cyprus has been – and continues to be – subjected to.  And although we will use this year to lament and express outrage, we must also celebrate that the last 50 years were not simply defined by victimhood.

2024 marks another anniversary for the Republic of Cyprus as well – its entry into the European Union.  This achievement does not mitigate the tragedy and continuing legacy of the invasion, but nor should its significance in the history of Cyprus – and of the region – be discounted.

When he served as Foreign Minister, President Nikos Christodoulides often spoke of Cyprus as a “solution, not a problem”.  The Republic of Cyprus’ economic vitality, diplomatic heft, security and future is tied more to its European Union membership than to anything else.  Cyprus – scheduled to assume the EU Presidency in 2026 – has firmly established itself over the last 20 years as a frontline Western state when it comes to energy, maritime operations, humanitarian operations and in the security field.  This has had a spillover effect in Washington, DC – which over the last 10 years has not only declared Cyprus a “strategic partner” but has started putting meat on the bones of that designation.

Our community must keep both anniversaries in mind when we speak about Cyprus; they are inextricably tied to one another.  Cyprus’ EU membership has altered the context of Turkey’s continued occupation, and the occupation keeps the West from optimizing Cyprus’ EU membership (and other assets that it offers).  The best way to mark these anniversaries is to both hold Turkey accountable (e.g., over the opening of Varosha) for its occupation while enabling Cyprus as it emerges as a key problem solver (e.g., support for the Amalthea Initiative; permanent lifting of Cyprus Arms Embargo; Cypriot membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program).

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com