The Cyprus controversy is a very divisive and contentious matter, and an often overlooked episode of the 20th Century. From Turkey's invasion in 1974 to the failed UN reunification plan in 2004, the controversy has sparked diplomatic tensions between Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey over the past thirty-two years. However, in light of Turkey's EU membership aspirations, awareness of the atrocities and injustices committed by Turkey during and after the invasion is imperative. Turkey's unjust invasion of Cyprus, the war crimes committed during its attack, and the strife that has resulted from the invasion constitute a crime for which Turkey has gone unpunished for over the past quarter century.
On July 20, 1974, without declaring war, Turkey launched "Operation Atilla", the military operation that eventually led to the Turkish control of nearly 37% of the island of Cyprus (the entire northern section of Cyprus). The reason: Turkey was supposedly exercising its right of military involvement as a guarantor of Cyprus's 1960 constitution. Because a coup five days preceding the invasion threatened Turkish Cypriots, the Turkish government felt obligated to intervene, or in other words, disregard the sovereignty of Cyprus as a nation. Although the coup had collapsed two days into the invasion, the Turkish military refused to withdraw its troops from Cyprus; in the process, they committed numerous atrocities and crimes against humanity not atypical of the Turkish military. Nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots, 82% of the population of Northern Cyprus, were driven out of their homes and fled south as refugees. Thousands, soldiers, men, women, and children, were killed during the operation, and more than 1,600 civilians are still not accounted for.
Although the acts of violence were mainly directed towards Greek Cypriots, whole Turkish Cypriot villages have also been recorded as massacred (Turkey was supposedly protecting the Turkish Cypriot population). According to the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkish forces also arbitrarily detained Greek Cypriots during the invasion and sent them to concentration camps and prisons throughout Cyprus and mainland Turkey; 3,000 of these "prisoners" are still missing today. Prior to the invasion, the Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit made the following statement in the speech announcing the invasion: "Turkey's aim is to restore security and human rights without any discrimination whatsoever". It is quite evident through the brutal actions of the Turkish military during Operation Atilla that the exact opposite of "Turkey's aim" was accomplished, that basic human rights of the populace were violated in a place Turkey should never have been in the first place.
The atrocities did not cease with the conclusion of the Operation, rather they continue up until this very day. The almost 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who were driven from their homes are still barred from crossing the line that separates north from south; they cannot return to the homes they were expelled from. Furthermore, the land and businesses that these refugees once owned in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus are being sold illegally to contractors and private buyers by the Turkish forces. When the invasion ended, there were 20,000 Greek Cypriots in enclaves at the Karpass Peninsula of Northern Cyprus; today, less than 600 remain. On top of wanting to rid Northern Cyprus of every Greek Cypriot, the occupying forces are also in the process of eradicating every trace of the their cultural heritage in the occupied area. Century-old Greek Orthodox churches have been converted into mosques, entertainment centers, and even barns; mosaics and frescoes are open to the international smuggling network and vandalizing.
In an effort to offset the Greek Cypriot population and establish a firm foothold in Cyprus, the Turkish government has illegally brought more than 100,000 settlers to colonize the occupied zone (in violation of article 49 in the Geneva Convention). These settlers were immediately given the right to vote, citizenship, and in many cases homes that once belonged to Greek Cypriots. In an action deemed illegal by the UN Security Council, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was formed in 1983 as a puppet regime. To further emphasize the illegality of this move, Turkey is the only nation that recognizes the TRNC as an independent country. Around 40,000 Turkish troops are stationed in Northern Cyprus for, according to the government of Turkey, "the protection of the Turkish population". All of the aforementioned actions committed by Turkey during and after the invasion consist of violations against the UN Charter, UN Resolutions, UN International Covenants on Human Rights, The Hague Relations, The European Convention on Human Rights, and the Geneva Convention.
On March 13, 2004, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced a completely ridiculous plan to reunify Cyprus. In a 9,000 page document, the plan proposed the formation of a single, unified Cypriot nation consisting of two federations, Greek and Turkish, under a loose central government. The idea doesn't sound very bad, but the Annan proposal also states that the new nation will be called United Cyprus Republic, with a new flag and a new national anthem. Why should the current, universally recognized, legal nation of Cyprus have to compromise its flag, its anthem, and its identity to unite with an illegal nation that was founded through international violations and crimes against humanity?
The plan also states that the number of Greek Cypriot refugees that were kicked out of their homes have to amount to 18% of the Turkish Cypriot population. How just does that sound, that these refugees, who had their homes and livelihoods taken from them as a result of an unjust invasion, are not even allowed to return to their former residences in their entirety? Furthermore, the plan does not insist on the withdrawal of all Turkish troops stationed in Cyprus nor does it favor the repatriation of Turkish colonists. Not surprisingly, the Annan plan was overwhelmingly rejected by the Greek Cypriots and accepted by the Turkish side. It is important to note that in the election, the Turkish colonists, who comprise the majority of Northern Cyprus, were allowed to vote, but the Turkish Cypriots who fled south were barred from voting.
In an invasion that was supposedly carried out to protect Turkish Cypriots, Turkey achieved the antithesis of their original goal: they brought devastation and turmoil to a place they did not belong (and continue to do so today). The injustice inflicted upon a whole nation, both Greek and Turkish, ranges from legal crimes to crimes against humanity. What they accomplished: artificially separating Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, who once lived together in one society for 400 years. Nicosia, that capital of Cyprus, is the only divided city in the world as a result of the invasion. It is not surprising, though, that Turkey would commit such crimes with their past record of suppressing free speech, discriminating against Kurds, and refusing to recognize the Armenian genocide they committed. It is crucial, though, to be aware of such injustices such as the Cyprus controversy now that Turkey has aspirations to join the European Union, a community of democratic nations that do not reflect oppressive governments like Turkey.
Stephanos Karavas is a high school student with a keen interest in current affairs. A winner of several important awards in history and language and team captain of his school soccer team, Stephanos lives with his parents in Canton, Massachusetts.