Thirty-four years after the Turkish military invasion of Cyprus, the illegal occupation continues, perpetuating the division of the island and its people which the United States has allowed to go on since Henry Kissinger duplicitously handed Turkey a piece of the small island nation. More than three decades later, there is one Turkish soldier for every two Turkish Cypriot citizens for a total of 43,000 occupying troops, a staggering figure that far exceeds U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Tragically, human rights abuses are widespread in the 37 percent of Cyprus’ landmass which remains under Turkish occupation and control. Meanwhile, nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots have been forced from their homes, becoming refugees in their own country. Waves of unlawful settlers numbering 160,000 have been transferred from the Turkish mainland onto Cyprus (with a total population of 800,000) in a systematic effort to change the demographic composition of the island — a clear violation of international humanitarian law. The displacement of Greek Cypriots illustrates Turkey’s sinister intention to achieve soft ethnic cleansing.
The U.S. government is complicit in the Cypriots’ suffering because it has never substantively addressed the situation. This election year, it is imperative for our next president, whether Democrat or Republican, to finally make things right in Cyprus.
At a time when our reputation abroad has hit rock bottom, it is incumbent on us as U.S. citizens to demand a new, ethical policy to solve the Cyprus political question. Until such a policy is implemented, we will continue to incur the moral cost of not speaking the truth or holding fast to the bedrock principles on which this country was founded — human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. We are as a result damaging the repute of our own men and women in uniform, and creating more ill will when we most need to improve relations with the international community.
The U.S. position of preoccupation with Turkey, which turns a blind eye to the illegality of the occupation and human rights violations in Cyprus, is fundamentally undermining one of our closest partners in the region. Cyprus serves as a lighthouse in a troubled part of the world. It is a European Union member state strategically situated on the Middle East’s doorstep in the Eastern Mediterranean. It has shown deep commitment to pursuing stability and security in the region, providing essential support for those evacuated during the 2006 crisis in Lebanon, as well as over-flight and landing rights to U.S. aircraft and port access for U.S. ships throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, as a lighthouse, Cyprus’ potentially powerful beacon is being restricted by the unresolved conflict.
Turkey, meanwhile, can never gain EU membership as long as it occupies its neighbor in what has been described as one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world. By continuing its destructive occupation, Turkey severely harms its own interests. The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey in violation of numerous fundamental rights of Cypriots including the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to respect for family life, the right to protection of property and the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Turkey has yet to abide by the court’s judgments in blatant disregard for the rule of law.
The reality that the United States cannot or will not reconcile the little wars in the world which drag on because of its own inaction illustrates why a fundamental shift in our foreign policy is so desperately needed. The daily rhetoric we hear about America’s defense of democracy and human rights rings hollow when we ally ourselves with countries notorious for stifling democracy and abusing elemental rights — both of their own citizens and others. Our policymakers put forward elaborate reasoning for such strategic alliances. But this logic has shown itself to be fundamentally flawed. In the end, befriending oppressors at the expense of those who are victimized does not advance our most vital foreign policy goals.
How can the United States stand for human rights and allow cultural genocide to continue in Cyprus unabated? How can our government view Turkey as a true friend and partner until it withdraws its troops and offers meaningful remediation for the immense harm done to Cyprus since 1974? On this solemn commemoration, it is not enough simply to ask these tough questions of our government. We must demand its strong support for the genuine reunification of Cyprus and its people within a bicommunal, bizonal federation with a single sovereignty, citizenship, and international personality, and the withdrawal of all Turkish occupation troops from the island. Only then will human rights be respected and vigorously protected, and a national healing process can finally begin.
Kathryn Cameron Porter is President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.