Aggression by Turkey's military appears to be on the rise in Cyprus -- in areas it does not yet occupy. According to the Cypriot media, on February 8, Turkish soldiers approached Greek Cypriot farmers working in fields near the village of Denia in the United Nations "Buffer Zone," and threatened to kill them if they did not leave. Pictured: Turkish Army soldiers and tanks on parade in Nicosia, in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP via Getty Images)
Aggression by Turkey's military appears to be on the rise in Cyprus -- in areas it does not yet occupy. According to the Cypriot media, on February 8, Turkish soldiers approached Greek Cypriot farmers working in fields near the village of Denia in the United Nations "Buffer Zone," and threatened to kill them if they did not leave.
The Turkish soldiers threatened the Greek Cypriot farmers about ten days after Turkey "slammed" the UN for extending its Cyprus peacekeeping mandate.
When the UN Security Council approved a six-month extension of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) on January 27, 2022, the government of Turkey was not pleased. They condemned the UN decision on the grounds that the UN had not received "the consent of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)", an illegal entity recognized only by Turkey.
"Reiterating that Turkey supported the TRNC's condemnation of the U.N. resolution on the extension, the statement said that Ankara will fully back the steps the [TRNC] administration chooses to take in this regard," the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported.
To accompany its news report, Daily Sabah published an aerial photo of the "flag" of the TRNC next to a quote by the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that reads (in Turkish): "Happy is the one who says 'I am a Turk'". The "flag" had been painted on the Kyrenia mountain range, north of Nicosia, in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.
The Turkish presence in Cyprus dates back to 1570: Ottoman troops invaded and plundered the island. Thousands were murdered, many churches were converted into mosques, and some Muslims from Anatolia were transplanted to Cyprus. In 1878, Britain assumed administration of Cyprus; in 1914, it annexed Cyprus, which became an independent republic in 1960. Britain, Greece and Turkey became guarantors of the constitution and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus under the 1960 "Treaty of Alliance". Fourteen years later, however, Turkey would violate the treaty and commit an ethnic cleansing there.
So, how did that "Turkish flag" end up on the Kyrenia mountain range?
Noted for its historic harbor and castle, Kyrenia is a Greek Cypriot city built by the ancient Greeks, who were named Achaeans. Since the 1974 Turkish invasion, however, Kyrenia has been under unlawful Turkish occupation and the city's population consists now almost completely of illegal settlers from Turkey, who were allocated properties stolen from Greek Cypriots. The city -- like the rest of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus -- is now controlled by the TRNC, which is not recognized by international law.
Turkey's massive military invasion against Cyprus in 1974 was purportedly meant to restore constitutional order after a Greek coup, which lasted for less than a week. Turkey's actions, on the other hand, indicated that their goal had actually been ethnic cleansing and colonization. Until the 1974 invasion, the northern part of Cyprus - like the rest of the island – had been majority-Greek. The Turkish invasion forcibly changed that. Today, more than 40,000 Turkish troops are illegally stationed in the occupied area. The indigenous Greek Cypriot residents have never been allowed to return and reclaim their homes and lands.
The democratically-elected mayoral officials of Kyrenia, who had to leave the city after the invasion, wrote:
"The Turkish invasion of July 20th 1974 destroys everything. The Greek residents of Kyrenia, terrified by the gunfire of the Turkish air force, scatter and seek shelter in basements. Three days after the invasion a cease fire agreement is achieved, but the Turkish troops violate it, invade and loot the city while many citizens are slaughtered. Most of the Kyrenians who choose to stay find themselves trapped and are transferred to the Dome hotel from where the Turks force them to gradually abandon the city along with the rest of the Greeks in the district."
The Turkish invasion, launched on July 20, 1974, was reported by The New York Times, which noted that that Turkish forces started bombing northern part of Cyprus indiscriminately:
"Striking at dawn, Turkish troops borne by transport ships and assault boats stormed ashore on the north coast near Kyrenia and on the south coast near Limassol. Simultaneously, hundreds of paratroopers dropped into the capital of Nicosia.
"Turkish jets bombed and strafed a variety of targets, including the Nicosia airport, a Greek Army encampment and other garrisons. Turkish Warships, meantime, pounded Greek‐Cypriot/shore installations on both coasts...
"A pooled dispatch said that Turkish fighter‐bombers had struck a mental hospital in Nicosia, killing at least 20 persons and wounding 60."
The next day, the New York Times continued:
"The air and sea invasion yesterday devastated the resort strip of tourist hotels on the north coast of Cyprus. Greek Cypriots and foreigners huddled under mattresses in the cellars of ruined buildings.
"Turkish warships shelled the northern port of Kyrenia and smaller communities to the west as American‐made A4 Skyhawks of the Turkish Air Force bombed roads, bridges, hotels and other buildings.
"The shelling and bombing seemed indiscriminate, with no regard for civilian areas or casualties."
On July 28, 1974, according to the New York Times:
"The reporters said that for many people being held by the Turks at the Kyrenia's Dome Hotel there was 'confusion, despair and terror.'
"One correspondent related the tale of one tourist, Margaret Gavrielides, a British citizen, who with her son Andreas was being held in the Dome Hotel .
"The Gavrielides family... crawled under beds. They heard an artillery shell explode in the backyard, and then voices.
"Mr. Gavrielides went to the door. A Turkish soldier fired, according to his wife.
"Her husband was taken to a medical station. She has not heard of or from him, since that day a week ago. The Turkish soldiers separated the men and threatened to rape the women, Mrs. Gavrielides said.
"But back in Ankara today, the newspapers were full of photos of smiling Turkish troops clustered in front of tanks draped with the star and crescent flag, holding their weapons high, and of Greek Cypriot hostages being given water by Turkish soldiers."
The Turkish military campaign was accompanied by murders, unlawful detention of both soldiers and civilians in what amounted to concentration camps, systematic execution of civilians, as well as the torture and mistreatment (including systematic rapes) of Greek Cypriots. These crimes were documented by the two volumes of a historic report by the then European Commission of Human Rights, adopted in 1976, initially covered up, but then leaked to the British Sunday Times in 1977 and eventually declassified in 1979.
On August 6, 1974, the New York Times reported:
"Greek Cypriots from small villages around Kyrenia told stories today of murder, rape and looting by the Turkish Army after its invasion of Cyprus. The villagers are among 20,000 civilians driven from their homes by the Turks along the northern coast of the island.
"One ashen-faced man told tearfully how his wife and two young children were shot before his eyes by Turkish soldiers who rounded up villagers before shooting them. A married woman whose husband was shot by the Turks and young girl who saw her fiancé shot told how they were then raped at gunpoint by Turkish soldiers...
"Eleni Andrea Mateidou, 28, who was married with two children, told of another mass shooting of able-bodied men at her village, Trimithi. Her husband Andreas, 27, and father-in-law were among them. Later she was among village women raped at gunpoint by the Turkish soldiers, she alleged. 'We went out with our hands raised but the Turks started beating us,' she said. 'They took off the top clothes of my husband and father-in-law and led them to the river bed in the village. Then they were shot. The women of the village were taken to the house of a British woman who had been evacuated. They were there raped at gunpoint.'
"'At one point another soldier came up with a baby in his arms. He asked who the mother was. I thought if I said it was mine it might save me. However, when I said I was the mother he threw it to the ground.'"
Despite the collapse of the coups in Greece and Cyprus by July 23, 1974, restoration of the legitimate government of Cyprus, and a ceasefire agreement, Turkey launched a second invasion of Cyprus three weeks later, on August 14, 1974. This time, Turkey gave no pretext but its second military campaign was even more violent, terrorizing more Greek Cypriot natives into fleeing their homes and lands. Those two invasions resulted in the Turkish occupation of 36% of the territory of Cyprus and 57% of its coastline.
On August 15, the New York Times reported:
"Turkish forces, which began a heavy air and ground attack early yesterday, appeared today to be on their way toward seizing control of much of northern Cyprus... A strong air strife [sic] on Nicosia sent thousands of Greek Cypriots fleeing southward.
"A psychiatric hospital close by a Greek Cypriot camp was hit for a second time in less than a month. Three bombs struck outbuildings, injuring 36 patients and 3 staff members. In the previous attack, a direct hit on a ward killed 27 patients and wounded nearly 100."
Despo Marango, a 17-year old from the village of Ashia in the Famagusta District, fled in her father's truck after Turkish tanks entered the town. "We took 20 people on the truck including old women," she recounted. "The Turkish troops came and fired on us and hurt four people. The Turks came into our homes and stole things."
On August 17, 1974, the New York Times wrote:
"Turkey's invasion forces completed the division of Cyprus into two areas yesterday and declared a ceasefire... on the 14th anniversary of the independence of Cyprus from Britain."
To this day, approximately 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees are still denied by Turkey their right to return home. Over 160,000 illegal settlers or colonists have been transferred to the occupied area by Turkey (the exact number of the illegal settlers is not known; Turkey has not revealed the data). More than a thousand persons in Cyprus are still listed as missing.
Meanwhile, the ancient culture and history of the occupied north are being wiped out to perpetrate the myth that the area is Turkish. Geographical names have been Turkified and many Christian churches and monasteries have been destroyed or used for sacrilegious purposes.
The Archangelos Michael Church, built in Kyrenia in 1860, was converted into "an icon museum" in 1990 after its congregants had fled the invading Turkish soldiers in 1974. According to a 1994 report, icons were "stolen from the church". According to a 2021 news report:
"The church, which was closed for renovation years ago due to the crookedness of its minaret [tower], is kept in ruins despite the completion of the renovation. A shopkeeper said: 'Since the minaret of the icon museum was crooked, it was considered dangerous so the minaret was rebuilt. It took several years to build. They built it, and it has been 6-7 years since it's finished, but it [the museum/former church] is still waiting in ruins.'"
Currently, Turkey appears to be targeting the rest of the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union. The government of Cyprus is now dealing with an "illegal immigration crisis" which it says Turkey is orchestrating. Government authorities state that the majority of migrants entering the free part of Cyprus are being smuggled illegally through the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. The Cypriot government added that Cyprus was facing "significant demographic change", "ghettoisation in urban areas" and "acute socio-economic effects" as a result of the illegal migrant crisis.
Meanwhile, according to Turkish media, Turkey is planning to construct a military naval base in the Karpasia Peninsula in the Turkish-occupied north.
Despite the uncountable war crimes Turkey has committed in Cyprus, the Turkish government has condemned the UN for having its "peacekeeping forces" there.
Turkey has also refused to comply with its obligations under the UN resolutions concerning Cyprus and many international conventions it has signed. In 2018, for instance, in response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanding the release of Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said: "ECHR's rulings are not binding on us."
The West, however, remains silent -- not merely empowering Turkey to commit further atrocities but rewarding it. The US recently killed, at Turkey's request, the EastMed natural gas pipeline project, which would have transported gas from US allies Israel and Cyprus, via Greece, to Western Europe. The EastMed pipeline would have been particularly important in light of Russia's ability, with the Nord Stream and other pipelines, to blackmail the continent in winter by cutting off much of its gas supplies.
Philip Christopher, president of the International Coordinating Committee - Justice for Cyprus, wrote: " Turkey's occupation of Cyprus has now become the first modern Islamist fundamentalist attempt to capture Western world territory and resources."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.