It is not just part of the island country of Cyprus that is being occupied and demeaned by Turkey. What is being occupied, colonized, and culturally destroyed is a significant part of Western history and civilization. Pictured: Turkish Army soldiers and tanks on parade in the Turkish-occupied part Nicosia, Cyprus, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952. Twenty-two years later, in 1974, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus, and to this day continues illegally to occupy 36% of the island. Turkey has ethnically cleansed non-Turks from the northern part of Cyprus and largely destroyed both the Christian and Jewish cultural heritage of the area they occupy.
Since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the island has been illegally and forcibly partitioned in two. The northern part of the Republic of Cyprus -- like the rest of the country -- had been majority-Greek. Its demographic structure was changed by Turkey when approximately 170,000 Greek Cypriots were forcibly displaced by Turkish troops. This expulsion affected about one-third of the Greek Cypriot population. The occupied part of the island has since been colonized by settlers from Turkey. Approximately 40,000 Turkish soldiers are illegally stationed in the occupied area, making it, according to the UN, one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world. Around 80% of the island's wealth-producing resources lie under Turkish occupation.
Turkey is now using the distraction of Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a cover to increase its likelihood of officially annexing Cyprus's north. On April 14, a protocol was signed between Turkey and the illegal Turkish de facto regime that has been ruling occupied northern Cyprus. Although Turkey has already forcibly altered the demography of Cyprus through the ethnic cleansing campaign, the new protocol gives Turkish nationals even easier access to the region.
The protocol also stipulates the strengthening of the Religious Affairs Department in the area, as well as building religious complexes, such as mosques, and restoring Turkish-Islamic heritage sites. The protocol makes no secret of Turkey's intention to annex the north. The introduction states, "the island of Cyprus has been a part of Anatolia politically and culturally since 1571." 1571 is when the Ottoman Empire began occupying Cyprus.
In 1570, Ottoman troops invaded Cyprus and plundered it, while killing thousands. The Ottoman Empire, presumably to keep the indigenous Greek population under control, transported Turks to Cyprus. In 1878, the Ottoman Empire granted Britain administrative control of Cyprus, and in 1914 Britain annexed the island. In 1923, Turkey renounced all claims to Cyprus in favor of Britain through the Treaty of Lausanne, which also established the Republic of Turkey. In 1960, Cyprus gained independence from British rule and became an independent republic. Britain, Greece, and Turkey became guarantors of "the independence, territorial integrity and security" of the Republic of Cyprus under the 1960 "Treaty of Guarantee". Fourteen years later, Turkey violated both the treaty and international law by invading Cyprus in two phases -- on July 20 and August 14, 1974.
In 1983, Turkey declared the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC) in the occupied north of Cyprus. The TRNC was unilaterally recognized only by Turkey and remains unrecognized by the international community to this day.
The regime in occupied northern Cyprus continues to be driven by neo-Ottomanism. On April 28, 2022, the "mausoleum of Martyr Pertev Pasha", one of the commanders involved in the Ottoman invasion of Cyprus, was opened in the north. "We have made this opening in accordance with the law," said Ersin Tatar, head of the illegal TRNC regime. However, the law to which he was referring is neither international law nor that of the UN Charter. Rather, it is the sharia law of the Ottoman Empire, which occupied Cyprus for nearly 300 years, from 1571 to 1878. According to a press release from the website of the Presidency of the TRNC:
"After 1571, these places became part of our history as properties of the foundations [Cyprus Foundations Administration/ EVKAF established by the Ottomans in 1571]. There are very deep traces of our ancestors here," Tatar said, adding that the Maraş [part of Turkish-occupied Cypriot city of Famagusta] lands, the [Ottoman] ancestral properties of the foundation [EVKAF], were [inappropriately\unjustly] given to [some people] during the British colonial rule in violation of the contract between England and the Ottoman Empire.
"Maraş is under our sovereignty. We can never accept it being placed under UN control or entering any trade-offs in the context of confidence building measures," Tatar added.
The driving forces behind Turkey's invasion and occupation of the Greek island were Islamic jihad and Turkic nationalism. With these objectives in mind, Turkey's preparations to invade Cyprus began decades before the invasion. Starting at least in the 1950s, Turkey's military provoked inter-ethnic tensions in Cyprus by sending in fighters and weapons. In 1953, the "Tactical Mobilization Group" (Seferberlik Tetkik Kurulu) was established in Turkey, according to Turkish General Sabri Yirmibesoglu, and sent weapons to Cyprus to be used against Greek Cypriots: "The Committee had three officers in Ankara. It was a new organization [established] to send weapons against the EOKA [National Organization of Cypriot Fighters]."
"Mujahideen" against Cyprus
Those who joined the 1974 invasion campaign, or its years-long preparations, are called mücahit in Turkish. The word comes from the Arabic mujahid (plural: mujahideen) and means "Muslim holy warriors, jihadists, engaged in a jihad against non-Muslims." Many Islamic armed groups, such as the Taliban, call themselves mujahideen.
One Turkish mujahideen group that illegally operated in Cyprus was TMT, or the Turkish Resistance Organization, a paramilitary group established in 1958. TMT, active for years in Cyprus, engaged in widespread violence. According to their own public statements, TMT murdered not only Greek Cypriots, but also many Turkish Cypriots (mostly "left-wingers") for "crimes" such as "being treacherous", "helping Greeks", "doing business with Greek merchants" or "not being real Turks". In 1976, TMT became the "Security Forces Command" of Cyprus's Turkish-occupied north. The website of the so-called "Security Forces Command" is mucahit.gov.ct.tr. Thus, the current military of Cyprus's occupied north is a proud extension of the mujahideen movement. Its website refers to the bloody invasion campaign as the "happy peace operation":
"In July 1974, when the Turkish Armed Forces used the guarantor state intervention right granted to them by the 1960 Constitution, Mujahideen and Mehmetçik fought side by side and succeeded in the Happy Peace Operation."
"Mehmetçik" (Little Mehmet, after a common male name) is an affectionate reference to Turkish soldiers.
The government-funded Turkish news agency, TRT, in an interview with some of those mujahideen in 2020, called Cypriot locations "sanjaks", a term from the Ottoman Empire, referring to administrative districts within which a larger district ("vilayet") was divided. The TRT reported:
"The mujahideen of Cyprus got organized years before the  operation. These organizations later merged under the umbrella of the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT).
"TMT remained a secret organization for many years. Training camps were established in Ankara and Antalya. The first goal was to train and arm 5,000 mujahideen. Officers who would serve in TMT with identities such as teachers, inspectors and clergy were also trained there.
"In order [for the mujahideen] not to be noticed by the Greeks, code names were also given to the officers who would serve in the TMT.
"TMT was getting organized in such a secret manner that no one knew who was a mujahid. The names of the sanjaks established at that time were also coded so that the negotiations and the regions would not be found out by the Greeks.
"Trained officers and Turkish Cypriots sent from Turkey under other qualifications [titles] during those years were burying the weapons and ammunition sent in great secrecy under the ground."
Another Turkish government-funded news outlet, Anadolu Agency (AA), interviewed three of these mujahideen. According to the 2019 report, one "stated that he was a journalist at that time and had participated in both [military] operations in 1974." Stating that he was on duty at the Sanjak Headquarters in Nicosia during the operation, he noted that he had served in the military for 5 years before the operation and that they had called it "mujahideen":
"Then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit came to Cyprus after the operation, and he told those fighters: 'Turkey could not have made this landing if you, as the mujahideen, had not resisted until today.'"
"Atilla" against Cyprus
Attila was the ruler of the Huns, a nomadic people who originated from Central Asia, from 434 until his death in 453. Atilla was notorious for his brutal invasion campaigns, during which civilians were massacred and whole cities sacked or destroyed. Atilla the Hun, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "was one of the greatest of the barbarian rulers who assailed the Roman Empire, invading the southern Balkan provinces and Greece and then Gaul and Italy."
The official website of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) refers to the Hun Empire as the origin of its military tradition: "The first orderly and disciplined formation of the Turkish Army dates back to 209 BC, during the Great Hun Empire".
Attila's legacy of death and destruction is what Turkey seems to aspire to export to Cyprus. In the summer of 1974, Turkish troops carried out an ethnic cleansing in northern Cyprus against non-Muslim Cypriots through forcible mass displacement. According to a letter dated 6 December 1974 from the Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General,
"Turkey -- in unchallenged command of the air and the sea and illegally using armaments and sophisticated weapons in her possession strictly for purposes of defense under a relevant alliance agreement -- launched a full-scale aggressive attack against Cyprus, a small non-aligned and virtually defenseless country, possessing no air force, no navy and no army except for a small national guard. Thus, Turkey's overwhelming military machine embarked upon an armed attack including napalm bombing of open towns and villages, wreaking destruction, setting forests on fire, and spreading indiscriminate death and human suffering to the civilian population of the island.
"The landing of the Turkish forces on the territory of Cyprus became from its inception no less ferocious inhumanity towards the civilian population, in violation of all principles of international law and accepted concepts of a civilized society."
The war crimes committed by Turkish forces include the cold blooded murder of civilians, the unlawful detentions of both civilians and soldiers, forced disappearances, wholesale and repeated rapes, forcible eviction of Greek Cypriots from their homes and land, looting of their houses and business premises, and seizure and distribution of their lands, houses, and other properties mostly to settlers from Turkey. These and other atrocities were documented by a two-volume report by the European Commission of Human Rights, adopted in 1976, then covered up, then leaked to Britain's Sunday Times in 1977 and eventually declassified in 1979.
The illegal regime in the occupied area -- with the support of Turkey -- has largely obliterated every trace of Greek and other non-Turkish civilizations of the area. The Greek names of cities and villages have been replaced by Turkish names.
According to the report, "The Loss of a Civilization: Destruction of cultural heritage in occupied Cyprus":
"The churches have been subject to the most violent and systematic desecration and destruction. More than 500 churches and monasteries have been looted or destroyed: more than 15,000 icons of saints, innumerable sacred liturgical vessels, gospels and other objects of great value have literally vanished. A few churches have met a different fate and have been turned into mosques, museums, places of entertainment or even hotels, like the church of Ayia Anastasia in Lapithos. At least three monasteries have been turned into barracks for the Turkish army (Ayios Chrysostomos in the Pentadactylos Mountains, Acheropoiitos in Karavas and Ayios Panteleimonas in Myrtou). Marvelous Byzantine wall-paintings and mosaics of rare artistic and historical value have been removed from church walls by Turkish smugglers and sold illegally in America, Europe and Japan. Many Byzantine churches have suffered irreparable damage."
Turks have also destroyed Greek cemeteries in an attempt to extinguish all signs of Greek culture and Christianity from the occupied area.
Antigoni Papadopoulou, a Member of the European Parliament, submitted a written question to the European Commission in 2013:
"The bones which had been taken out of the cemetery were thrown away as rubbish. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, such actions against cemeteries and lack of respect for the dead are considered a severe violation of religious human rights."
Meanwhile, the West has looked the other way and enabled Turkey's occupation of northern Cyprus.
It is not just part of the island country of Cyprus that is being occupied and demeaned. What is being occupied, colonized, and culturally destroyed is a significant part of Western history and civilization. It is part of the "Great Replacement" predicted for Europe but ridiculed as a "conspiracy theory". One only need look back at the replacement of the Christian Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Empire and then Turkey, or the replacement of the indigenous Copts in Egypt. With Cyprus and Greece under attack from Turkey, where are the West's principles, strength and resolve?
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.