Opinion: Cyprus' Communities As Divided As Ever
Today, Cyprus' Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities mark the 35th anniversary of Turkey's second offensive against the island in the summer of 1974 after Turkey presented former president Glafkos Clerides with an ultimatum. 35 years later, the communities are as divided on a political level as they ever were.
"Turkish troops invaded Cyprus on 20 July 1974, five days after the legal government of the late Archbishop Makarios III was toppled by a military coup engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece," said a report by the semi-government organisation Cyprus News Agency.
"Two unproductive conferences in Geneva followed; the first between Britain, Greece and Turkey and the second with the additional attendance of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot representatives. Three weeks after a ceasefire was declared on 22 July, and despite the fact that talks were still being held and just as an agreement seemed about to be reached, the Turkish army mounted a second full-scale offensive."
"As a result, Turkey increased its hold to include the booming tourist resort of Famagusta in the east and the rich citrus-growing area of Morphou in the west. All in all almost 37% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus came under Turkish military occupation. Around 200,000 Greek-Cypriots were forcibly uprooted from their homes in the north of Cyprus."
The Turkish-Cypriot administration have a vastly different perspective on the invasion, and today issued the following statement:
"The 35th anniversary of the second leg of the 1974 Turkish Peace Operation in Cyprus will be marked with various events today...the TRNC Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu stated that the Turkish Cypriot People is today living in peace and harmony at TRNC territories as the result of the struggle carried out in full solidarity between Turkish Cypriot fighters and Turkish soldiers. Stressing that as the result of this struggle peace was not only brought to Cyprus but to the region as well, Eroglu said: “Turkish Cypriot people is living in the island in freedom and ease as the result of the existence of Turkey and its military force.”
Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said today that he will give the "necessary support" for the Turkish-Cypriot Association of the Families of Martyrs Murataga, Atlylar and Sandallar Ahmet Asyr to file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights.
The statement said the lawsuit would "demand that war criminals who carried out massacres in Cyprus be judged."
With the war of words swelling on a tide of bitterness and anger, now is the time for calm and steady leadership. If the wounds of the past are ever to be healed, Turkey needs to withdraw its troops so that the respective leaders of both communities can communicate on a level playing field. The fact remains that, irrespective of differing interpretations of the events of August 1974, Turkey's occupation of Cyprus is illegal.
Turkey's concession at this stage of the negotiations would show goodwill and a willingness to participate in a movement towards a lasting peace on the island, which is a member of the European Union.
It's not 1974 anymore.