WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) remembers the somber 49th anniversary of Turkey’s brutal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus. We cannot accept that in 2023 a NATO member occupies a European Union member.
For nearly a half century, the Republic of Cyprus and its people have endured an illegal occupation by over 40,000 Turkish troops, along with massive violations of both human rights and fundamental freedoms.
AHI calls for the immediate removal of all Turkish troops from the Republic of Cyprus. With their presence, Turkey continues to disregard U.S. law when it transfers American-made weapons from mainland Turkey to Turkish-occupied Cyprus. Congress must put a stop to this irresponsible transfer of weapons to prevent the potential undermining of its intent and authority.
Turkey’s perpetual threats and acts of aggression toward Cyprus must end. Challenges to the sovereignty of Cyprus are unacceptable and clearly demonstrate that Turkey is a force of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean. For example, Turkey recently reopened a beach in Varosha located within the fenced-in area of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, which Turkey has occupied since it unlawfully invaded the Republic of Cyprus in 1974. This action violates United Nations resolutions and international treaties to which the U.S. and Turkey are signatories. Specifically, Turkey is in violation of the 1979 High Level Agreement between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities that stated that priority should be given to the resettlement of Famagusta, of which Varosha is a subdivision, under UN auspices.
Moreover, President Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar publicly support a “two-state” solution for Cyprus–the permanent partition of the island. As such, President Erdogan’s attempt to change Varosha’s status demonstrates his purported interest in resuming settlement talks lacks legitimacy, and indicates that he is still in favor of pursuing steps to continue the occupation of Cyprus. Erdogan’s position contravenes the positions of the United Nations and the U.S. government. The United States must condemn Erdogan’s support for illegally re-opening the beach in Varosha and overt promotion of irredentist policies.
Furthermore, Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus has impacted the ability of The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) to access certain Turkish military installations to excavate the remains of Cypriots missing since the invasion for proper identification. More than 800 Greek Cypriots, including four American citizens, remain missing and a large majority of these cases remain unresolved.
The United States will demonstrate it is dedicated to solving the Cyprus problem by voicing and advancing positions that underscore support for the rule of law and respect for international law.
AHI contends there must be a more vocal condemnation of the division of Cyprus by the United States and international community. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has frequently mentioned the need of the United States to “uphold the rules-based international order.” However, to do this, the application of the rule of law cannot be selectively applied; all countries which seek to undermine the “rules-based international order” must be held accountable, including Turkey.
The United States government must send a strong message to President Erdogan that Turkish troops and settlers must be removed from Cyprus. In addition, The Treaty of Guarantee, which would allow for future Turkish military invasions and occupations of Cyprus, must be abandoned. Such actions would be significant confidence building measures in the peace process. Although congressional legislation to encourage the Biden administration to place Cyprus as a high foreign policy priority is appreciated, any positive resolution to the Cyprus problem must involve the United States pressing Turkey to forgo its intransigence and unhelpful provocations.
Finally, Cypriots themselves should have ownership of the resolution process and the Cypriot people should arrive at a solution that is for the Cypriot people; a bizonal, bicommunal federation that must embody the full respect of the principles and laws of the European Union, of which Cyprus is a member.
This is not the Cyprus of 49 years ago. Cyprus has made tremendous strides and is viewed today by the United States as a strategic partner due to its commitment to counterterrorism and global security. Cyprus is a signatory to the United States’ Proliferation Security Initiative, and since the Statement of Intent agreement signed with the United State in 2018, several important steps have occurred. The United States provides International Military Education and Training (IMET) program funding to the Republic of Cyprus. The Cyprus Center for Land, Open-Seas, and Port Security (CYCLOPS), an innovative security site that has been partially funded by the U.S., is in operation. Last year, the U.S. lifted an arms prohibition on Cyprus subject to an annual review. The lifting of the arms prohibition should become a permanent, long-term reality. This year, the New Jersey National Guard and the Republic of Cyprus National Guard formalized their State Partnership Program collaboration, demonstrating the burgeoning U.S.-Cyprus security partnership.
Cyprus continues to advance its bilateral relations with Israel and plays an integral role in an Eastern Mediterranean trilateral partnership with Israel and Greece; a partnership that at times includes the United States in a 3+1 framework. Cyprus’s ongoing development as a key contributor to security and as a major player in the energy sector in the Eastern Mediterranean, the broader region, and Europe can only be hindered by the aggression and gunboat diplomacy Turkey has demonstrated in Cyprus’ EEZ. Such Turkish aggression must never be allowed to materialize again.
On July 20, 1974, the Government of Turkey ordered its military to invade the Republic of Cyprus with the illegal use of U.S.-supplied arms and equipment, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. This also violated the Treaty of Establishment, the Treaty of Alliance and Treaty of Guaranty, which established the Republic of Cyprus and guaranteed the independence of the Republic of Cyprus; and the United Nations Charter and international law. Turkey occupied about four percent of Cyprus during the initial phase of its invasion. Furthermore, on August 14, 1974, three weeks after the legitimate government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched the second phase of its invasion of Cyprus, occupying 37 percent of Cyprus’s sovereign territory, killing innocent civilians, forcing 170,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes and properties, and committing mass destruction of Cyprus’ cultural and religious heritage, including an estimated 500 churches and religious sites belonging to Christian and Jewish communities.
On January 27, 1989, then-Senator Joe Biden wrote to AHIPAC Chairman Dr. Dean Lomis, a constituent, in which he stated: “…we must urge the new Administration [President George H.W. Bush] to make Cyprus a higher policy priority in American foreign policy…we cannot lose sight of the fact that the rights of Greek Cypriots have been trampled upon, and we must ensure that their claims to ancestral land and property seized during the 1974 invasion are not compromised. Finally, we must send a signal to Turkey that until it has removed every last soldier from Cyprus, it will never be recognized as a full member of the international community.”