College students should be able to answer some simple questions. Which country in the Middle East has been declared guilty of “ethnic cleansing?” Which country in the area has prevented the return of refugees to their homes and former properties? Which country has flouted Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention of August 1949 that prohibits an occupying power from deporting or transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies? Which country is responsible for a unilateral declaration of independence? Contrary to what they may hear from their professors, the correct answer is that all these things are performed by Turkey.
Turkey is not the flavor of the month. To say that Turkey is a disappointment in the fight against Islamist terrorism is to state, even understate, a truism. Turkey is a member of NATO, the only Muslim member of the organization, and President Barack Obama still regards it as a regional ally, and as a symbol of Islamic moderation and liberalism. However, in view of its behavior in recent years, no one can view it as a helpful partner to the US and the other countries prepared to counter Islamic terrorism. In 2003, before the Second Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, Turkey refused to allow the US to use its bases in the country. It is still refusing to support the US led coalition to deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and again has prevented US reconnaissance and bombing sorties over Syria from the US air base at Incirlik.
To this unhelpful and uncooperative policy has been added even more negative behavior, the direct and indirect help given by Turkey to terrorist groups, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Islamic State, and other terrorist groups. Turkey provided logistical support and sheltered Hamas operatives. It helped the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. It helped the Islamic State (IS) by allowing arms, material, and personnel to pass through Turkish territory, and through black market transactions with Iran it enables IS to sell the oil from the 10 oil fields and refineries it has seized. By these sales IS gains about $2 million a day. Erdogan denies this relationship with Iran, which is continuing, thus violating the policy of sanctions against that state.
All this is familiar and distressing. Equally well known and deplorable is the refusal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow the considerable Kurdish minority some form of autonomy or self-determination in Turkey. He views and executes the fight by military attacks and fighter jets against Kurdish groups, especially the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that he regards as a terrorist group, as more important than the fight against the Islamic State. Erdogan has even refused to allow US arms transfers to go to the Kurds who are really fighting the main threat to the world, the Islamic State.
What is less familiar or ignored is that Turkey is guilty of crimes as defined by international law because of its occupying of territory and encouraging settlements in a country to which it has no rightful claim. President Erdogan has been all too ready to criticize the State of Israel for occupation, its settlements, and its actions. Sometimes this criticism is expressed mildly but more often it is in excessive and belligerent language. In May 2010 he accused Israel of “state terrorism” for preventing the flotilla organized from Turkey from sailing into Gaza. He remarked of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in July 2014 that it was “worse than Nazi genocide…and (Israeli) barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”
Erdogan’s rhetoric suggests he may be a believer in “Jewish world conspiracy or Jewish power,” and even in the blood libel, ritual murder accusations of Jews killing Christians for their blood to make matzos for Passover. Either consciously or unconsciously, this kind of rhetoric echoes antisemitism. He asserted that Israel was behind the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt who was removed from power in July 2013 by Field Marshal el-Sisi. Erdogan also called on the world to stop Israel’s desire for genocide because its lust for blood would not end.
Erdogan is eager to call on the world for action concerning Israel, but when the “world” speaks about his own misdeeds or those of his country he ignores it. He refuses to acknowledge the opposition of the world to Turkey’s illegal occupation of part of the island of Cyprus. The issue is a simple one. Cyprus, which had been under British administration since 1878 and had been a British Crown Colony since 1925, became an independent country, the Republic of Cyprus, in 1960, according to a Treaty of Guarantee signed by Britain, Greece, and Turkey. However, hostilities between Greek and Turkish Cypriots began in 1963. A UN force, the Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), was set up in March 1964 to help restore normal conditions following this violence. Fifty years later UNFICYP is still there, now under the leadership of a woman general from Norway, trying to maintain stability in the area.
On July 20, 1974, 30,000 Turkish troops invaded the island, and they seized and held about a third of it. In what can be seen as Turkish ethnic cleansing, more than 180,000 Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes in the north of the island, while 50,000 Turkish Cypriots moved to areas under the control of the Turkish forces. Contrary to the Geneva and other international Conventions, Turkey has transferred some of its own population into the area.
On November 15, 1983 Turkish Cypriot authorities unilaterally declared the establishment of an independent state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The United Nations Security Council immediately considered this declaration legally invalid and called for its withdrawal. The European Union also condemned this unilateral declaration of independence. Nevertheless, Turkey has ignored this “call on the world for action,” even though no country except Turkey has recognized the legitimacy of the TRNC state.
Those concerned with Middle East issues should not be oblivious, as many have been, to the improper nature and significance of Turkish behavior in Cyprus, the illegal occupation of part of a country, the establishment of Turkish settlements in the area, the continuing presence of Turkish troops, and even the imposition of a Green Line that separates the two political entities in Cyprus. For some years the UN Security Council has been passing resolutions about this situation, the most recent one being Resolution UNSC Res. 2135 of January 30, 2014, commenting on the degree of stability along the Green Line.
But Turkey has not only defied the UN regarding its illegal occupation and settlement policies. It has blatantly denied political reality and threatened hostilities against the legitimate Republic of Cyprus. On October 13, 2014, President Erdogan reprimanded a Greek Cypriot member of the European Parliament who referred to Turkish troops in North Cyprus as “invaders.” He also refused to listen to proposals for withdrawal of Turkish troops. When the EU admitted Cyprus as a member, Erdogan commented that it should have been admitted as “southern Cyprus….there was no country named Cyprus.” In fact the whole island had been admitted as a member, but EU common rights and obligations refer only to the part under the internationally recognized government, the Republic of Cyprus. In January 2014 Turkey refused to implement fully the customs agreement with the EU because it would include Cyprus.
Erdogan, an authoritarian and belligerent ruler, who has been accused of corruption and of undermining the independence of the judiciary, had already in September 2011 threatened to attack the Republic of Cyprus if it allowed the US based Noble Energy Company to drill for gas in the large Leviathan natural gas field that Israel is exploring. The international community, to which Erdogan so often appeals regarding the actions of Israel, should now condemn Turkey for its displacement of persons, ethnic cleansing, deprivation of the rights of individuals, and racist and ethnic discrimination against minorities that are not Muslim or Sunnis.