July 20, 2014 marked the gloomy 40th anniversary of the day that Turkish troops overpowered the tiny, almost undefended island of Cyprus in a brutal exercise of military might whose immorality only intensifies with the passing decades. Some thoughts in honor of the day:
The invasion did not take place under Islamist rule: Although an Islamist (Necmettin Erbakan) served as deputy prime minister in a coalition government for almost all of 1974, he was not the key decision maker in Turkey. Rather, Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, a leftist, enjoyed that privilege.
The Ecevit-Erbakan cooperation in 1974 symbolizes a support among Turks of all political persuasions for the invasion of Cyprus that still persists. This near-unanimity is a basic fact of Turkish political life.
That consensus will presumably remain in place until the Turkish occupation begins to take its toll – economic, diplomatic, or even military – on the Republic of Turkey. After 40 years, this has not even started, making one wonder if it ever will.
But two recent developments could potentially change the dynamic by turning Turkish Cypriots against the status quo: (1) their frustration at being excluded from the incipient gas and oil bonanza on the island and (2) their growing resentment toward the ever-more autocratic Islamist overlords in Ankara. As the occupation is ostensibly for their benefit, if Turkish Cypriots want it ended, they just might make it happen.
Also to note: the Republic of Cyprus (the southern, official part of the island) has, as I put it in recent article titles, both stepped on the world stage and joined the Middle East. It held the presidency of the European Union, prompted a world-shaking economic crisis, is becoming a significant energy exporter, and has newly-close links to Israel, the military powerhouse of its region. The "Cyprus Problem" now matters more to the outside world, which could be constructive.
The occupation that began on July 20, 1974, still brings much suffering to what could be an idyllic Mediterranean island. It must be but a memory by the time the fiftieth rolls around.
Occupation and even wholesale slaughter was not a new concept for the Turkish government. During World War I, the government of the Ottoman Empire killed approximately 1.5 million Armenians through mass shootings, forced marches, exposure, and starvation. It could not have taken place without WWI, which radicalized Turkish public opinion and freed the “Young Turks” from the constraints of international law. But the stage for genocide was set on February 8, 1914, when Europe’s Great Powers forced the Turks to accept reforms they viewed as an existential threat.
An ancient ethnic group attested as far back as the sixth century BCE, the Armenians weathered the rise and fall of empires for millennia before the Ottoman Turks finally conquered the multiethnic Caucasus region in the 16th century CE. During the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, the Christian Armenians enjoyed considerable religious freedom and legal autonomy under the Ottoman “millet” system, which allowed religious minority groups to live by their own traditional laws.