Thursday, 8 October 2020

Greece, Cyprus, to seek EU sanctions against Turkey over Varosha

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International


ATHENS, Greece – Greece says that unless Turkey reverses an illegal occupation of the town of Varosha on Cyprus’ east coast, it may seek to trigger economic sanctions against it that the European Union has lined up.


“Turkey needs to take a step back. If it doesn’t, next week both Cyprus and Greece will table the matter for discussion by EU leaders at the October 16-17 European Council,” said government spokesman Stelios Petsas on Thursday.


EU members Greece and Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey last week, in retaliation for unauthorized Turkish exploration for oil and gas on Cyprus’ continental shelf.


Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has condemned the move. “This decision is a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions. Greece will support all relevant efforts of the Republic of Cyprus,” he said.


Varosha was evacuated when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, in response to a Greek-inspired coup on the island. Greek Cypriots now live in the Republic of Cyprus in the south of the island, while Turkish-Cypriots live in a northern enclave still occupied by Turkish troops. Varosha has been a no-man’s-land and the UN has called for it to be handed back to its Greek-Cypriot inhabitants, or at least the UN peacekeeping force UNFICYP.


The latest move by Turkey risks upending decades of efforts to effect a political reunification of the island as a federal, bi-communal state.


It is also a slap in the face of the EU, which last week resisted Greek and Cypriot calls for sanctions. On October 2, leaders said the EU “strongly condemns the violations of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus which must stop,” but did not explicitly mention sanctions.


On Thursday, Mitsotakis and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen issued a joint statement calling on Turkey to respect past UN Security Council resolutions.  


Election interference


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the occupation of Varosha on Tuesday, in a joint press conference with the prime minister of the Turkish-Cypriot community.


Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci believes the move is an attempt to influence the outcome of Sunday’s presidential elections in the north of the island. He called the announcement from Ankara a “shame for our democracy” and “interference in our elections”.


Unlike other cabinet members, Akinci, is in favour of greater independence from Turkey, which bankrolls the Turkish-Cypriot enclave and stations some 35,000 troops there.


“Ozersay’s is Ankara’s man. They’re trying to install him,” says Petros Liakouras, Prof. of international relations at the University of Piraeus, referring to the enclave’s foreign minister.


“But I don’t think he’s going to win. I think Akinci will be the winner in the second round,” says Liakouras. “Akinci really is promoting the interests of Turkish-Cypriots, which are different from the interests of those who became Turkish-Cypriots after 1974 with the settlement policy.”


Turkey has raised the Turkish-Cypriot population of the island from 80,000 in 1974 to over 200,000 through inducements such as free housing.


Akinci has publicly spoken against occupying Varosha. Last February, he earned the ire of the Erdogan government by expressing fears that unless ongoing efforts to reunify the island proceed apace, the TRNC is in danger of becoming annexed by Turkey, a prospect he called “horrible”.


Defying the international community


When it comes to Cyprus, Turkey has consistently defied the international community.


In November 1974, three months after the invasion, the UN General Assembly called for the “speedy withdrawal of all foreign armed forces” on Cyprus, to no effect.


A series of UN Security Council resolutions has specifically called on the Turkish army to relinquish its occupation of Varosha.


In 1977, after Turkey first expressed its wish to settle mainland Turks in Varosha, Resolution 414 called on all parties to refrain from “unilateral actions anywhere in Cyprus that may adversely affect the prospects for a just and peaceful solution.”


After Turkey declared the northern enclave an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, which only Ankara recognises, Resolution 550 again said Security Council members were “deeply concerned about recent threats for settlement of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants.”


In 1992, the Resolution 789 said that that if it couldn’t be returned to its Greek-Cypriot inhabitants, Varosha should at least be put under the control of the UN’s peacekeeping force, UNFICYP.


As recently as July this year, the Security Council continued to call for implementation of past resolutions on Varosha.


Liakouras believes Turkey has strategic reasons for occupying Varosha. “Famagusta is a very strategic point. Turkey maintains its military in Cyprus to give it a greater say in the Middle East. It wants from there to control Lebanon and Syria, and offer help to Palestine… Turkey would very much like, and it has said this, to establish a naval base just north of Famagusta… from which to launch a rapid reaction force to control this whole area.”

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