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Jewish World Review May 21, 2001 / 28 Iyar 5761

Philip Terzian

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Judgment in Strasbourg -- A FUNNY thing happened to Turkey on its way to membership in the European Union. Last week the European Court of Human Rights ruled that, for the past quarter-century, Turkey has systematically and brutally abused human rights in its occupation of the northern third of Cyprus. No human-rights abuser has ever been admitted, or is likely to be welcomed, into the European Union until it mends it ways.

Of course, Turkey insists that the occupied portion of Cyprus is an independent entity -- the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus -- and that the Cypriot case has nothing to do with Turkey itself. But that is a convenient fiction -- and, it must be said, characteristic of the Turkish pattern of self-deception about its history. As the European Court points out, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a puppet regime, recognized by no country other than Turkey, and established and sustained by the Turkish military occupation of Cypriot territory. That means, so far as Europe is concerned, that the abuses of the "Northern Cyprus" regime may be properly laid at Turkey's doorstep.

The case, which has been pending since 1994, tells us nothing that is not already known. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a brief, failed coup engineered by the junta then ruling Greece, and for the past 27 years, the Turks have maintained a substantial army of occupation in northern Cyprus. Turkey looks upon Cyprus in much the same way the communist Chinese regard democratic Taiwan: As an offshore province that ought to be incorporated into the mainland, by force if necessary. Accordingly, Ankara frequently makes threatening noises about finishing the work of the 1974 invasion, and routinely flies bombers low over Cypriot air space.

It is interesting to note that, prior to 1974, the northern third of the island was the more prosperous region. But hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to flee their homes at that time, and the situation is now exactly reversed. The southern two-thirds of the island -- the Republic of Cyprus -- is politically free and increasingly wealthy, and poised to join the European Community. By contrast, Northern Cyprus is in such an advanced state of decay that large numbers of Turkish Cypriots have fled to Europe or the Middle East to find work or refuge, and Turkey is obliged to transport impoverished nationals to populate the region controlled by its army.

It is, however, the nature of the Turkish occupation that commanded the attention of the European Court of Human Rights. Those Greek Cypriots stranded in the north suffer serious abuse. Their basic freedoms are limited, their property rights are routinely violated, there are few opportunities for secondary education, they are subject to degrading treatment by the Turkish army. In addition, Turkey has plundered the religious and architectural heritage of the Greek Cypriots, selling off artifacts for profit and wiping the historic landscape clean of Greek influence.

There are some 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees in the south, whose property was confiscated by Turkey in 1974, and who are forbidden to return to their homes to visit. Turkey has refused any discussion of financial compensation for people whose houses and businesses were stolen, and contact is forbidden between relatives on either side of the Green Line. In addition, some 1,500 Greek Cypriots have been "missing" since 1974 (presumably killed during the invasion) and Turkey refuses, for reasons of its own, to acknowledge their existence, much less furnish information to surviving relatives.

The European Court has yet to issue a comprehensive verdict, and has not decided whether to fine or punish Turkey. But it is Turkey's reaction to the censure that matters in this instance. Turkey is a signatory to the European Human Rights Convention, and as such, is expected to comply with the court's final ruling. Turkey is also anxious to join the European Union.

Yet there is a paradox here. There is no hope for Turkey to join the EU without changing the nature of its authoritarian government, without ending its brutal occupation of Cyprus, or acknowledging its pattern of human rights abuse. But Turkey shows few signs of altering its habits, or contending with the facts about its recent history. Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide, abuses the human rights of Kurds in Anatolia, and declined to engage Cyprus in the European Court.

This is, of course, the action of the Turkish government, which may or may not represent the will of Turks in general. But it is worth noting that, after 80 years, there is now some open discussion about Turkey's culpability in the massacre of Armenians, and internal opposition to the veto power the Turkish armed forces exercise over the government. If Turkey has plans to join the European club, it might begin by listening to the sounds of dissent, and read and absorb the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, The Providence Journal