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GreekReporter.comEuropeDouble Standard: Shouldn't the West Sanction Turkey over Cyprus Invasion Like Russia?

Double Standard: Shouldn’t the West Sanction Turkey over Cyprus Invasion Like Russia?

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Greek Cypriot women searching for missing family members after Turkey’s Cyprus Invasion in 1974. Credit: Public domain

The uncanny parallels between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 prompted an immediate question in the Greek and Cypriot communities regarding why Turkey got off nearly scot-free after its invasion while Russia is being hit with tough, across-the-board sanctions from the rest of the world.

Russia is paying a stiff price for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which began a week ago with its formal recognition of the “independence” of its easternmost Donbass region.

That was the trigger for a range of sanctions which had been previously announced, with two large Russian financial institutions, the VEB (A Russian state development corporation) and the country’s military bank, targeted in this round which went much deeper than those announced last Monday, when the country’s forces first entered the Donbass region.

Sweeping financial sanctions rained down on Russia after last week’s invasion

Late last Monday US President Joe Biden issued an executive order “that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in” the two regions in Ukraine that were being controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Donetsk and Luhansk and are now fully occupied by Russia.

The U.S. Presidential order will also “provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.

As of Saturday night, the US entered an agreement with the EU, Japan and other nations that will bar Russian financial institutions from taking part in SWIFT, the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a platform for financial institutions to exchange information about monetary transactions such as money transfers. Western nations making this momentous decision believe this will severely impact much of the Russian economy if not cripple it entirely.

Enormous Nord Stream 2 pipeline project put on ice by Germany

Another sanction with enormous ramifications is Germany’s halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The project, which would have meant billions to Russia, will also destabilize the energy situation in Europe, but it was deemed to vital to respond adequately to the invasion of Ukraine that this step is necessary.

Now, nearly all the large industrialized nations of the world have levied stiff sanctions on Russia, including its banishment from their airspace, making it much more cumbersome for Russian airlines including Aeroflot, as well as its many oligarchs, to travel around the globe.

And that’s as it should be, as the barbarity of sending tanks and mortar rounds into another European country and launching a full-scale ground war on European soil after almost 80 years of relative peace is clear to all — even many Russian citizens.

Despite the saber-rattling language that had been coming out of Russia since the 2014 invasion of Crimea — which had until then been another region of Ukraine — and the constant battles with the Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbass region, it was hard for most Westerners last week to even mentally grasp the fact that a WWII-style ground war, complete with urban warfare, was taking place in 2022.

The claim of “defending” their own people

Of course, all war is reprehensible and civilized nations normally avoid waging war on another country until all other channels are exhausted. And naturally, when Westerners see a nation which is similar to their own in many ways being invaded, the reaction is immediate and visceral.

But that might be the root of the problem regarding the very different response between Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The parallels between the two land and sea invasions are striking and unsettling in many ways, but they were responded to in very different ways by the West.

The universal, visceral appeal of defending one’s own people from harm has been cited by Russia in its claim that there were “neo-Nazis” committing a “genocide” against Russians and Russian speakers in the Donbass region, comprising the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. Never mind that both the former Prime Minster and the President of Ukraine are Jewish.

Going so far as to claim that as many as 10,000 separatists in these regions had been killed, and using WWII Nazi tropes alongside the psychologically loaded term of genocide, Russia claimed that it had every right to move its troops and armaments into Ukraine so that these people could be protected.

Putin declared in a speech last week that Russia would “defend” those who had been “suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime,” using the over-the-top language that is typical of aggressors.

Not one country outside Russia appears to be taking this bait. Conversely, many who remember the chilling invasion of Cyprus in 1974, with its ugly street fighting, its massacres of Greeks, its uprooting of a people whose ancestors had lived there since time immemorial, instantly recognized Russia’s buzzwords and catchphrases which echoed those used by Turkey decades before.

It also claimed there was a “genocide” against Turkish Cypriots living on the island, although no one outside Turkey believed that claim either then or since that time. And sadly, the “punishment” that Turkey received for its very similar invasion of Cyprus was paltry compared with the hard-hitting sanctions that were rightfully imposed on Russia this past week.

Turkey also justified Cyprus invasion with spurious “genocide” claim

One difference in the two invasions is that Cyprus had just undergone a coup, which gave a flimsy excuse for action on the part of Turkey. On July 15,1974, the military coup instigated by the junta in Athens gave Turkey just enough of a pretext to invade just five days later.

The plotters overthrew the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, and installed a puppet government under journalist Nikos Samson.

Their aim was to unify the island with Greece, the Union being a nationalist ideal for some Greeks, and Cypriots as well.

However, the number of Turks living in the northern part of Cyprus was only 18 % of the total population before the invasion and there was no indication that they were under any threat whatsoever, even after the coup.

Approximately 40,000 Turkish troops raided the island on July 20, 1974 under the code name “Operation Attila,” an apt name for the barbaric attack against innocent civilians, which clearly violated the Charter of the United Nations Security Council.

The Turkish forces captured 3% of the island before a ceasefire was declared. Following the breakdown of peace talks, another Turkish invasion in August of 1974 resulted in the capture of approximately 36% of the island.

Turkey’s great displacement of peoples, decades-long military occupation, went basically unpunished

Around 150,000 people (amounting to more than one-quarter of the total population of Cyprus, and one-third of its Greek Cypriot population) were expelled from the northern part of the island, where Greek Cypriots had constituted 80% of the population. Over the course of the next year, roughly 60,000 Turkish Cypriots, amounting to half the Turkish Cypriot population, were displaced from the south to the north.

Over the ensuing years, Turkey resettled thousands of its own people in the north of Cyprus — much like Russia has done in Ukraine, after the genocide of the Ukrainian farmers that was part of the Holodomir famine.

In subsequent decades, Russians moved in ever larger numbers to Ukraine, drawn by jobs in the mining and steelworking industries. Now, there is a substantial number of Russians living in eastern Ukraine, especially in the Donbass — and Russia recently granted more than 300,000 passports to many of them, making them for all intents and purposes Russian citizens.

Unlike Russia and Ukraine, however, both Turkey and Cyprus were and are members of NATO — and the 1974 invasion marked the first time such an incursion had taken place between two member nations. Clearly mistakes were made — and some might say are still being made — as Turkey faced what can only be considered paltry sanctions after the invasion.

UN, US sanctions on Turkey basically toothless

In the end, Turkey was found guilty by the European Commission of Human Rights for displacement of persons, deprivation of liberty, ill treatment, deprivation of life and deprivation of possessions. After the Turkish Cypriot assembly declared independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, the United Nations Security Council condemned the declaration as “legally invalid”.

The UN’s subsequent Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) considered the “attempt to create the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid, and will contribute to a worsening of the situation in Cyprus.”

These words constituted the harshest punishment levied on Turkey after its brutal invasion. The United States did impose an arms embargo on both Turkey and Cyprus after the 1974 invasion but it was lifted on Turkey after just three years by President Jimmy Carter, whereas the embargo on Cyprus remained in place for many years.

In December 2019, the US Congress lifted the arms embargo on Cyprus; on September 2, 2020, the United States decided to lift the ban on selling “non-lethal” military goods to Cyprus for one year starting from October 1.

No economic sanctions of any kind were levied on fellow NATO member Turkey after its brutal invasion; there was no banning of Turkish airlines’ overflying airspace in Europe or the Americas; no exclusion of Turkish participation in anything akin to the SWIFT financial network, which will deal a crippling blow to Russia’s monetary system and economy.

One is left to wonder why so very few sanctions were levied on Turkey, which as a fellow NATO nation should be held to the highest standards of conduct with another alliance member.

Is it because many Westerners see Cyprus — and perhaps Greece as well — as not truly part of Europe? Should sanctions only be levied when large nations in the European heartland are invaded, and not the smaller ones, lying on its outskirts? History may eventually be a harsh judge here, as the world watches the well-deserved sanctions rain down on Russia.

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