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The Uncanny Parallels Between the Cyprus and Ukraine Invasions

Cyprus invasion
Turkish soldiers on Cyprus after the 1974 invasion. Public Domain

As Cyprus marks the anniversary of the Turkish invasion of July 20, 1974, many are highlighting the uncanny parallels with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Greek and Cypriot communities question 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.

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.

Putin declared that Russia would “defend” those who had been “suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”

Turkey, like Russia, justified the Cyprus invasion with “genocide” claim

Many who remember the chilling invasion of Cyprus in 1974, with its ugly street fighting, its massacres of Greeks, it’s 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 earlier.

Turkey also claimed there was a “genocide” against Turkish-Cypriots living on the island although no one outside Turkey believed that claim then or has believed it since that time. Yet, 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.

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 percent 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 percent 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 percent of the island.

Turkey’s military occupation went 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 percent 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 following the genocide of the Ukrainian farmers that were part of the Holodomir famine.

In subsequent decades, Russians moved in ever larger numbers to Ukraine, drawn by jobs in the mining and steel-working 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 the displacement of persons, deprivation of liberty, ill-treatment, deprivation of life, and deprivation of possessions.

After the Turkish-Cypriot assembly declared the 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 1st.

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 sanctions rain down on Russia.

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