The past couple of years in Cyprus have been filled with rising tensions, including threats of annexation by Turkey.
Due to Cyprus’ guarantor status, any changes in the country’s borders would be tantamount to a declaration of war, particularly against Greece. In the age where autocrats are attempting to break international laws for “ancestral claims,” the world must prepare for such a nightmare scenario with Cyprus.
By Julian McBride
Immediately after Cypriot paramilitaries, known as EOKA, successfully fought British rule, international pressure mounted for London to relinquish Cyprus from the empire. Instead, the British outmaneuvered the Enosis (union with Greece) movement by making Cyprus only nominal independent with a guarantor status between Britain, Greece, and Turkey. London did this to continue holding their strategic sovereign bases on the isle without interruption.
Disputes over governance on the isle led to the Turkish Cypriot mutiny against the Nicosia government, and intercommunal violence would plague Cyprus for over a decade. Threats of invasion by Turkey were met with scathing remarks by US President Lyndon B Johnson and EOKA fighters, dissatisfied with Archbishop Makarios’ broken promises to form the Bravo organization (EOKA-B).
The Greek junta would also become dissatisfied with Makarios and plotted with top Cypriot National Guard and EOKA-B officers to overthrow Makarios and unite the isle, triggering the first Turkish invasion. The Cypriot and Greek junta were forced to step down, but Ankara and Washington were unsatisfied with their geopolitical position on the island.
Conspiring with the Turkish government then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger set up plans for the second Turkish invasion, which turned into an ethnic cleansing campaign. Greek Cypriots were rooted in the North, and Turkish Cypriots in the South.
Though tensions remain, the United Nations is deployed on the isle with a demilitarized zone since the invasion. The Annan Plan to reunify the island failed as even though no Hellenic military bases were allowed on the isle, the 40,000 plus Turkish troops would’ve been allowed to stay, and the status of mainland Turkish settlers into the empty homes of displaced Greek Cypriots was not addressed.
Potential Turkey’s Plans for Cyprus Annexation
After the Annan Plan failed, the Turkish government made potential plans for the complete annexation of the occupied North. The Cypriot government and then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Bob Menendez, have warned Ankara is in a phase of preparations towards annexation and direct control over the North. Turkey’s ruling AKP party denies any plans of annexation, but recent aggressive posture suggests otherwise.
In lieu of the US government’s lift of the Cypriot arms embargo, Turkey threatened to send more troops to reinforce the occupied areas of the isle. The attack against UN peacekeepers on the Green Line by Turkish Cypriot police and troops could be a way for Ankara to test their waters on an international reaction to see how far Turkish forces could go if given the green light on annexation.
Despite the recent rapprochement between Greece’s PM Mitsotakis and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Cyprus’ status and heightened tensions were left out of the discussion, sending fears amongst the Greek Cypriot diaspora.
Already holding illegal annexations of occupied areas of Ukraine, Russia will provide consular services in the occupied North, which is de facto recognition of the illegitimate state of ‘North Cyprus.’ Russian oligarchy money is currently fueling a business boom in the occupied areas, and the once-friendly relations between Nicosia and Moscow have all but dwindled.
Perhaps looking to have a significant geopolitical player such as NATO member Turkey hold illegal annexations, the Kremlin looks to legitimize the ones in Ukraine by reciprocating diplomacy through Ankara.
What Happens if Turkey Annexes the Occupied North Cyprus?
Cyprus’ guarantor status to the UK, Greece, and Turkey allows any of the three countries above to intervene if the isle’s sovereignty is threatened. Permanent annexation and partition will be the greatest threat to Nicosia’s sovereignty.
Greece and Cyprus currently have a mutual defense pact, and legally, Athens could intervene if Ankara threatens Nicosia’s sovereignty. Any annexation by Turkey would mean a declaration of war, especially as parts of the capital of Nicosia are still under occupation, and the Turkish government originally had plans of overrunning the capital (Operation Yildiz-70).
Athens has the option of taking a diplomatic route with a possible annexation of the remaining Republic of Cyprus into the Hellenic Republic to stop and potential advance by Ankara, but the likelihood of this happening remains low if the Cypriot population does not agree to such maneuvering.
If war between Greece and Turkey comes over Cyprus, NATO would be at a crossroads. Though Cyprus is not a NATO member, Greece, and Turkey are, and member states would immediately move to halt any fighting before the situation exacerbates.
Furthermore, US-Turkish relations could reach a breaking point. Already lukewarm with different factors between American-Kurdish militia cooperation, the S400 purchase, F-16 veto, and Turkish aggression in the Mediterranean, relations will continue to decline to where reassessments over military and diplomatic rapport will be minimal.
The Global Reaction to such Implications
Any annexation of the occupied territories of Cyprus by the Republic of Turkey should be met with the highest international condemnation and draconian diplomatic measures.
Akin to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s territory, a potential Turkish annexation would continue to hamper international law on rules of conquest and national sovereignty, which could further encourage other nations with territorial ambitions towards their neighbors such as China, North Korea, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, and Ethiopia.
Though a member state cannot be expelled, NATO should move towards mechanisms of indefinite suspension of Turkey, significantly, as such a move of annexation would trigger a military response with another NATO ally. It should be noted opinions on the NATO alliance remain lukewarm in the Hellenic Republic and Cyprus due to the actions of three-member states (US, UK, and Turkey) that led to 1974.
The United States, which had excellent relations in the region with a power base that deterred a more comprehensive invasion and war, ultimately became the catalyst for one in 1974, and now Washington has a chance to remedy the ill-advised foreign policy mistakes. With the world’s top soft power diplomacy and economic and military impact, Washington can use the deterrence factor to halt annexation plans while keeping cordial relations with Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia.
Any major war in the Mediterranean stemming from Cyprus’ sovereignty could hinder global shipping and exacerbate the economic conditions neither Greece nor Turkey can afford. For this, all countries must be invested in deterring all regional threats.
A nightmare scenario of annexation of Cyprus’ occupied North would not only hold regional consequences but global repercussions. Suppose peace and reunification are ever to come in Cyprus. In that case, soft power diplomacy towards demilitarization of the occupied North must become a reality before any mass refugee crisis and tragedy occurs.
By Julian McBride
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist, former Marine and journalist born in New York. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims whose voices are never heard. Julian is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”