WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) remembers the somber 48th anniversary of NATO member Turkey’s brutal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union.
For 48 years, the Republic of Cyprus and its people, have endured an illegal occupation by over 40,000 Turkish troops, and massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Turkey. AHI calls for the immediate removal of all Turkish troops from the Republic of Cyprus. With their presence, Turkey continues to violate U.S. law when it transfers American-made weapons from mainland Turkey to Turkish-occupied Cyprus. Congress must put a stop to this illegal transfer of weapons or otherwise it is complicit in breaking its own laws.
Additionally, Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus has had an impact on the ability of The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) to access certain Turkish military installations to excavate the remains of Cypriots missing since the tragic events that occurred on the island for proper identification. More than 800 Greek Cypriots, including four American citizens, remain missing and a large majority of these cases remain unresolved.
Turkey’s threats and acts of aggression toward Cyprus continue 48 years later. Challenges to the sovereignty of Cyprus are unacceptable and clearly demonstrate that Turkey is a force of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean. In October 2020, Turkey re-opened the beach in Varosha, the fenced-in area of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus which Turkey has occupied since it unlawfully invaded the Republic of Cyprus. This action violates United Nations resolutions and international treaties to which the U.S. and Turkey are signatories. Specifically, Turkey is in violation of the 1979 High Level Agreement between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities that stated that priority should be given to the resettlement of Famagusta, of which Varosha is a subdivision, under UN auspices.
Furthermore, President Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar have spoken openly about their support of a “two-state” solution regarding Cyprus–the permanent partition of the island. As such, President Erdogan’s attempt to change Varosha’s status demonstrates a lack of interest to resume serious settlement talks in favor of pursuing tangible steps to advance a “two-state” solution regarding Cyprus, which contravenes the positions of the United Nations and the U.S. government. The United States must condemn President Erdogan’s support for illegally re-opening the beach in Varosha and overt promotion of a two-state solution for Cyprus.
In addition, Turkey’s activities in occupied Cyprus threaten regional stability and the interests of the United States and Western Alliance. In 2021, Turkey announced the development of the former Lefkoniko Airport into an aerial drone base by moving drones onto the complex. From occupied Cyprus, the drones are in range of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, posing a danger to allies of the United States. Separately, Turkey has encroached illegally into the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus with its survey and drill-ships that accompanied by Turkish warships. These acts violated Cyprus’ sovereignty and international law. At the time, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades termed Turkey’s illegal bid to drill in Cyprus a “second invasion.”
The United States government must send a strong message to President Erdogan that Turkish troops and settlers must be removed from Cyprus and the antiquated rights of guarantees must be abandoned. The Treaty of Guarantee, which would allow for future unilateral Turkish military interventions, is completely unacceptable and contradicts the governing principals of a European Union member state. Such actions would be significant confidence building measures in the peace process. Although recent congressional action to press the Biden administration to place Cyprus as a high foreign policy priority, and specifically to urge action on Varosha, is appreciated, any positive resolution to the Cyprus problem cannot be foreseen until the United States presses Turkey to forgo its intransigence and unhelpful provocations. The Cypriots themselves should have ownership of the process and the Cypriot people should arrive at a solution that is for the Cypriot people; a bizonal, bicommunal federation, as well as a solution that embodies the full respect of the principles and laws of the European Union, of which Cyprus is a member. Advancing these positions will underscore support for the rule of law and respect for international law. It will demonstrate the United States’ dedication to solving the Cyprus problem.
Moreover, this is not the Cyprus of 48 years ago. Cyprus has made tremendous strides and is viewed today by the United States as a strategic partner because of its commitment to counterterrorism and security as evidenced by 2018’s Statement of Intent agreement with the United States. Since then, several important steps have occurred. The United States provides International Military Education and Training (IMET) program funding to the Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus has assigned a defense attaché to the Embassy in Washington. The Cyprus Center for Land, Open-Seas, and Port Security (CYCLOPS), an innovative security site that has been partially funded by the U.S., began operations this year. The U.S. has implemented a partial lifting of an arms prohibition on Cyprus. However, the arms prohibition must be fully and permanently lifted. Cyprus must be removed from the list of countries to which arms sales are prohibited under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) because it has met the two conditions required to fully lift the embargo as codified in the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019. Finally, Cyprus is a signatory to the United States’ Proliferation Security Initiative.
In addition, Cyprus has strengthened bilateral relations with Israel and plays an integral role in an Eastern Mediterranean trilateral partnership with Israel and Greece; a partnership that at times includes the United States in a 3+1 framework. Turkey’s aggression in Cyprus’ EEZ and its gunboat diplomacy only serve to hinder Cyprus’s further development as a key contributor to security in the Eastern Mediterranean, the broader region, and Europe. Therefore, in the context of the United States’ enhanced relations with the Republic of Cyprus, AHI calls on the United States to condemn strongly Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in Cyprus’ EEZ, and further, place sanctions upon Turkey for such illegal activities.
Background and Statement of Policy
On July 20, 1974, the Government of Turkey ordered its military to invade the Republic of Cyprus with the illegal use of U.S.-supplied arms and equipment, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. This also violated the Treaty of Establishment, the Treaty of Alliance and Treaty of Guaranty, which established the Republic of Cyprus and guaranteed the independence of the Republic of Cyprus; as well as the United Nations Charter and international law. Turkey occupied about four percent of Cyprus during the initial phase of its invasion. Furthermore, on August 14, 1974, three weeks after the legitimate government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched the second phase of its invasion of Cyprus, occupying 37 percent of Cyprus’s sovereign territory, killing innocent civilians, forcing 170,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes and properties, and committing mass destruction of Cyprus’ cultural and religious heritage, including an estimated 500 churches and religious sites belonging to Christian and Jewish communities.
On January 27, 1989, then-Senator Joe Biden wrote to AHIPAC Chairman Dr. Dean Lomis, a constituent, in which he stated:
“…we must urge the new Administration [President George H.W. Bush] to make Cyprus a higher policy priority in American foreign policy…we cannot lose sight of the fact that the rights of Greek Cypriots have been trampled upon, and we must ensure that their claims to ancestral land and property seized during the 1974 invasion are not compromised. Finally, we must send a signal to Turkey that until it has removed every last soldier from Cyprus, it will never be recognized as a full member of the international community.”
Since 1974, AHI has advocated that the U.S. government must:
support a settlement of the Cyprus problem through negotiations based on a bi-zonal, bi communal federation in a state with a single sovereignty and international personality, incorporating the norms of a constitutional democracy embracing key American principles, the EU acquis communautaire and EU Founding Treaty, UN resolutions on Cyprus, the pertinent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and of other European Courts — as is the best interests of the United States;
call for the immediate withdrawal of Turkey’s 40,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus;
call for the return of the estimated at least 200,000 illegal Turkish colonists/settlers in Cyprus to Turkey and for a halt to the illegal bringing of more colonists/settlers from Turkey to occupied Cyprus to illegally change the demographics of the island and of the Turkish Cypriot community, all of which is in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949;
Reject any calls by the Turkish government or the Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar, for a “two-state” solution regarding Cyprus;
call for the return of the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants by Turkey as noted in UN Security Council resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992) and the 1979 High Level Agreement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, which stated that priority should be given to the resettlement of Famagusta under the UN auspices. This position has been reaffirmed by the European Parliament in written declarations;
recognize that the European Court of Human Rights has issued decisions and judgments in which it confirms that persons, including U.S. citizens, who hold title to real property under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus located in the area occupied by the Turkish military are the only rightful owners of that real property; and assert that Turkey must enable these rightful owners to repossess their property and compensate them for the unlawful use of their property;
must enact H.Res.376 that condemns Turkey for its illegal occupation of Cyprus;
direct Turkey to tear down the green line barbed wire fence across the face of Cyprus that makes Nicosia the last divided capital in Europe;
call upon Turkey to stop its sanctioning of religious and cultural desecration in occupied Cyprus
call on Turkey to treat the issue of missing persons in Cyprus as a humanitarian issue, not a political one, by cooperating and being a constructive partner with the Republic of Cyprus on this matter;
Pressure the Turkish military to provide access to archival information from 1974, which could helped expedite the recovery of missing persons, which include American citizens;
call on Turkey to normalize relations with the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union and U.S. strategic partner; and
must view the Cyprus issue as one of invasion and occupation by Turkey, similar to that of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rather than an ethnic dispute.