In light of Ankara’s recent criticism of what it calls Israel’s “open-air jail”
in Gaza, this week, which marks the anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus,
has special relevance.
Turkish policy toward Israel, historically warm
and only a decade ago approaching full alliance, has cooled since Islamists took
power in 2002. Their hostility became explicit in January 2009, during the
Israel- Hamas war. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan grandly condemned Israeli
policies as “perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to
self-destruction” and even invoked God (“Allah will... punish those who
transgress the rights of innocents”). His wife Emine Erdogan hyperbolically
condemned Israeli actions as so awful they “cannot be expressed in
Their verbal assaults augured a further hostility that included
insulting President Shimon Peres, helping sponsor the “Freedom Flotilla” and
recalling the Turkish ambassador.
This Turkish rage prompts a question:
Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this
hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts: • Turkey’s invasion of July-August
1974 involved the use of napalm and “spread terror” among Cypriot Greek
villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast,
Israel’s “fierce battle” to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and
entailed virtually no civilian casualties.
• The subsequent occupation of
37 percent of the island amounted to a “forced ethnic cleansing,” according to
William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of
Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of
ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, the Jews, in
• The Turkish government has sponsored what Mallinson calls “a
systematic policy of colonization” on formerly Greek lands in northern Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriots in 1973 totaled about 120,000 persons; since then, more than
160,000 citizens of the Republic of Turkey have been settled in their lands. Not
a single Israeli community remains in Gaza.
• Ankara runs its occupied
zone so tightly that, in the words of Bülent Akarcal, a senior Turkish
politician, “Northern Cyprus is governed like a province of Turkey.” An enemy of
Israel, Hamas, rules in Gaza.
• The Turks set up a pretend-autonomous
structure called the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
• A wall through the island keeps peaceable Greeks out of
northern Cyprus. Israel’s wall excludes Palestinian terrorists.
there is the ghost town of Famagusta, where Turkish actions parallel those of
Syria under the thuggish Assads. After the Turkish air force bombed the Cypriot
port city, Turkish forces moved in to seize it, thereby prompting the entire
Greek population (fearing a massacre) to flee. Turkish troops immediately fenced
off the central part of the town, called Varosha, and prohibited anyone from
As this crumbling Greek town is reclaimed by nature, it has
become a bizarre time capsule from 1974. Steven Plaut of the University of Haifa
visited and reports: “Nothing has changed... It is said that the car
distributorships in the ghost town even today are stocked with vintage 1974
models. For years after the rape of Famagusta, people told of seeing light bulbs
still burning in the windows of the abandoned buildings.”
another Levantine ghost town also dates from the summer of 1974. Just 24 days
before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Israeli troops evacuated the border town
of Kuneitra, handing it over to the Syrian authorities. Hafez Assad chose, for
political reasons too, not to let anyone live in it.
Decades later, it
too remains empty, a hostage to bellicosity.
Erdogan claims that Turkish
troops are not occupying northern Cyprus but are there in “Turkey’s
a guarantor power,” whatever that means. The outside world, however, is
fooled. If Elvis Costello recently pulled out of a concert in Tel Aviv
protest the “suffering of the innocent [Palestinians],” Jennifer Lopez
a concert in northern Cyprus to protest “human rights abuse” there.
brief, Northern Cyprus shares features with Syria and resembles an
jail” more than Gaza does. How rich that a hypocritical Ankara preens
plumage about Gaza even as it runs a zone significantly more offensive.
of meddling in Gaza, Turkish leaders should close the illegal and
occupation that for decades has tragically divided Cyprus.
(www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and a Taube
distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford