Ankara, after fueling Armenia conflict, moves on to Varosha in Cyprus

Turkey was already pivoting from having provoked the crises with Armenia in September to create a new crisis in mid-October.

Azeri men living in Turkey wave flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan during a protest following clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 19, 2020 (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Azeri men living in Turkey wave flags of Turkey and Azerbaijan during a protest following clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 19, 2020
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Ankara has provoked a new crisis with Cyprus as it plans to extend its illegal occupation of part of the island to include an area called Varosha.
Turkey’s regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses a new international crisis every week to distract from economic failures at home and to keep the public motivated through nationalist and religious action.
Varosha is a beach area that has been abandoned for 46 years after Turkish troops invaded Cyprus and expelled Greek Cypriots from the northern part of the island. Ankara claims its illegal invasion was merely to “guarantee” the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
However, the expulsion of Greeks and keeping them from returning to areas like Varosha run counter to that claim.
Turkey’s policy of expelling minorities in Cyprus is linked to its historic expulsion of Armenians and Greeks, and its recent invasion of Afrin, where it expelled Kurdish minorities.
The Guardian interviewed Greeks who had been expelled from the area in 1974 and one woman described seeing its reopening as a “sorrow.”
Cyprus leader Nicos Anastasiades said the move was “illegal” and it has been condemned by Russia and the EU, and UN have expressed the usual “concern,” which means they will draft statements and do nothing.
Turkey has increasingly threatened Greece and other EU and NATO members.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently visited Greece and Cyprus to show support for the countries. He is also “concerned” about Ankara’s aggressive behavior.
Turkey has slammed Pompeo, threatened the Trump administration and bashed US presidential candidate Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in recent months.  
Turkey’s provocation is of importance to the region. Israel has become a key ally of Cyprus and Greece, with a new gas deal that is supposed to include a pipeline and an energy forum. Meanwhile, Egypt’s and Russia’s navies are holding exercises in the Black Sea and Turkey is testing out the S-400 system it bought from Russia in the Black Sea.
Turkey has also been accused of using the S-400 system to track fellow-NATO member Greece’s F-16s, an accusation that emerged this week but refers to an incident in August. The New York Times’s analyst, Christiaan Triebert, has alleged that Turkey sent F-16s to Azerbaijan during the conflict with Armenia last month.
If all these incidents seem hard to follow, it is because that is what Ankara wants. It fuels fires from Armenia, to Libya, to Sinjar in northern Iraq, to keep media and locals running from one story to another. Ankara is playing the region like a piano, where every key is a new military invasion or a bombing campaign.
Since 2016 Turkey has moved to a process of confrontation with all its neighbors. This was in contrast to the pragmatic policy of Ahmet Davutoglu, a former foreign minister and prime minister under Erdogan. Turkey once had “zero problems” with its neighbors and wanted to join the European Union.
At the time it was a democracy but now, Turkey has removed all but five of the 65 mayors of the opposition HDP party. It’s ruling AK Party portrays the opposition CHP as stabbing the country in the back. Turkey is the largest jailer of journalists in the world and has purged more than 150,000 civil servants after a coup attempt in 2016.
There is almost no critical media in Turkey and the country resembles a one-party state increasingly akin to authoritarian regimes where criticism of the leadership is not permitted.
People are often arrested for posting criticism of the government on social media and Turkey’s ruling party is also plowing resources into religious education to create a more extreme populace in the future to back its programs.
The top religious affairs directorate in Turkey is hiring, while secular academics are pushed out in other areas. The religious body now has more of a budget than eight other ministries, according to Ilhan Tanir of Ahval.
Ankara began its new crises-driven policy in 2016 with its first invasion of Syria and increasing its war against Kurdish dissidents. In 2018 it invaded the peaceful Kurdish region of Afrin, leading to 160,000 Kurds fleeing, and Ankara imported extremist Islamist militias to run the occupied zone.
It then directed those same militias to attack the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in a new invasion in October 2019 near Tel Abyad. After that, it took the militias and sent them to Libya in January and it is now sending them to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan against Armenia.
Ankara’s crises-driven policy has now entered a phase of a new military crisis every two weeks. After having sent arms illegally to Libya to fight in a civil war, threatening Egypt and the UAE and causing a crisis with France, it bombed northern Iraq in July and then in August began threats against Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. With the Eastern Mediterranean issue percolating in mid-September, Ankara set its sights on a new crisis with Armenia.
The government ordered media to report that “terrorists” were working with Armenia, an invented news story that usually foreshadows a Turkish invasion, and then encouraged Azerbaijan to attack the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabkah on September 27.
The war there has now displaced some 50,000 Armenians, joining the 350,000 mostly Kurds that Ankara has displaced in Syria.
On October 8, amid the Turkish-backed fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, forces shelled a historic Armenian church in Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Ankara’s history of attacks on churches and minority groups such as Alevis.
The shelling of the Armenian church is linked to Ankara’s decision to turn Istanbul’s historic Hagia Sophia church from a museum to a mosque in July. At the time, the Turkish Presidency said that Ankara would soon also “liberate Al-Aqsa.”
Turkey was already pivoting from having provoked the crisis with Armenia in September to create a new crisis in mid-October. It has sent thousands of Syrian rebel mercenaries to fight in Azerbaijan, a cynical move designed to get rid of them from northern Syria, distract them and use them to gain a foothold in Nagorno-Karabkah so that Ankara can continue to provoke crises there when it serves its interests.  
Ankara has several targets it could now aim for. On October 1, the Turkish president’s office put out a social media graphic and statement arguing that “Jerusalem is ours.” This rhetoric is part of the Turkish ruling party’s attempt to increase its role in the Israel-Palestinian issue.
With roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey’s rulers see Hamas as an ally and Hamas terrorist leaders have twice received the red carpet treatment this year by Ankara, most recently in late August. On September 22, Turkey also hosted Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks. Pompeo has condemned Ankara for hosting the Hamas leaders and wanted terrorists.
Ankara judged that Varosha would be an easy place to provoke a new crisis with the European Union and Cyprus. The abandoned beach area, full of hotels and buildings, could be easily and illegally opened and Ankara could show northern Cyprus residents that it stands by them. In provoking the news about Varosha the goal of Ankara is to show it will not allow anything to stand in its way.
F-16s can fly to Azerbaijan or attack Armenia; Turkey can invade Syria, remove the Americans from Tel Abyad; harass French warships at sea and use S-400 radar to track NATO-member Greece’s jets; threaten Israel, the UAE, Greece, Syria’s regime; bomb Iraq, and it expects no repercussions.
The rising attacks on fellow NATO members is designed to show that Ankara flouts all the rules. For instance, in June, Turkish naval vessels were accused of flashing French naval vessels with their radar, a kind of symbolic threat. France complained about the incident.
Turkey’s pro-government media on Friday celebrated the conflict with Armenia with coverage of the “Azerbaijani frontline” and Turkey’s Anadolu media also celebrated the one-year anniversary since Ankara’s illegal invasion of Tel Abyad in Syria, where Kurdish minorities were hunted down and attacked, with some 200,000 people forced to flee.
Ankara calls it a victory against “terrorism,” even though there were no terror attacks on Turkey from Syria. Anadolu also mentioned the Varosha issue and said Greece was provoking Turkey with a new naval exercise.
The recent moves by Ankara have raised eyebrows in Jerusalem. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Turkey is a destabilizing force in the region and Israeli intelligence and military assessments over the last year depict Ankara as a rising threat.
However, there is no consensus among Israel, the UAE, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece or other countries concerned by Turkey’s actions, on how to confront Ankara’s actions. The increased use of Syrian mercenaries which Turkey has turned into a foreign legion to sacrifice in wars where it wants a role, has harmed Armenia and Libya.
Cyprus and Greece have been warned.