US slams Turkey over Cyprus, urges Security Council action

Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar (center right) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (center left) take part in a parade in Cyprus' divided capital Nicosia, July 20, 2021. (Photo: Birol Bebek/AFP)
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar (center right) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (center left) take part in a parade in Cyprus' divided capital Nicosia, July 20, 2021. (Photo: Birol Bebek/AFP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US officials—both in the administration and in Congress—have repeatedly criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for remarks he made in northern Cyprus, as well as action taken during his trip to the island earlier this week.

Erdogan’s visit to Cyprus followed the conclusion of an understanding with Washington that Turkey would assume responsibility for securing the Kabul airport, after the US, along with its NATO allies, withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.

That has proven a controversial, widely criticized decision, and Turkey’s offer is an enormous boon to the Biden administration. Keeping Kabul airport open will allow for a continued diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and otherwise maintaining communications with its government.

As Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now Senior Director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, advised Kurdistan 24, Erdogan’s offer “to guard the Kabul airport is meant as a transactional deal for which he expects to extract various concessions from Washington”—and, indeed, he is wasting no time in that effort.

Erdogan’s visit to northern Cyprus

On Monday and Tuesday, Erdogan paid a two-day visit to northern Cyprus. That visit came as the Turkish-administered part of the island marked the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 invasion, which followed a pro-Greek coup in Cyprus, engineered by the military junta then ruling in Athens, the aim of which was to unite the island with Greece.

The 1974 coup in Nicosia proved very short-lived, but it, along with the Turkish intervention, led to the division of the island into a Turkish north and a Greek south. In 1983, the Turkish north declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC.) But only Turkey recognized it as an independent state, and, until recently, the conflict was largely quiescent.

However, while Erdogan was in northern Cyprus, two things happened to disturb that quiet.

First, Erdogan asserted that Turkish Cyprus should be recognized as a separate, independent state. Speaking to TRNC parliamentarians on Monday, he said that a “permanent and sustainable solution” to Cyprus’ division “can only be possible” by recognizing that the island encompasses “two separate states and two separate peoples.”

“The international community will sooner or later accept this reality,” Erdogan said, as he promised that Turkey would build new government buildings which would properly reflect the TRNC’s independent status.

Erdogan repeated that position on Tuesday, affirming that peace talks on the future of Cyprus, could only take place between “the two states” on the island.

“The new negotiation process can only be carried out between the two states,” the Turkish president affirmed. “We are right, and we will defend our right to the end.”

In addition, TRNC leader, Ersin Tatar, along with Erdogan, announced they would transfer part of an abandoned resort town, Varosha, which was inhabited by Greek Cypriots prior to 1974, and open a small part of it to Turkish Cypriot settlement.

US Criticisms: Congress and the Biden Administration

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a routine confirmation hearing for several State Department nominees, including Karen Donfried, who is slated to become Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Her portfolio is to include Turkey,

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D, Maryland) questioned Donfried about Erdogan’s visit on what he called, “the anniversary of the illegal Turkish invasion.” Affirming that Erdogan was “taking very provocative steps,” which were a “gross violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions and US policy statements,” Van Hollen solicited her position.

“Yes, I do agree that we should work closely with the EU (European Union) and European allies on how to push back against this,” Donfried replied.

She also told the committee that Erdogan’s pledge to open Varosha “will be condemned, and these actions are provocative.”

“They are destabilizing the region,” she continued. “They are an impediment to any settlement for Cyprus on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation,” as she affirmed that the issue needed to be referred to the UN Security Council.

Later on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement in which he asserted that the US “condemns the announcement” by Tatar and Erdogan “regarding the transfer of parts of Varosha to Turkish Cypriot control.”

The US “views Turkish Cypriot actions in Varosha, with the support of Turkey, as provocative, unacceptable and incompatible with their past commitments,” Blinken continued, while he affirmed that the US was working with allies to bring the issue to the Security Council.

The strongest criticism of Erdogan’s actions, however, came from Sen. Robert Menendez (D, New Jersey), SFRC chairman.

A hearing on US policy toward Turkey had been previously scheduled for Wednesday, and the session began with Menendez’ strongly critical remarks.

“Yesterday, President Erdogan visited illegally-occupied Cyprus and announced a plan to develop the seaside town of Varosha,” Menendez began.

“I have met Greek Cypriots who had to evacuate Varosha in 1974, fleeing the invading Turkish army for safety,” he continued, as he noted that many of those people had since immigrated to the US.

“Forty seven years following the invasion, their stories remain harrowing, a daily reminder of those terrible days in 1974,” Menendez said.

Fascism, Demagoguery, and Populism

As recent experience demonstrates, including in the US, one of the easiest ways to gain political support is to get one group of people mad at another and then pose as the champion of the angry group.

Indeed, “demagoguery” is a Greek word—pretty much as old as democracy itself, another Greek word. Democracy, of course, means rule by the people. Demagoguery means, “to lead the people”—with the implication that people are led by their emotions.

Or, as explained more expansively by the Online Etymology Dictionary, a demagogue is "an unprincipled popular orator or leader; one who seeks to obtain political power by pandering to the prejudices, wishes, ignorance, and passions of the people or a part of them.”

That is what Erdogan appears to be doing with his provocative, new position on Cyprus.

Having noted that Erdogan’s offer to guard Kabul airport, as the US and other NATO forces withdraw, is a “transactional deal” from which Erdogan expects US concessions, Dr. Aykan Erdemir then explained a central motive behind Erdogan’s trip to Cyprus and the statements he made there.

“The Turkish president has tested how far he can leverage the Afghanistan deal by this latest policy stunts in Cyprus,” Erdemir told Kurdistan 24, describing them “as a move aimed at boosting his nationalist credentials at home to reverse the ongoing exodus of voters from Turkey’s ruling Islamist-ultranationalist bloc.”

Editing by John J. Catherine