Christopher Hitchens’ article “Uncorking the Genie: The Cyprus Question and Turkey’s Military Rule” (MERIP Reports 122) must be commended for approaching the complex issue of Cyprus from the vantage point of regional politics, rather than the more usual and not very enlightening arguments involving US imperialism or ethnic-religious differences. However, although his analysis is interesting and his paradigm plausible, the fact is that they quite simply do not apply. By looking at Turkish politics entirely through the prism of Cyprus, he has set up a model that appears to be supported more by aesthetics than hard facts.
The April 18 victory of a nationalist candidate in the Turkish Cypriot presidential election threw international observers of the Cyprus negotiations into mourning. They had to bid farewell to Mehmet Ali Talat, the leftist leader who had swept to power in 2004 in the wake of a popular revolution against long-time leader Rauf Denktaş, a man known for his ties to military and ultra-nationalist elements in Turkey and his intransigent stance toward negotiating with Greek Cypriots. Talat’s backers also saw conservatives cement the hold on power they had begun to regain in parliamentary elections in 2009.
More than years after the opening of the ceasefire line that divides Cyprus, the island is closer than ever to rupture. When the Green Line first opened in April 2003, there was an initial period of euphoria, as Cypriots flooded in both directions to visit homes and neighbors left unwillingly behind almost three decades before. But a year later, when a UN plan to reunite the island came to referendum, new divisions emerged. While Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan, their Greek Cypriot compatriots rejected it in overwhelming numbers.
One year after a failed referendum on reunification, divisions on the island of Cyprus are widening. In both the Turkish north and the majority-Greek south, ethnic nationalism is on the rise.
The awakening of interest in human rights and democracy in Turkey is very welcome and long overdue. It is striking, though, that most accounts of this problem completely omit the question of Cyprus. This is a serious lacunae in the analysis of Turkey, because Cyprus has been the proving ground for the Turkish army and the Turkish right for almost a generation. Cyprus is also the most crucial site of Turkey’s long-running battle with Greece for the Aegean islands. Finally, the thousands of Cypriot victims, both Greek and Turkish-speaking, of the 1974 invasion should form part of the bill of indictment against Turkish military aggrandizement.