Tuesday, March 01, 2005

If Syria leaves Lebanon, will Turkey leave Cyprus?

There’s growing international pressure on Syria to end its illegal occupation of Lebanon. Syria has been using its tiny neighbor as a military base since 1976 when it sent 27,000 troops into Lebanon under the guise of establishing order after a bloody Lebanese civil war.

Lebanon was once the jewel of the Middle East, with a thriving economy and tourist industry. It was one of the few countries in that part of the world where Muslims and Christians lived in harmony.

While the Syrian invasion brought an end to civil war, it also marked an end to Lebanese independence. After order was restored, the Syrians decided to stay in Lebanon. They installed a series of puppet regimes and put out the welcome sign for terrorist groups to use Lebanon as a staging area for attacks on Israel.

The recent assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, a staunch opponent of the Syrian occupation, has brought a renewed effort both at the United Nations and the United States to get Syria to leave Lebanon. Syria still has 15,000 troops stationed in Lebanon.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "The Syrians are out of step with where the region is going and out of step with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East." Rice said international resolve was growing that Syria must pull out of Lebanon and allow the Lebanese to choose their own political future. That choice must be independent of "contaminating influences," Rice said. "I think it's one of the strongest statements in a long time about what needs to happen in Lebanon."

Very strong words coming from the Bush administration, especially when the United States has looked the other way for 30 years at a very similar situation in the region.

About 60 miles west of Syria sits the island of Cyprus, a sovereign nation since 1960. It too has endured an occupation by a foreign power. Since 1974, Turkish troops have controlled one-third of the island.

Armed with American weapons, Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974, under the guise of protecting the Turkish minority following an unsuccessful coup against the elected government of Cyprus by forces loyal to the military junta that was governing Greece at the time. Cyprus was another case of Christians and Muslims living side-by-side for decades in relative peace and stability.

In a matter of days, the 40,000-strong Turkish invasion force drove nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, farms and businesses, turning them into refugees in their own country. With Greece threatening to come to the aid of Cyprus (leaving the U.S. with the unpleasant prospect of seeing two of its NATO allies at war), a cease-fire was arranged on Aug. 16, 1974.

But the damage was done. More than 6,000 Greek-Cypriots were killed by the Turks and another 1,600 disappeared behind Turkish lines. Thirty years later, there has never been a full accounting by Turkey of what happened to the 1,300 men, 116 women and 133 children caught behind the advancing Turkish army.

Since the invasion, some 115,000 "undesirable" Turks from the mainland have been illegally settled in occupied Cyprus. In 1983, Turkey declared the occupied portion of Cyprus as an independent nation. To this day, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus as well as the continuing violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Cyprus has been condemned by every international body, including the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. But Turkey doesn't care about the law.

Fed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Turkey thumbs its nose at international law — and U.S. taxpayers. This is the same Turkey that continues to have one of the worst records of human rights violations in the world. The same Turkey that denied the United States use of its military bases and air space to launch a northern offensive against Iraq. Imagine how many more Saddam loyalists and insurgents could have been killed or captured in the opening days of the Iraq War had Turkey cooperated with the U.S.

Turkey keeps 30,000 troops on Cyprus to keep the Greeks from returning to their homes. It has ignored dozens of U.N. resolutions calling for unification of the island. And while the U.S. talks tough to Syria, it permits Turkey to occupy a neighboring country.

Why should American taxpayers finance this rogue nation? Unlike Syria, where the U.S. has little leverage, the Turkish economy would collapse without U.S. dollars. What’s so difficult about insisting that Turkey end its illegal occupation of Cyprus before any more America tax dollars make into Turkish pockets?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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