After 44 Years of Division, Turkish-Cypriots See No Unity Solution Either

Αssociated Press

FILE - Soldiers walk by the graves of soldiers killed in the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in the Tymvos Macedonitissas military cemetery during the 44th anniversary in the divided capital of Nicosia, Cyprus, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

For Turkish-Cypriots, July 20, 1974 isn't Invasion Day, when the Turkish military stormed the island, it's Peace and Freedom Day, marking what Turkey – which still occupies the northern third – says was an operation to protect its citizens.

"(It is) the most honorable day in the Turkish Cypriots' struggle for right and freedom, and continue their existence as the equal owner of the island," Turkey's newly-appointed Vice President Fuat Oktay, who visited the Island for the commemorations, said at an event in the occupied territory to mark the day, said the Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah.

While the operation was condemned by the international community – although said to be implicitly supported by the United States – he said it was legal under international agreements.

"(Turkey) defeated the attempts to eradicate the Turkish-Cypriots and remove them from pages of history," he said.

On the Cypriot side, there were commemorations and laments for the missing, many said to have disappeared into Turkish prisons never to be seen again and still not accounted for, or buried in makeshift graves and moved around to prevent detection when operations went into place to try to recover the remains on both sides.

On the Turkish side, in an area recognized only by Turkey and as a self-declared Repubic isolated from the rest of the world and with the legitimate side of Cyprus enjoying the fruits of belonging to the European Union, thousands gathered for a dawn vigil at the spot on a beach where Turkish troops landed 44 years earlier.

Despite the celebrations, Turkish-Cypriots said they, too, don't see a solution coming to reunify the island.

Negotiations collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said a Turkish army in the occupied land would never be removed and that they wanted the right to militarily intervene again when they wanted.

Erdogan – who wants Turkey to join the EU won't recognize the legitimate government and bars its ships and planes – put out a statement after earlier visiting that blamed the Cypriot side for the collapse of the talks.

The Turkish side insists the invasion was needed to protect Turkish-Cypriots after Nikos Sampson, one of the leaders of EOKA B, a Greek Cypriot paramilitary group formed in 1971, overthrew then-President Archbishop Makarios on July 15, 1974 with the support of the then-Greek military junta.

After internationally-backed negotiations fell apart, Turkey launched a second invasion on Aug. 14, 1974 to seize more territory before a cease-fire split the island into how it stands today and in 1983 Turkey declared a Republic on its side.

After last year's debacle, Turkey continues to say the Cypriot side is intransigent – with the Cypriot side saying the same about the Turkish side and Turkey, and with the United Nations having sent a temporary envoy to try to find some way to reboot the talks.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said no EU country would stand for having an occupying army on part of its territory but Turkey said its army is needed to protect Turkish-Cypriots although Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which still has a military base on the island, are guarantors of security and the UN has a peacekeeping force there.

Akinci said if the Cypriots allow the Turkish army to stay then the issue could be possibly discussed in 15 years or so, a no-go for the Cypriots.

There's tension as well over Turkey keeping warships off the coast in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) trying to prevent foreign energy companies from drilling for oil and gas in waters where they are licensed but which Turkey doesn't recognize either.