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Politics

Turkish-Cypriot Leader Fears Accidental Gaza-Like Conflict Could Engulf Island

NICOSIA – Pointing to Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in a hunt for Hamas terrorists who killed 1200 Israelis in raids, Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said he worries that an incident could provoke a war on the island with the Greek-Cypriot side.

“If you shoot one Turkish soldier you will have 10,000 soldiers on the ground,” Tatar, the head of the self-declared republic on the northern third of the island seize in unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions told the British newspaper The Telegraph in an interview there.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2024/04/04/turkey-cyprus-ersin-tatar-trnc-gaza-war/

“Everybody should be calm and reasonable. Turkish-Cypriots are not alone – we have got 85 million Turks behind us and they are just 40 miles away,” he said in an apparent warning to the Greek-Cypriot side that belongs to the European Union.

“A little flare-up, that is what people are fearing. Look at what happened in Gaza. And before that, Ukraine. Before that, Bosnia,” he said. Tatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have rejected reunification,  instead demanding recognition for the occupied side.

They want permanent partition and United Nations and world acceptance for the republic that no other country apart from Turkey recognizes as legitimate, Tatar frustrated that his calls have kept being ignored.

He said that a mistake or misunderstanding such as the shooting of a Turkish soldier on the Green Line that divides the two sides would provoke “a bomb” between the two populations, who have been at odds for half a century.

He spoke ahead of a meeting in New York with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who was at July, 2017 reunification talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana that collapsed when then Erdogan and then Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said 35,000 Turkish troops would never leave and demanded military intervention rights.

Akinci was ousted in 2020 elections by the hardliner Tatar who follows the lead of Erdogan and as they set aside long-stalled ideas of reuniting the two sides, wanting two separate states on the island.

Tatar and Guterres were expected to discuss recent meetings with the Turkish-Cypriot leader and Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides from UN envoy Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, the latest in a long line of diplomats, those before her failing to make progress.

ONE STEP OVER THE LINE

The Greek-Cypriots want one island and return of land seized and properties stolen in the invasions, but with Tatar and Erdogan instead pushing to develop the abandoned resort of Varosha on the occupied side.

“I will spare no effort to realize the common dream of reunification,” Christodoulides said recently, holding open the hope of getting Tatar to the bargaining table although Erdogan could quash any plans to do that.

Tatar said any unity talks are  “waste of time” and said, “That’s all past. All those opportunities have been exhausted. How can you unite an island like this after so many years? You cannot possibly unite Cyprus. You have to face the facts and accept reality.”

He said that, “Since 1974 we have had two states, two regions, two sovereign powers in Cyprus living side by side, coexisting. The only way forward is a two-state solution.”

He added: “Recognition might take time but as time goes by, we consolidate more,” and said that Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Bangladesh may soon recognize the occupied land, hoping that it would lead to others doing so.

Although the island is considered safe to travel around, there have been incidents of violence recently, the paper noted, including in February when a group of eight Turkish- Cypriot students were allegedly attacked with sticks and stones by Greek-Cypriots during a trip to the Troodos Mountains in the south.

In August, 2023, several UN peacekeepers, including British soldiers, were injured in a skirmish with Turkish-Cypriots trying to build a road to a village in the buffer zone that divides the island. “We don’t want a clash and they [Greek Cypriots] shouldn’t want a clash,” said Tatar.

“They have five million tourists visiting them each year, especially from the UK. If there is a bomb going off – pop! – not one tourist will come. They will go bankrupt,” he said, with no reference made about Greek-Cypriot Solomon Solomou who was shot dead in 1996 by a Turkish officer while trying to climb a flagpole in order to remove a Turkish flag from its mast in the UN buffer zone, the man who shot him never held accountable.

Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom, the former Colonial ruler which has military bases there, are guarantors of security and the Green Line that divides the sides is patrolled by UN forces although people are allowed to freely cross over.

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