Now 47 years after Turkey unlawfully invaded Cyprus and where it still occupies the northern third of the island – and demanding recognition for the isolated side – an American think-tank scholar said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved to cleanse it of residents not deemed radical enough.
In a piece for the conservative site The National Interest, Michael Rubin of the right-wing leaning American Enterprise Institute, said Erdogan has been using more recent Turkish settlers sent there to dominate more moderate Turkish-Cypriots.
And that, said Rubin, threatens any chance of a political settlement or reunification and has dramatically altered the makeup of the occupied land that no other country other than Turkey accepts as legitimate.
The Greek-Cypriot government of President Nicos Anastasiades is a member of the European Union that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005, prospects worsened under Erdogan's authoritarian rule and his purge of civil society, the courts, military, and educational sector after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
Since he engineered the election in October, 2020 of hardliner Ersin Tatar as the new leader of the Turkish-Cypriot side, replacing the moderate Mustafa Akinci, Erdogan has taken more aggressive actions, including partially reopening the abandoned Varosha resort on the occupied side.
Rubin said it goes along with Erdogan's volatility and wanting to make over the Turkish-Cypriot side into a mirror of what he's done in Turkey, building a radical Muslim and ultra-religious society.
“The island’s ethnic Greeks are not Turkey’s only victims … Turkey now appears to be pursuing a campaign of cultural genocide against the island’s traditional Turkish community,” he wrote.
Shortly after the Turkish invasion, Turkish settlers began arriving on the occupied side and they were far different than the Turkish-Cypriots already three who had gotten along for years with Greek-Cypriots, who drank liquor and who married Greek-Cypriots.
There's no legitimate census, noted Rubin, but he said the true number of Turkish-Cypriots now is about 90,000 while new settlers, many of them poor agricultural workers and religious zealots, could be as many as 200,000.
While Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions bars an occupying power from transferring its own residents into the seized land, Erdogan has shown he doesn't care a whit for what the United Nation says.
Rubin said moving in new settlers who follow his line of thinking “is a deliberate decision by … Erdoğan to drown out Turkish Cypriots,” and displace moderates who want peace and reunification.
“Erdoğan’s motivation is religious intolerance. While many diplomats and activists describe the struggle for religious freedom as one between religions, often the chief victims of religious bigotry are those deemed insufficiently pious or orthodox within a religion,” wrote Rubin.
He said that Turkish-Cypriots on the island when the invasion happened were not much different from Greek-Cypriots, apart from religion, and shared similar cultures and even friendships.
“The most recent settlers, however, care little for Cypriot culture. Both male and female settlers turn their backs on Cypriot traditions and treat indigenous Turkish-Cypriots no better than they would Christians,” added Rubin.
“Rather than create jobs and build schools for the Turkish-occupied zone, Erdoğan not only constructs new mosques but also funds radical preachers who would be more at ease in the Taliban’s Afghanistan than they would in the bistros or beaches of Cyprus,” he also said.
The world should care, he said, arguing that the hard line of Erdogan and Tatar has undercut hopes of solving a dilemma that has made Cyprus “the graveyard of diplomats,” a solution evading a long line of them.
The lasting damage, however, will not only be political and diplomatic but also cultural. Erdoğan’s policy now subordinates and suffocates the population whose protection was the justification for the Turkish invasion in the first place. Simply put, Erdoğan today poses a greater threat to Turkish Cypriots than the irredentist Greek junta did prior to 1974,” he said.