Limassol, Cyprus — Cyprus is a beautiful island. But it has never recovered from the Turkish invasion of 1974. Turkish troops still control nearly 40 percent of the island — the most fertile and formerly the richest portion.
Some 200,000 Greek refugees never returned home after being expelled from their homes and farms in Northern Cyprus.
The capital of Nicosia remains divided. A 112-mile demilitarized “green line” runs right through the city across the entire island.
Thousands of settlers from Anatolia were shipped in by the Turkish government to occupy former Greek villages and to change Cypriot demography — in the same manner the occupying Ottoman Empire once did in the 16th century. Not a single nation recognizes the legitimacy of the Turkish Cypriot state. In contrast, Greek Cyprus is a member of the European Union.
Why, then, is the world not outraged at an occupied Cyprus the way it is at, say, Israel?
Nicosia is certainly more divided than is Jerusalem. Thousands of Greek refugees lost their homes more recently, in 1974, than did the Palestinians in 1947.
Turkey has far more troops in Northern Cyprus than Israel has in the West Bank. Greek Cypriots, unlike Palestinians, vastly outnumbered their adversaries. Indeed, a minority comprising about a quarter of the island’s population controls close to 40 percent of the landmass. Whereas Israel is a member of the U.N., Turkish Cyprus is an unrecognized outlaw nation.
Any Greek Cypriot attempt to reunify the island would be crushed by the formidable Turkish army, in the brutal manner of the brief war of 1974. Turkish generals would most likely not phone Greek homeowners warning them to evacuate their homes ahead of incoming Turkish artillery shells.
The island remains conquered not because the Greeks have given up, but because their resistance is futile against a NATO power of some 70 million people. Greeks know that Turkey worries little about what the world thinks of its occupation.
Greeks in Cyprus and mainland Greece together number less than 13 million people. That is far less than the roughly 300 million Arabic speakers, many from homelands that export oil, who support the Palestinians.
No European journalist fears that Greek terrorists will track him down should he write something critical of the Greek Cypriot cause. Greek Cypriots would not bully a journalist in their midst for broadcasting a critical report, the way Hamas surely would do to any candid reporter in Gaza.
In other words, there is not much practical advantage or interest in promoting the Greek Cypriot cause.
Unlike Israel, Turkey is in NATO — and is currently becoming more Islamic and anti-Western under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If it is easy for the United States to jawbone tiny Israel, it is geostrategically unwise to do so to Turkey over the island of Cyprus.
Turkey is also less emblematic of the West than is Israel. In the racist habit of assuming low expectations for non-Westerners, European elites do not hold Turkey to the same standards that they do Israel.
We see such hypocrisy when the West stays silent while Muslims butcher each other by the thousands in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria. Only when a Westernized country like Israel inflicts far less injury to Muslims does the West become irate. The same paradox seems to hold true for victims. Apparently, Western Christian Greeks are not the romantic victims that Palestinian Muslims are.
In the 40 years since they lost their land, Greek Cypriots have turned the once impoverished south into a far more prosperous land than the once-affluent but now stagnant Turkish-occupied north — unlike the Palestinians, who have not used their know-how to turn Gaza or Ramallah into a city like Limassol.
Resurgent anti-Semitism both in the Middle East and in Europe translates into inordinate criticism of Israel. Few connect Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus with some larger racist commentary about the supposed brutal past of the Turks.
The next time anti-Israeli demonstrators shout about divided cities, refugees, walls, settlers, and occupied land, let us understand that those are not necessarily the issues in the Middle East. If they were, the Cyprus tragedy would also be center-stage. Likewise, crowds would be damning China for occupying Tibet, or still sympathizing with millions of Germans who fled a now-nonexistent Prussia, or deploring religious castes in India, or harboring anger over the tough Russian responses to Georgia, Crimea, and Ukraine, or deploring beheadings in northern Iraq.
Instead, accept that the Middle East is not just about a dispute over land. Israel is inordinately damned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous, and often powerful.
And, of course, because it is Jewish.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. You can reach him by e-mailing [email protected]. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.