In light of Ankara’s recent criticism of what it calls Israel’s “open-air jail” in Gaza, this week, which marks the 36th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, has special relevance.
Turkish policy toward Israel, historically warm and only a decade ago approaching full alliance, has cooled since Islamists took power in Ankara in 2002. Their hostility became explicit in January 2009, during the Israel–Hamas War. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan grandly condemned Israeli policies as “perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction” and even invoked God (“Allah will . . . punish those who transgress the rights of innocents”). His wife Emine Erdogan hyperbolically condemned Israeli actions as so awful they “cannot be expressed in words.”
Their verbal assaults augured a further hostility that included insulting the Israeli president, helping sponsor the “Freedom Flotilla,” and recalling the Turkish ambassador.
This Turkish rage prompts a question: Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts:
Turkey’s invasion of July–August 1974 involved the use of napalm and “spread terror” among Cypriot Greek villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast, Israel’s “fierce battle” to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and entailed virtually no civilian casualties.
The subsequent occupation of 37 percent of the island amounted to a “forced ethnic cleansing” according to William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, with the forcible removal of Israeli settlements in Gaza in 2005.
The Turkish government has sponsored what Mallinson calls “a systematic policy of colonization” on formerly Greek lands in northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots in 1973 totaled about 120,000 persons; since then, more than 160,000 citizens of the Republic of Turkey have been settled in their lands. Not a single Israeli community remains in Gaza.
Ankara runs its occupied zone so tightly that, in the words of Bülent Akarcalı, a senior Turkey politician, “Northern Cyprus is governed like a province of Turkey.” An enemy of Israel, Hamas, rules in Gaza.
The Turks set up a pretend-autonomous structure called the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” Gazans enjoy real autonomy.
A wall through the island keeps peaceable Greeks out of northern Cyprus. Israel’s wall excludes Palestinian terrorists.
The division of Cyprus since 1974.
And then there is the ghost town of Famagusta, where Turkish actions parallel those of Syria under the thuggish Assads. After the Turkish air force bombed the Cypriot port city, Turkish forces moved in to seize it, thereby prompting the entire Greek population (fearing a massacre) to flee. Turkish troops immediately fenced off the central part of the town, called Varosha, and prohibited anyone from living there.