Despite the Republic of Cyprus (REC) warming up relations with Israel significantly over the last two years, it has decided to become the first Western European EU member state outside of Malta to upgrade the status of the Palestinians’ representation to that of an embassy. The Republic of Cyprus government has made this decision, despite their own lack of recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), their regional neighbor who is also seeking statehood.
According to the Greek Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Erato Kozakou Markoullis, “This important decision is in line with the recognition of the Palestinian State in 1988 by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus” and was also in line with “Cyprus’s 1988 recognition of the State of Palestine” and “follows the relevant practice of seven other EU member states that have recognized the Palestinian State also in 1988, namely, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Malta.”
However, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Derviş Eroğlu has asserted that the case of the Turkish Cypriots was similar to that of the Palestinians, yet the international community has behaved with a double standard regarding the two situations. While no country outside of Turkey has recognized TRNC independence and the Turkish Cypriots only have a representative office in New York, as of November 2012, 131 countries have recognized the so-called State of Palestine and Palestine’s status was recently upgraded to that of a non-member state at the UN. This remains the case despite the fact that the Turkish Cypriots, unlike the Palestinians, effectively have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and thus would effectively be a state as defined by international law, if it weren’t for the international recognition issue. It is a fact that Turkish Cypriots have been living on the island of Cyprus long before the majority of Palestinian Arabs migrated to the Holy Land.
In the London and Zurich Agreements of 1959, the British, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Greeks, and Turks all agreed that the Republic of Cyprus would be a partnership between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. The Greek Cypriots were the ones to violate this partnership in favor of uniting the island with Greece. The junta government that was controlling the island of Cyprus in 1974 demonstrated genocidal ambitions against the Turkish Cypriots, 103 Turkish Cypriot villages were destroyed and there had been 11 years of bloodshed by the time the Turkish government intervened in 1974.
No credible person denies that Turkey did not also commit atrocities against the Greek Cypriots during this intervention in 1974. Indeed, nearly half the Greek Cypriot population on the island were forced to flee southwards for their lives and some 1,619 Greek Cypriots, most of whom were reservists or soldiers, are still missing to date. Yet, if one puts the events of 1974 aside, the Greek Cypriots, by being opposed to the creation of a partnership of Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island of Cyprus, as the island was supposed to be, started the Cyprus conflict. Since that time, the Greek Cypriot leadership has demonstrated repeatedly that they are not interested in solving the Cyprus conflict if it implies granting the Turkish Cypriots political equality, while the Turkish Cypriots did accept the UN-backed Annan Plan.
Turkish Cypriots rightly point out that it is hypocritical for the international community not to recognize TRNC independence given that the world recognized Bangladesh’s right to break off from Pakistan. The hypocrisy in not upgrading the status of the Turkish Cypriots at the UN is also magnified following the UN General Assembly recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, without reaching a peace agreement with Israel. Indeed, how can Greek Cyprus support recognizing Palestine as a state in the absence of a peace agreement with Israel without giving Turkish Cypriots the right to do the same?
If the Palestinians have the right to declare a state on territories’ that they don’t control for the most part (Israel still controls 60 percent of Judea and Samaria, as well as East Jerusalem) in the absence of a peace agreement, why should the Turkish Cypriots be deprived of the right to declare a state on lands that they have effective control over in the absence of a peace agreement? This is especially the case given that the Turkish Cypriots, unlike the Palestinians, have demonstrated that they are willing to compromise for peace and weren’t the ones to instigate the conflict. Thus, given all of these facts, it is the heights of hypocrisy for the Republic of Cyprus to be opposed to the world recognizing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus while simultaneously opening up a Palestinian Embassy in Nicosia.
As one Turkish Cypriot lamented, the main reason why the international community has behaved differently towards the Turkish Cypriots is that unlike the Palestinians, the Turkish Cypriots have refrained from blowing themselves up, preferring in recent times to pursue their independence struggle peacefully.
By Rachel Avraham