Conn M. Hallinan
“Collateral damage” is the term that describes what happens to civilians caught in the crossfire of war, but the “collateral damage” can be political as well as physical. The divided island of Cyprus, for instance, was a victim of the Iraq War before the first cruise missile hit Baghdad.
For the past 14 months, the United Nations and the European Union (EU) has worked to end the division of the island between the Turkish and Greek communities, only to see the entire endeavor fall apart because of the Bush Administration’s fixation on getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the northern part of the island to head off a Greek military coup. The UN has long condemned the occupation.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was close to getting the two communities to hold referendums in preparation for Cyprus joining the EU, when the White House monkey wrenched the deal. According to the Financial Times,”senior members of the Bush Administration” agreed to an “improved deal” on the UN package for Northern Cyprus with the Turkish military “in return for Ankara’s co-operation in providing bases and logistics for any US-led war against Iraq.”
While the U.S. State Department called the refusal of the Turkish side of the island to allow a referendum “regrettable,” White House support for “improving” the deal for Turkish Cypriots was a green light for the powerful Turkish military to torpedo the whole matter.
Polls show strong support among both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots for ending the partition. But following meetings between Turkish Cypriote leader Rauf Dentash and the Turkish military, Dentash blocked the referendum.
The north, with its smaller population and poorer resources, would benefit from uniting with the more prosperous south, and a unity pact would have paved the way for EU membership. As it now stands, the Greek part of the Island will join the EU, the north will not.
While all of this is a tragedy for the 800,000 Cypriots, the ripples from White House meddling are spreading throughout the region. For one, it has strengthened the hand of the Turkish military to veto the ruling Justice and Development Party, which favored the referendum.
The fact that the Turkish military could checkmate the civilian side is a bad omen for Turkish democracy. Turkish intervention in Northern Iraq is a case in point..
The breakdown of recent negotiations between Turkey and the U.S. over the use of Turkish bases to invade Iraq was in part due to the overwhelming opposition by the Turkish population—94 percent at last count— to the U.S. war.
But the failure of those talks was also due to the fact that while the U.S. wants to keep Turkish incursions into northern Iraq shallow, the Turks want to move deep into the country, possibly even seizing the oil centers of Mosul and Kirkuk. According to the Associated Press there are already several thousand Turkish troops in northern Iraq. The Turk’s aim is to prevent Kurds from establishing a foundation for a Kurdish state through their control of oil resources.
“We’re talking about Turkey’s security,” says retired Turkish general Armagan Kuloglu of the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies told the Christian Science Monitor. “We can’t entrust our security entirely to another party. We have to be ready to take steps ourselves if necessary. The mission would be to control northern Iraq, temporarily.”
The trick words here are “security” and “temporarily.”
By “security” the Turkish military means disarming the Kurds and stopping the formation of either a Kurdish autonomous region or a separate state. “Temporarily” means until the Kurds give up their dream of independence. Since neither is likely to happen, it is a formula for open-ended occupation and war.
“We will oppose any Turkish military intervention. No one should see us bluffing on this issue,” Hoshyan Zebari, the foreign affairs minister of the Kurdish Democratic Party told the Associated Press.
So, the Bush Administration helps torpedo a Cyprus peace as a bribe for Turkish bases. That, in turn, emboldens the Turkish military to spark a civil war in northern Iraq.
The dominos from the Cyprus betrayal are only beginning to tumble.
Conn Hallinan is a Provost at UC Santa Cruz