‘The Biden administration is not God’: Turkish Cypriot minister eyes progress on recognition
Date Added: 04 October 2023, 09:39

By Guy Taylor – Washington Times National Security Editor

The coming year will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s oldest frozen conflicts, that between Turkey and Greece on the divided island of Cyprus.

The strategically situated eastern Mediterranean island was split into an internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north in July 1974, when Turkish forces intervened after a coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in 1983. But in the decades since, much of the international community — including the U.S.— has refused to formally recognize the Turkish Cypriot state. U.N.-facilitated talks on power-sharing agreement between the two have failed to resolve the divisions. Washington Times National Security Editor Guy Taylor sat down recently with Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu to discuss the road ahead.

Question: Do you believe there will progress toward reconciliation between Turkish and Greek Cypriots before the 50th anniversary of Turkey‘s intervention in Cyprus in 2024?

Answer: I don’t. The main reason is the treatment of the Greek Cypriots by the United Nations Security Council and others as if they are Cyprus. So long as that continues, there is no way on earth Greek Cypriots will have an incentive to reach a settlement with us, their former partners, who they don’t believe are their equals. Things will remain as they are. But the true future of the island is two separate, sovereign equal states living side by side.

Q: The U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members recognize the Greek Cypriot government as a sovereign entity. TRNC President Ersin Tatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called during the recent U.N. General Assembly for nations to recognize TRNC independence, while the Biden administration is seen to discourage it. So, how is your push for international recognition going?

A: The Biden administration is not God. As you know, President Erdogan keeps saying the world is bigger and stronger than the five permanent Security Council members. The ‘P-5’ of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China is no longer what it used to be. The recognition of the TRNC is on the agenda. Maybe the P-5 members won’t be willing to do it. But the world is not just those five.

Q: Is it your strategy to get Global South nations to recognize the TRNC?

A: The strategy is to get the recognition of North Cyprus as the state of the Turkish Cypriot people. We are not going to give the names of countries that may be close to offering that recognition. If we name them, the Greek Cypriots will have specific targets to reach through their big brothers to convince them not to offer recognition. … It’s not going to happen overnight, but there will be gradual recognition of the TRNC. … And we don’t expect help from the United States, because no matter how much they may feel friendly towards us, no U.S. administration to date has been able to upset the Greek-American lobby. But recognition of the TRNC is something the American side should be considering.

Q: The United States has, indeed, lifted its long-standing embargo on selling arms to the Greek Cypriot administration on Cyprus. Why do you believe Washington should instead move to recognize the TRNC as a sovereign state?

A: I assume most of your readers, anybody’s readers, don’t know anything about Cyprus. Most of them don’t even know where Cyprus is. So it’s not as if the international community has considered the facts about the Cyprus problem and decided that the Turks are in the wrong and the Greeks are in the right. That has nothing to do with it. America is a superpower. It has a sphere of influence, a number of countries around the world which it influences, and for American interests in the eastern Mediterranean … it was decided that it was best to allow the Greek Cypriots to get away with murder against Turkish Cypriots prior to Turkey‘s intervention. This was not because it was right, but because it served American interests. The Turkish side was seen by the West as barbarians.

But today, Turkey is a reliable ally of the West and NATO. …I’m not sitting here talking on behalf of Turkey. I don’t have that authority, but we Turkish Cypriots are Turks, our national identities are Turkish, and when I look at what the United States is doing toward motherland Turkey, it just doesn’t sound right. We don’t deserve this treatment. Why are the Americans selling weapons to Greek Cypriots? They may say it’s to counter Russia’s influence in the region, but I don’t believe that. … Does America have a strategy to encircle Turkey? Is Turkey an enemy of America?

Q: More broadly, is it important in your view for the world to recognize Northern Cyprus as a sovereign state?

A: If you want peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean, which is a very strategically significant part of the world where there are too many stakeholders — it’s not just us and the Greek Cypriots, it’s not just Turkey and Greece, it’s the U.S., it’s Russia, it’s the United Kingdom, it’s Israel, some of the Arab countries — and everyone’s interests go through this area. So if you want this area to be a source of peace and stability, you cannot continue discriminating against the Turkish Cypriots and favoring the Greek Cypriots.

Q: You mentioned the notion that the U.S. may be aligning with the Greek Cypriot side to counter Russian influence. Interestingly, Greek Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides has sharply condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Could you find common ground there? Does the TRNC also condemn the invasion?

A: Obviously, it’s not as if we welcomed it. But with all due respect, I am someone who believes that the Russia-Ukraine war is a product of the United States, which made sure that the Ukrainians were going to stand up against the Russians. … At the end of the day, what’s happening in the Ukraine-Russia war is America has strengthened its position as the leader of the Western world. It has solidified its leadership of NATO. It has increased the membership of NATO. It has shown to the world that Russia is, in fact, the paper tiger, and that the real challenge to American supremacy is actually China, not Russia.

So there is only one winner in this equation: the United States. Greek Cypriots have criticized Russia, yes. Why? They are seemingly doing it because they are members of the European Union. … They should never have been made members, but they are, so they are forced to be seen to be criticizing the Russians. But [there is] the Orthodox alliance between the Russians and the Greek Cypriots. The money laundering exchange relationship between the Russians and the Greek Cypriots is well known. It’s deep in history. So currently, they may be seen to be at odds, but it’s not genuine. Which has unfortunately led the Americans to lift the arms embargo against them, which has not helped anything on the island.