Turkey Grand Strategy 1974: Invasion of Cyprus, 1939: Annexation of Alexandretta, 2018: Invasion of Syria

The day before yesterday, the PYG Kurdish freedom fighters in the Afrin region succeeded in destroying an invading Turkish tank. The PYG stiff resistance to the invading Turkish forces and their lackeys - the Free Syrian Army - is becoming more and more remarkable. This Kurdish People’s Protection Units’ success was the biggest so far since the new Turkish incursion in northern Syria started on 28 January 2018. According to the relevant BBC report (Syrian War: Turkey Suffers deadliest day in Afrin offensive, 4 Feb) the Kurdish PYG success in battle caused the death of seven Turkish soldiers - five of them manning the destroyed tank.

As an independent Cypriot think tank, we cannot help but remind the international community of striking similarities between the ongoing Turkish offensive in Northern Syria and the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus in the summer of 1974. Let us examine them one by one.

First, as the Orwellian motto goes: restatement of the obvious is the most important task of intelligent men: Both invasions cause tremendous suffering among civilians, hundreds if not thousands of casualties, thousands of civilians - Greek in the case of Cyprus 1974, Kurds in the current Syria invasion - are forced to flee, yet Ankara calls both peace operations! They make a disaster and they call it peace. Turkish troops in Cyprus 1974 committed atrocities: hundreds of Greek civilians were killed in cold blood, women raped and more than one thousand Greek Cypriots are still missing while the Turkish Armed Forces refuse access to their archives to ascertain the missing persons’ fate. To this day, Ankara names the Northern Cyprus Occupation Force a Peace Force. In the same time-honoured fashion, in an apparent attempt to mislead the whole world, Erdogan’s government codenamed his offensive in Northern Syria Operation Olive Branch.

Second, similar if not identical pretexts, are cited by Ankara in her attempt to ‘justify’ the invasion and occupation of foreign territory. Dubious, if not spurious, arguments of self defence and protection of Turkish minorities are being put forward: in the case of Cyprus: protection of the eighteen per cent Turkish Cypriot minority. In the case of Syria, the protection of the comparatively small Turkmen brethren. Let us remind ourselves that following the Cypriot coup of 15 July 1974, the putschist government in Nicosia declared at its first (and last) press conference that the ‘change of government is a purely Greek Cypriot affair’ adding importantly ‘the policy of new government is to seek a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem through the established process of inter-communal political dialogue’. In other words no Turkish Cypriot was hurt by the Greek Cypriot coupists though the latter happily … killed a few hundred of their own kind in the fierce internecine war that engulfed Nicosia and Limassol.

In fact - this is the third striking similarity of the two expansionist Turkish operations – in 1974 the Turkish Air Force threw leaflets produced in a corrupt form of the Greek language (but still legible) whereby the Greek Cypriot civilian population was informed that the Turkish Armed Forces ‘are arriving to save them from the endless internecine war’. In an identical fashion the Turkish Air Force threw leaflets in Arabic and Kurdish informing the local population of their Olive Branch Operation. What a coincidence!

Last but not least, what is lurking behind all these ‘olive branch’ codenames of Turkish military ‘peace operations’ and all the rest of it?  What other than the notorious security zones as a means of expansion.

After the first Attila operation of 20 July 1974, in accordance with a relevant Security Council ceasefire resolution (22 July) a peace conference was convened between the UK (at the chair) Turkey, Greece in Geneva at the end of July. Turan Gunes, then Turkish Foreign Minister (known for his colourful personality and folksy behaviour) demanded that a security zone of sixteen kilometres be agreed beyond the Turkish invading forces ceasefire line. One could imagine what that meant in the context of the small size of Cyprus. When this and other absurd Turkish demands were rejected Ankara launched operation Attila II.

Mutatis mutandis, Erdogan’s demand for a thirty-kilometre security zone along Turkey’s border with Syria is a spitting image of the same Turkish tactic employed in the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Thus, in the long term, such a broad security zone, if established, will consolidate Ankara’s control on foreign territory, in this case Syria.

The Turkish annexation of Alexandretta (Iskenderun) is another case point: in 1937 France, the colonial power in control of this Syrian territory, naively decides to let the Turks administer the Alexandretta region. The following year it is declared autonomous and in 1939 the world powers recognize Alexandetta’s annexation to Turkey. Consequently, Alexandretta becomes Hatay Province within the Republic of Turkey. Ironically, in 1974 the East Mediterranean port of Alexandretta serves as the hub to launch the invasion in Cyprus!

Is there a lesson learnt for the corridors of power in London, Paris, Washington and Moscow with regard to Turkish grand strategy?