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Friday, 2 December 2016

Turkey’s 1974 Cyprus military intervention: Can it be evaluated in the context of responsibility to protect (R2P)?

On 30 November, Altuğ Günal, who is an assistant professor at Ege Univeristy, Izmir, and an Academic Visitor at St Antony’s College, gave a talk on the events preceding the 1974 Turkish intervention on the island of Cyprus. David Madden, a Distinguished Friend of St Antony’s, was the discussant, while Yaprak Gürsoy, Academic Visitor at St Antony’s and Associate Professor at Istanbul Bilgi University chaired the seminar.

At the outset of his talk Altuğ Günal stressed the different ways the Greek and Turkish sides of the conflict interpret the same events. He also stated that he prefers to use the term Turkish “intervention” of July-August 1974 instead of “invasion,” as the Greek side believes, or the “peace operation”, as the Turkish side claims.

The main question of the talk was whether the Turkish intervention of 1974 had the right elements to call it a “just war”. The “just war” doctrine, which forms the basis of the more recent concept of “responsibility to protect” (R2P), has 6 criteria: (1) Just cause, (2) Right intention, (3) Right authority, (4) Last resort, (5) Possibility of Military Success or Reasonable Prospects, and (6) Proportionality. Although the concept cannot be used retrospectively to judge past events, seeing the intellectual rewards of such an exercise, Altug Günal applied each one of the 6 principles, which is also shared by the R2P, to the events of the “hot summer”.With regards to just cause, he analyzed intercommunal fighting on the island from the British rule until the intervention. One highlight from this section of the talk was the fact that during British rule, the Greek community started to leave the police forces and was replaced by new members from the Turkish community. As the Greeks started an anti-colonial campaign against British rule in demand for Enosis (union with Greece), the British used the police (now predominated by the Turks) to constrain the uprising. The first signs of intercommunal fighting can actually be traced to this change in the composition of the police force on the island. After the 1960 settlement, which created the Republic of Cyprus, there was no trust between the communities and between their leaders. There was a lack of real support for independence in both communities. In 1964, there was an outbreak of serious intercommunal fighting, and increased withdrawal of Turkish Cypriots into enclaves. The UN was now involved, and the Soviet Union and the USA were taking a close interest. Turkey was prevented from intervening militarily by US pressure. Until 1974, intercommunal fighting had led to thousands of deaths, missing, displaced, and starving people. As Altug Günal succinctly showed through UN Reports, the Turkish community suffered from these losses more than the Greek side. The last straw came when the military junta in Greece decided to stage a coup in Cyprus, deposing President Makarios, and giving Turkey the ultimate just cause.

Turkey’s intervention in July 1974 can be perceived as having the right intentions because it was aimed at protecting further deaths. Indeed, Turkish public opinion was also made “ready” to accept such an intervention by heavily biased movies and books that showed the civil strife of the Turks on the island. Yet, according to Altug Günal, security and strategic concerns of Turkey should not be ignored when analyzing the causes of the intervention. For sure the strategic importance of the island, as evidenced by the speeches of Turkish politicians then and now, has been an underlying factor in Turkey’s involvement on the island.

In terms of right authority, Turkey referred to the Treaty of Guarantee signed between Greece, Turkey, and Britain in 1960 to legitimize the intervention. While Article 2 of the treaty required the three states to guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus, Article 4 gave the right to these guarantor powers to take action to re-establish the status-quo. According to the just war doctrine and R2P, such action, however, must be the last resort, which according to Altug Günal was provided by the international community’s failure to act. Prior to the intervention, Turkey sought common action via the UN and asked Britain and the US to collaborate, but to no avail. For both communities on the island such inaction was typical since the 1950s. Both sides used a “clash of civilizations” type of argument to criticize the neglect of the Western powers. While the Greeks believed that they were left alone because of their Orthodox religion, the Turks assumed that this was due their Muslim identity.

The possibility to succeed was high also due to such international indifference. The Nixon administration in particular was preoccupied with the Watergate scandal and had no means to take action. The Greek junta was about to collapse due to the Cyprus entanglement. As David Madden clarified in the discussion session of the seminar, the British government was preoccupied with internal developments and weaknesses. The relations between the Soviet Union and Turkey had improved after the 1964 letter of President Johnson to Prime Minister İnönü, which had put Turkish-US relations on hold.

Given the above, the decision to intervene can be seen within the just war doctrine and R2P. The same thing, however, cannot be said of what happened after the intervention. In terms of proportionality, the use of force after the intervention was not appropriate. The Turkish side took over the Northern part of the island disproportional to its population size. This led to displacements and a population exchange, as well as loss of economic production and property for the Greek community. There were also thousands of deaths and missing people. The immigration of Turks from the mainland to Northern Cyprus also has constituted a problem that cannot be explained either by the Treaty of Guarantee, which explicitly stated a return to the status-quo, or by the R2P.

In summary, the 1974 intervention fulfilled the majority of the principles of the just war doctrine and the R2P, but not all aspects.

In his comments, David Madden asked three historical questions. First, what was the reason for the 1960 arrangements, and in particular the apparent need for three states to guarantee the continued existence of a fourth? In answering this question, Madden stressed the changing attitudes of Turkish and Greek communities, as well as of Greece, Turkey, and Britain in the 1950s: which in turn produced the three linked treaties, and complicated power-sharing arrangements on the island Secondly, why did these arrangements unravel so rapidly? An important reason was that they crucially required intercommunal trust, which was lacking. Finally could Turkey claim to have implemented the Treaty of Guarantee? The Treaty allowed unilateral action in certain circumstances to restore the status quo ante, but this had not happened. It was arguable that by 1974 things had changed so much that restoring the situation of 1960 was simply not possible. History was like that. This was why, according to David Madden, important historical events require detailed and objective academic analysis.

Yaprak Gursoy
Academic Visitor (St Antony's College, Oxford)

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