Thousands of tourists are flocking to Cyprus this summer for a holiday without quarantine. But something is brewing on the Mediterranean island. A political campaign endangers a fragile peace that for decades has prevented the return of some of the worst internal violence in Europe in the past 50 years.
The region is the scene of historical tensions between Greece and Turkey. Northern Cyprus, a main flashpoint, is an area that Ankara alone has recognized as a separate country since Turkey occupied it in 1974. The move came after a military group, backed by the Greece, tried to annex the island. Since then, both parties have been in constitutional limbo.
Today, on the 47th anniversary of the Turkish incursion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is raising tensions to levels not seen in years, calling for a new process that recognizes northern and southern Turkey. island as two separate states, not as one unified country. The EU, of which Greece is a member, said it “would never agree” to such an arrangement.
Exploiting nationalist causes is a tactic known to Mr. Erdogan and an effective winner of votes. But Cyprus is of particular importance to him, as an issue which has played a major role in shaping his grievance policy. Having once accepted the reunification of the island, he lost his illusions after the diplomatic failure of a UN attempt to unite the two parties in 2004. His faith in multilateralism has not yet fully recovered. .
Today the Cypriot question is full of symbols that will likely enhance its domestic appeal, much needed in this time of economic turmoil. Mr Erdogan laid out his new vision for the island at a rally in the country’s divided capital, with great fanfare and waving flags. Northern officials also unveiled confrontational plans to resettle parts of the abandoned eastern eastern town of Varosha, an area that was abandoned by its Greek residents decades ago in the face of the advance of Turkish troops.
The question of identity on the island is complex. Both Turkish and Greek Cypriots have suffered from a difficult past and both have a right to live free from the looming threat of escalation. What is not acceptable is the interference of a powerful external state that chooses to break with precedents for its own internal political reasons.
Unfortunately, Mr. Erdogan is not afraid of such ventures. For example, Turkey claims that a 2019 campaign in northern Syria focused on securing its dangerous border with the war-torn country. But the offensive was also a cover to confront regional Kurdish fighters, whom she considers terrorists, despite being key Western allies in the fight against ISIS.
Cyprus could be another winner of the votes. But it is too early for Mr. Erdogan to be sure of unchecked success. The patience of countries in the Middle East and Europe is being tested and alliances are formed in response. Waking up old and dangerous ghosts on the island might be too much of an affront.
Updated: July 22, 2021 3:00 a.m.
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