Republic of Cyprus

July 24, 2019

Forty-five years ago, on 20 July 1974, the island of Cyprus was invaded by the Turkish military, and over just four weeks and one day the northern reaches of the island were wrested from the Cypriot people. Over 150,000 Greek Cypriots were forced from their homes and displaced into the south of the island. One in three Cypriots found themselves refugees overnight. Over 1,000 Greek Cypriots lost their lives, and to this day over 1,000 people are missing. Their families and their friends do not know where they are or what happened to them. They can't grieve for their deaths, and every year hope of the recovery of their remains fades further. To this day, the island of Cyprus remains divided, partitioned, between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish occupation of the north.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending the 45th memorial of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus with the Cypriot community of Adelaide and Justice for Cyprus, or PSEKA. For the Cyprus Community of South Australia, led by its president, Professor Andreas Evdokiou, and Justice for Cyprus, led by Chairman Peter Ppiros, this is a cause very close to their hearts. Nearly all the Cypriots who make Adelaide their home either had to flee Cyprus as part of the displaced thousands and make a new life in Australia or have been born to parents who made that terrifying flight. They watched from afar as their homes had been taken and sold to occupiers, and the remaining members of their community in the occupied north live under oppressive and discriminatory rule.

The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have both repeatedly affirmed the positions of the Republic of Cyprus and its diaspora—the position that Turkey has committed and continues to commit violations of Cypriot sovereignty and of human rights. The latest rounds of reunification negotiations ended in 2017 due to the insistence of Turkey that they be able to maintain the right to occupy the island with over 40,000 Turkish troops in the event of reunification, scuppering any true hope of a peaceful and united Cyprus.

Just two days before the memorial event last Wednesday, it was announced that President Erdoğan from Turkey will visit Australia in 2020. President Erdoğan's visit comes not only after a series of diplomatic difficulties between Turkey and Australia but also in the context of Turkey not only having broken down the reunification talks but also now engaging in drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters. This drilling is occurring not only in the waters off the northern coast of Cyprus, which is under Turkish occupation, but also in the waters off the southern coast. In some cases, it is just 35 nautical miles from Cypriot shores.

The European Union has been very clear that Turkey is acting in violation of Cyprus's sovereignty and has imposed sanctions in response to the drilling. The United States has also condemned the drilling. Not only has Turkey ignored these sanctions but, quite shockingly, President Erdoğan—in a letter to the Turkish Cypriot leader—wrote:

No one should doubt that the glorious Turkish military, which does not consider Cyprus any different from its own homeland, will not hesitate, if needed, to once again take the step it took 45 years ago …

As the home to some 30,000 Cypriots, Australia has a duty to stand by and represent them. We must, in the strongest terms, condemn the continued occupation of Cyprus as well as the latest incursions into their sovereign maritime territory by Turkey through these drilling operations. We must appeal for lasting peace through the reunification and the demilitarisation of Cyprus, to the benefit of all Cypriots.

As part of this effort, it is utterly integral that the families of missing people from the 1974 invasion are given the peace that they have been denied for 45 years and the knowledge, finally, of what happened to their loved ones. These matters should be raised in clear terms with the Turkish President by our government during his visit.

I sincerely thank the Cyprus community of South Australia, as well as Justice for Cyprus, or PSEKA, for their strong advocacy on behalf of all Cypriots in South Australia.