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Friday, June 15, 2012

US Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: Time for Turkey to leave Cyprus in peace

(Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee)

Long-standing occupation amounts to annexation

(The Washington Times) - Since its invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Turkey has claimed that it was acting as a protector and guarantor of the island’s security. But a closer examination of its actions on Cyprus indicates motivations of a very different character. Turkey’s invasion resulted in hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriot refugees, who have been unable to return to their homes for almost 40 years. The international community has repeatedly condemned the illegal military occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops. The United Nations Security Council has passed 75 resolutions calling for Turkey to allow Greek Cypriots to return to their homes and to withdraw its troops from Cyprus. Yet Turkey continues its occupation.

More than 40,000 heavily armed Turkish soldiers are occupying the northern part of the country, with one Turkish soldier for every two Turkish-Cypriots. The presence of this overwhelming force cannot be justified by the claims that they are needed to prevent any renewal of violence. In fact, since the 2003 opening of the border between the two communities, more than 17 million intercommunal visits have occurred without conflict.

The result of this occupation by foreign troops is that many Cypriot neighborhoods in the occupied areas remain vacant or in a state of disrepair. One of the most tragic examples is the Varosha region of Famagusta. Once an important commercial and tourism center for the island, Varosha was fenced off following the invasion, and access has been prohibited for all except Turkish military forces. Over the years, this area has become a virtual ghost town.

The desolation of Cypriot properties and cultural sites is not restricted to Varosha but is a reality in all the areas under Turkish military occupation. In fact, an estimated 520 Greek Orthodox churches and chapels, and 17 monasteries in the occupied areas have been pillaged, vandalized or destroyed. Often these religious sites have been converted into stables, bars, nightclubs, casinos or hotels, leaving more than 15,000 religious artifacts unaccounted for. This widespread destruction of Cypriot historic, religious and cultural identity certainly does not seem like the behavior of a “protective guardian.”

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