The 'desecration' of Cyprus

Brian Coleman on Northern Cyprus, the treatment of Orthodox churches and why the government promotes

The deaths of a couple of dozen Turkish troops in operations against the Kurds and the vote by the Turkish Parliament to in effect invade Northern Iraq to pursue operations against the Kurdish people has focused world attention on a conflict which the modern state of Turkey has pursued for many decades.

Last weekend I was in Cyprus (and yes my expenses were paid by my hosts) to attend events to continue to protest about the Turkish occupation of North Cyprus in particular the beautiful town of Morphu, twinned with my home Borough of Barnet.

Whereas over the last few years the legitimate Republic of Cyprus has made huge economic strides.

On the back of EU membership it operates as a mainstream European Country. The occupied north meanwhile continues to exist in a form of Asiatic poverty with an army of occupation of about 40,000 troops.

Most of the native Cypriots (both Greek and Turkish) have long since given up and abandoned the place to settlers flown in from Anatolia.

The desecration of Orthodox churches and the wholesale stripping and sale abroad of religious icons and archaeological treasures has to be seen to be believed and the ethnic cleansing carried out in the north of this magnificent island is as bad as anything experienced in the former Yugoslavia.

Yet as the new female Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told me in rather a forceful manner - she has a touch of the Margaret Thatcher about her - there are thousands of Britons buying property illegally confiscated from Cypriots many of whom are my constituents in North London. In fact 95% of sales in the occupied area are to Brits.

Quite why anyone would buy property they have no legal entitlement to and which, when the eventual reunion of Cyprus comes, they may well lose with no compensation at all is beyond me. However the British Government sits back and does little to prevent these sales and the environmental damage to picturesque North Cyprus which the huge building boom is causing.

This last fortnight has also shown that Britain is not alone in playing softball with Turkey; the attitude of President Bush to Congress which was discussing the Armenian genocide was bizarre.

As the Armenian ambassador explained in his excellent piece on the New Statesman website last week, nobody with any common sense denies that the Armenian Genocide of 1915 onwards took place. Yet if the Germans can admit their guilt over the Nazi Holocaust why cannot the Turks do likewise?

The plucky little democratic country of Armenia still has to contend with a blockade by Turkey not to mention the aggression of its neighbour Azerbaijan whose idea of Democracy is to pass the presidency down from father to son.

So why this desire by Britain and the US to butter up Turkey? Gone is the Cold war threat from the Soviet Union and, with the election of President Gul, the Islamists are taking over Turkey anyway. Quite how the Turks imagine they can have any place in the EU whilst maintaining their belligerence on Cyprus, Armenia and towards the Kurds is beyond me.

Exactly why does the British Government continue to promote Turkey’s EU membership? Could it by any chance be to do with Labour’s need of the Muslim vote?

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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