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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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.