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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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”