11th Dec 2023


Cyprus' Varosha is Erdoğan's canary in the coalmine

  • Varosha, in northern Cyprus (Photo: michael kirian)

On 20 July, president Ersin Tatar of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, unrecognised outside of Turkey, announced the second phase of reopening the derelict tourist district of Varosha in the city of Famagusta.

The resort, once among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, was abandoned after the Turkish invasion of 1974, with Greek Cypriots forced to flee their homes to avoid a massacre at the hands of Turkish troops.

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The following week, the first Friday prayers since 1974 were held in the Aga Bilal Mosque in Varosha, with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself appearing virtually.

This showcased his curious ideological concoction of revanchist nationalism and fundamentalist Islamism, which together prescribe one simple policy: to re-establish the fallen Ottoman Empire and reclaim Turkey's rightful place as the dominant power in Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East.

He has made his ideas very clear, invoking ancient Ottoman claims on the city of Mosul in Iraq, converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and granting citizenship to Hamas terrorists.

One has to question whether there are any Western values or interests with which Turkey still aligns.

They have recruited Isis fighters and commanders to wage war on their behalf in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh. They remain locked in intractable conflict with France, Italy, Greece, and other supposed Nato allies over their aggression in the Mediterranean. They continue to bomb refugee camps in Iraq, whilst threatening a wave of refugee migration into Europe.

Turkey's actions in Varosha violate UN Security Council resolution 550, which states nobody but the rightful owners of the homes in Varosha should be allowed to return.

Their invasion has also been judged as contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, with the courts awarding €90m in compensation, which Ankara has refused to pay.

Where now?

Erdogan's disdain for the liberal rules-based international order is well-documented, but few appear to be trying to look forward to what happens next.

The Varosha announcement took place on the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. In 2023 the Lausanne Treaty, which delineates modern Turkey's borders, turns 100. Erdogan has long been critical of this Treaty, lamenting: "is this victory? They tried to trick us into believing that Lausanne was a victory. Those who sat at that table did not do right by that treaty. Now we are suffering the consequences."

One close aide to the president even claimed the treaty had expired in 2013, and no longer applies.

The simplest way to judge a government is to examine two things: what they say and what they do.

What they say is that the treaty setting their territorial borders is unfair and that Turkey benefits from Ottoman claims on other countries' land. What they do is defy international law, deploy terrorist foreign legions to destabilise the region, and bully their neighbours.

Turkey is emblematic of a growing divide in the Middle East, alongside the likes of Iran, between nations promoting and exporting a dangerous brand of political Islamism, and those determined to act as a bulwark against it, such as the UAE, Israel, and its newfound partners in the Abraham Accords.

If Turkey is to be contained within its current borders, we must avoid the path of least resistance, which only delays and exacerbates our troubles. To truly grasp this nettle, the West must shift its alliances in favour of more reliable partners.

Our friends in the Gulf offer a perfect example of allies whom the West can trust, having made a leap of faith in signing the Abraham Accords. They offer far more commitment to our values and regional stability. We must continue to support their commitment to being moderate, cooperative, and trustworthy allies in the face of growing extremism and polarisation in the region often fanned by Turkey.

If the Treaty of Lausanne is to reach its 100th birthday, the clock is ticking for us to act.

As Churchill famously remarked: "an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last". History looks grimly on those who seek accommodation with expansionist powers harbouring extremist ideas.

If Europe feeds Cyprus to the crocodile, who honestly believes that will be anything more than an entrée for the man who claims Mosul and Afrin, as well as much of the Mediterranean as his own?

Author bio

Simon Schofield is deputy director of the Human Security Centre think-tank.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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