by Nick Giambruno, International Man:
The country is one giant powder keg… and the fuse is already lit.
I’m talking about Turkey. When the next global crisis explodes, there’s a good chance Turkey will be involved somehow.
Turkey was founded from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. It’s where Europe meets Asia. Naturally, it’s a geopolitically significant country.
Today, it’s at the epicenter of many crises that are destabilizing the world… the migrant disaster in Europe, the ongoing carnage in Iraq and Syria, the conflict with ISIS, and the new Cold War with Russia.
In light of all these potential triggers for a global meltdown—as well as the recent failed military coup d’état—I think it’s time to take a closer look at Turkey.
There’s one aspect of Turkey and its myriad of crises that nobody is talking about. That brings us to Greece, Turkey’s historical rival, and where a number of the coup plotters fled after their recent failed putsch.
It’s no secret that the Greeks and Turks have been at each other’s throats since at least the 16th century.
It’s a rivalry of historic proportions because, literally since the days of Homer, most of what is now Western and Southern Turkey had been populated by Greeks. That started changing with the Ottoman conquest of the 16th century, and after World War I, when Turkey ethnically cleansed the area by deporting hundreds of thousands of Greeks and stripping them of their ancestral homes without compensation.
The bad feeling that type of thing causes lasts generations, especially in this part of the world.
The Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been the object of the never-settled tug of war between the two rivals.
The Turks gained decisive control of the island after the Ottoman invasion in 1571 and remained in charge for the next 300 years.
In 1878, the faltering Ottoman Empire surrendered the administration of Cyprus to the British. Following World War I, the British took full control of Cyprus. It became a British colony until its independence in 1960. To this day, there are two large strips of land on the southern coast of Cyprus that remain sovereign British territory and serve as Royal Air Force military bases.
Following independence from Britain, tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots simmered for 14 years. In 1974, they boiled over.
An exceptionally brutal military junta (backed, as often is the case, by the U.S.) was running Greece at the time. As insecure governments often do, the leaders attempted to justify their existence and distract from their flaws by fomenting a war. In this case, it was a civil war in Cyprus, which they hoped would end in merging the island with Greece.
Turkey, responding to the prospect of a genocide on the scale of the unpleasantness they had perpetrated against the Greeks in Anatolia after World War I, sent in their own army, which divided the country into the northern (Turkish) third, and the southern (Greek) two-thirds.
The 1974 battle over Cyprus was a rare example of two NATO powers (Greece and Turkey, which had both joined the alliance in 1952) facing each other in combat.
Who was right, and who was wrong?
As is almost always the case, the root of the problem is one group of people reaching for an excuse to dominate another.
One group does something nasty, which the targeted second group takes as a license to retaliate, which the first group takes as an order from God for serious mayhem.
After a while, they both forget how it all started. And the fighting continues almost like a tradition, much in the style of the Hatfields and McCoys.
The effects of the 1974 conflict go deep and are still felt today.
The Turks use the event as a continuing excuse to keep 40,000 troops on the island.
That military presence gives life to the political entity known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
It’s an “unrecognized republic.”
Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes Northern Cyprus as a distinct country. To the rest of the world, it’s occupied Cypriot territory.
It brings up an interesting point that most people don’t think about.
Not every square inch of land in this world falls neatly into the paradigm of the nation-state.
Some pieces of real estate are not recognized by the United Nations as being a “legitimate” country.
A couple of such outliers in the international order include Palestine, Kosovo, the Western Sahara, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
I’ve been to a number of these unrecognized republics, including the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I think they’re fascinating places for the adventurous.
It’s pretty simple to cross the border into Turkish Cyprus in Nicosia, the divided capital city, on foot. For the most part, it’s like going through any other passport control, but one with a Berlin Wall ambience. A small buffer zone, which armed UN troops supposedly patrol, is full of abandoned buildings and divides the two sides.
By far the most stunning thing I saw when I visited the Turkish North was the city of Varosha, now a veritable ghost town. When the Turkish army invaded in 1974, the residents fled with only the clothes on their backs, and the town has been empty ever since. But, before then, it was Cyprus’ top tourist spot.
Left photo shows the dividing line on the beach with Varosha in the background. Right shows an aerial view of abandoned buildings.
Varosha is no small area. It has many homes, hotels, and businesses that have been left trapped in time. Some of the buildings display the scars of war; others are exactly as they were in 1974. There is a car dealership that is still fully stocked with new 1974 Toyotas, just as it was the day the owner abandoned it.
I bring up the story of Varosha because it’s a rather blatant example of how fast things can unravel in a crisis.
And also because Turkey is likely to be connected somehow when the next global crisis explodes.
That’s because Turkey is at the center of the European migrant crisis, the ongoing carnage in Iraq and Syria, the conflict with ISIS, and the new Cold War with Russia.
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