31.10.2015 Author: Marina Rogova

Middle East Crisis Seizes Cyprus

435345345222It never rains but it pours. It is true for the global humanitarian tragedy in the eastern Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. The crisis is expanding, it becomes more acute and draws new victims, grinding lives of people and destroying entire countries. It will spare no one in this area. No one can hide from vortices of the crisis and sit it out in hope that it will not affect you if you keep your head down. And that is what Cypriots thought to themselves.

They kept quiet in Nicosia hoping that the waves of refugees would pass by the island of Aphrodite, although it is very close – some 150 kilometres from the east coast, where military operations are in full swing. But until now, refugees heading to Europe who mostly come from northern Syria and Iraq have chosen the shortest route – through Turkey and the Greek islands located near the Turkish coast. The arrival to Cyprus would delay and complicate their way to European paradise. The Cypriots touched wood (cypress in this case) and hoped that the threat had passed. They were mistaken. The wave of refugees became so big that it hit the island too and threw a new group of about hundred unfortunate people up onto the shore. They found themselves straight at the British military base, which forethoughtful London has kept as its outpost in the eastern Mediterranean since 1960, when Cyprus was recognized an independent state.

It seems that in comparison with hundreds of thousands of migrants who flooded the European countries, one hundred people should not even be a point of issue. But not for Cyprus with its less than 1 million population. Besides, this is not the first group: in recent years, when the crisis began to rage, individual families arrived to Cyprus requesting political asylum or refugee status. A refugee camp has been built in the town of Cofino where about 600 migrants with their families are placed and provided with everything they need.

But this time the stream of refugees was organized, and the Cypriots fear it was not the last one. Even a small number of refugees for Cyprus that faces grave economic and financial difficulties after the “cut” orchestrated by the EU financial experts, is perceived as a highway robbery, and even basic arrangements for newcomers become a problem. This problem is not only economic, but political, ethnic and religious, as the bulk of the population are the Greeks who call themselves deeply religious Orthodox. And the burden of historical memory from the centuries of the Ottoman reign lives on among the Christian islanders. All the more, once again the negotiations between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities on the settlement of the Cypriot problem that looked very promising have been suspended. Brussels demanded Cyprus to receive three thousand quota refugees. The Cypriots politely refused, but agreed to provide assistance to 300 people, and only Christians.

But what about the refugees who have already arrived? The British responded quickly: as the military base belongs to the British, and its territory belongs to the Cypriots, they asked to take refugees promising to provide financial help.

The Cypriots had little faith in their help but kept quiet. This is how the local newspapers described the situation.

At that time Chancellor Angela Merkel unexpectedly arrived in Ankara. R. T. Erdogan rolled out luxurious carpets for the distinguished guest, sat her in a golden sultan chair, treated her with sweet words and the famous Turkish baklava. This is how the local newspapers reported it, not on the front pages, but in little notes inside, just in case.

“The Chancellor came to offer a bribe,” wrote the Cyprus newspapers. We, Germany, will put in a good word for you in Brussels to eliminate barriers for Turkey’s accession to the EU. This process has lasted six months already, and here is the right moment (while Western Europe plays a waiting game, the Ottomans run on Ottoman time). And you, Ankara, should keep the refugees at the border so that Europe could take breath. At the same time, the Cypriots were strictly told that Nicosia should not pick on articles blocking Turkey from joining the EU. And they were urged to solve the problem with the Turkish Cypriots. Or else…

It should be noted that they are referring to the three articles of the Protocol – 17, 23, 24, which are required for the accession of Turkey to the EU (by the way, Cyprus blocks only articles 23 and 24, and 17 accounts for France). We will not go into the content of these articles. It does not matter. Everyone knows that Europeans will never allow Turkey to join their ranks, and the Turks know it (in fact, Ankara does not really need it, it has other priorities now). But everyone behaves as if the intention is serious and not a pretense. Meanwhile, the European Troika is capable of nailing down the Cypriots with the next financial subsidy in earnest and without much hassle.

The Cypriots have already faced similar problems. This is their fate. The island is at the crossroads, and many crossed its territory from north to south and from east to west. Hospitable and kind Cypriots as true Mediterraneans always came to rescue to those in distress. They have helped many nations: the Arabs of all Islamic and Christian denominations and sects, and Jews, and Slavs and Africans. We could go on and on about it for a long time.

However, the current situation has something peculiar, and the Cypriots cannot ignore it. Akrotiri and Dhekelia are the largest modern military bases of the UK. They have been constantly used, and they are actively employed in NATO wide-range operations, particularly in Afghanistan, the Mediterranean and North Africa, for example, for bombing Libya. Currently, they are used for bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq. This fact creates a new complicated situation for the Cypriots.

Marina Rogova, researcher at the Center for Partnership of Civilizations IMI of MGIMO (University) of the MFA of the Russian Federation, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Please select digest to download: