Professor of International Relations and Security, Neapolis University Pafos
NICOSIA CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE THE HIGH MORAL GROUND TO AN AGGRESSOR
In February 2008, the new elected Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias took his first trip to Brussels to attend the EU summit there. He flew on the official carrier, Cyprus Airways. As had been the custom for many Cypriot pilots soon after takeoff, the specific Captain informed the passengers on the plane that they could see from their windows, if they so desired, the parts of Cyprus that had been under Turkish militarily occupation since 1974, when NATO member Turkey launched its massive attack on Cyprus.
Apparently the pilot’s announcement was not to the liking of the Cypriot President. Soon after the pilot returned to base, he received friendly advice from acquaintances he had in the AKEL communist party, the party of the President, that he should stop making announcements of the sort during takeoffs and landings in Cyprus. And unofficially he was so advised by the carrier. Henceforth no such announcements were made on Cyprus Airways. This story was revealed to me by the pilot in question.
Some years later, in 2015, the Director of the Press and Information Office (PIO) retired abruptly from government service. The PIO, it should be stressed, was at the time the communications agency of the Cypriot state. Ever since 1964, when policies were launched in the Western centres of power to terminate Cypriot independence, the PIO was tasked a) to counter western and Turkish propaganda to delegitimise the Cypriot state and, ultimately, bring about its demise and b) to go on the offensive and promote a narrative in support of policies enhancing its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Soon thereafter, this now retired former PIO Director, commenced employment as an “associate” at an educational institution in the Turkish-occupied part in the city of Famagusta. In fact the grounds of employment housed a Greek college, the Center for Higher Education of Famagusta, prior to the Turkish invasion. Its premises had been taken over by the Turks in 1974.
In so far as I know, this event of a state communications chief turning over and working for the other side is unprecedented in the annals of modern times. Yet this event was of no concern to Cypriot authorities. And it almost went unnoticed and unreported in the press. When written about, it was done in code. References were only to “a high ranking Cypriot official” who was never named. The name did in fact surface. But only on the web, citing a Turkish source. The person was never called in, even for routine questioning. Surely arrangements did not happen overnight. Did they occur while this person was carrying on official duties?
These two events, each in its own way, were symptomatic of the final collapse of an already ineffective and ailing communications strategy on the part of successive Cypriot governments. This condition remains true to this day.
Cyprus is on the verge of losing the high moral ground to an aggressor and NATO member state, Turkey, that committed massive war crimes against it. In the space of just one month (July-August, 1974), the NATO armed and trained army of Turkey, attacked Cyprus and killed one percent of its population. It implemented massive ethnic cleansing against Cypriots, the first such ethnic cleansing in Europe since the end of World War II. Turkey continues to this day to bring colons from the mainland, implanting them on Cypriot territory, while refusing to allow the autochthonous Cypriot refugees to return to their homes and properties. Actually this was what the Turkish invasion was designed to do: to take over the land by cleansing it from its indigenous population. All these crimes are continuing violations of the 1948 Geneva Conventions, of international conventions on human rights and of the Charter of the United Nations.
When Turkish officials, from the President down, are not publicly threatening with atavistic and sadistic pleasure to repeat their 1974 conquest crimes against the Cypriot people – who form more that 80% of the population of the country- they send their gunboats and drilling ships inside the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone for drilling, hoping that with the help of Allah, always, they can usurp once again more of the wealth of Cyprus. These days they do both. They make war threats and they drill simultaneously.
Turkey cannot be allowed to get away with such behaviour simply because she is deemed to be an “indispensable” member of the Atlantic alliance and by pretending to be a “paragon of peace” in the Eastern Mediterranean, when in fact she is a threat producer and a warmonger par excellence. Ankara should be called to account. And so should its enablers and apologists.
Cypriot officials ought to know better. But they behave as if they do not. It appears that successive governments have finally succumbed to the whispers of Atlantic sirens. If only they would behave properly, Ankara will eventually come around, withdraw its NATO trained occupation troops and accept fundamental rights and freedoms within a sovereign Cypriot state. That is how the song goes. British diplomats in Nicosia are the conductors. This is no secret.
Driven by this illusion, Cypriot officials abandoned a communications strategy that in the past had served Cyprus well. This strategy did not allow Turkey to escape the stigma of its 1974 aggression and the crimes it committed against the Cypriot people. It was the PIO, from its Director down to its press offices in critical overseas capitals, that spearheaded this campaign. This campaign enabled Cyprus to retain the high moral ground, an indispensable condition for its survival.
Today the PIO as a communications agency is no more. In fact as these lines are written it is actually headless due to bureaucratic infighting. But this is only a symptom. As were the two examples already cited. For decades now the PIO has been systematically stripped of its functions. Its overseas press offices have been eliminated one by one. And its communications budget was taken over. “Streamlining” and “efficiency” were the ostensibly reasons. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) took over the communication policies of the state. And they have been languishing there ever since. The functionaries of the MFA are totally unable to cope with the “tous azimuts” Turkish propaganda campaign against Cyprus and its people. Today both the MFA and the PIO, an account of decades of stasis, intentional and otherwise, have been reduced to mere domestic mechanisms for the personal promotion of government officials from the President down.
Turkish propaganda against Cyprus and its people is currently in full throttle. It has become so overwhelming and threatening that it may be about to achieve its strategic objective of turning the victims of its 1974 aggression into perpetrators, in the eyes of world public opinion.
Nicosia needs to step back and strategise. And the first thing it needs to do is to formulate new communications policies that will effectively take the initiative away from Ankara. Nicosia cannot afford to lose the high moral ground to a country that has victimised the Cypriot people for decades and one that jails and kills its own people and confiscates their properties arbitrarily, even for much longer. And to boot, a country that practices shamelessly hostage and blackmail diplomacy on the world stage. Turkey may wear Atlantic and NATO hats. But they do not immunise her. Nicosia ought to comprehend this and formulate its policies accordingly.