An aircraft takes off from Royal Air Force Akrotiri, an airbase near the coastal city of Limassol, earlier this year. A US arms embargo was introduced in 1987.
The impending prospect of the US arms embargo on Cyprus being lifted is potentially more important for America than it is for Cyprus. This dysfunctional embargo represents the destructiveness of both flawed American government policy and the erosion of our country’s faith in our democratic processes.
The very existence of an arms embargo on Cyprus is an example of our government ignoring the law of our land and punishing our relationship with a country that conducts itself as a most dependable ally, Cyprus. Hard though it may be to believe, this legislative embargo is actually aimed at Turkey, not Cyprus. Its legislative history makes clear that it was intended to end Turkey’s illegal military occupation of Cyprus by prohibiting Turkey from employing American arms on Cyprus. The administration, however, ignored that legislative intent and instead applied the law so that Turkey could continue to carry American arms onto Cyprus, but all other US arms to that country were embargoed.
As the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Human Rights Subcommittee said recently: “The United States should lift its outdated arms embargo on Cyprus. There’s no good reason for the United States to deny a tried and true ally like Cyprus essential weaponry for its defense.”
Another member of the US House of Representatives received a standing ovation from colleagues for his impassioned defense of congressional duty. He said: “We make laws. The president was given the duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. The House of Representatives does not exist to pass suggestions. We do not exist to pass ideas. We make law.” The fact that such a basic point received such an overwhelming reaction indicates how far our executive branch can stray from our founders’ brilliant vision.
The Cyprus arms embargo is an example of the kind of undemocratic conduct that is slowly sinking the American democratic ship of state. Today, 70 percent of young Americans and a majority of Americans under 60 do not consider it “essential” to live in a democracy – that’s up from 30 percent in the 1930s. And 35 percent of well-to-do young Americans believe army rule would be a good form of government – up from 6 percent in 1995. In the past three years, scholars have filled bookshelves and newspaper headlines with proof of this loss.
Unfortunately, Cyprus has experienced decades of such undemocratic American practices. One of many occurred in 1978 when the White House began its effort to lift another arms embargo, against Turkey. That embargo was applied because Turkey used American arms illegally to invade and occupy the northern third of Cyprus. The White House promised the Congress that, if they lifted the Turkish arms embargo and Turkey did not withdraw its occupation of Cyprus, the embargo would be reimposed. During the 40 years since, no troops have left and roughly half a million Turks have been moved to the occupied area of Cyprus. Yet, every two months, the administration has assured the Congress, in a total of over 200 letters, of a fantasy that Turkey is moving toward a withdrawal from Cyprus.
In the past, the American government has played these dangerous games with Cyprus, the bulwark of the Western world in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dream of an Ottoman caliphate targets Cyprus’s Muslims. They are called Turkish Cypriots even though their gene pool resembles that of the Greek Cypriots more than the Turks’ and many were Christians who converted to Islam to avoid paying taxes under Ottoman rule. Also, in contrast to Erdogan’s Turks, Turkish Cypriots are steeped in the thousands-of-years-old Western culture of Cyprus that has led to democratic, secular, moderate Muslim beliefs. Recently, Erdogan’s Turks on Cyprus attacked a newspaper while yelling “Allahu akbar.” The paper had supported the US in opposing Erdogan’s assault on US-backed Syrian Kurds. Thousands of Cypriot-born Turkish Cypriots immediately demonstrated against this attack.
In recent years, Erdogan’s aggression against Cyprus has included an attempt to steal Cyprus’s newly discovered hydrocarbons. This is all part of the Turkish president’s final push for Islamist fundamentalism’s first modern conquest of Western world territory and resources – the northern third of Cyprus. These are hydrocarbons that the Eastern Mediterranean Alliance – Cyprus, Greece and Israel – are working on together to provide safe delivery to Western Europe.
Fortunately, State Department officials today handling this region of the world and the effort to lift the arms embargo against Cyprus are among the best we have seen in half a century, possibly in the league of Dick Holbrooke. Gone, at least for the moment, are those who smugly ignored our legislative branch’s laws regarding Cyprus. A policy of sanctions against Turkey for imprisoning an innocent American seems to have replaced our government’s previous policy of refusing for years to press Turkey about what its military did with five innocent Americans they captured. Hopefully, today’s handling of Cyprus will be a textbook primer of top-notch diplomacy as well as adherence to democratic procedures our founders intended.
Andy Manatos is president of the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, Philip Christopher is president of the International Coordinating Committee of Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) and the Pancyprian Association of America, and Mike Manatos is president of Manatos & Manatos.