Conservative Party leadership contender Rishi Sunak said, in writing to the Conservative Friends of Cyprus, that the British Cypriot Community has “made a hugely positive contribution to the United Kingdom”. It is important this statement applies to the UK’s Turkish Cypriot community, equally as to its Greek Cypriot community.
In World War Two, thousands of Turkish Cypriots volunteered for the Cyprus Regiment, which delivered vital food and ammunition supplies in some of the worst theatres of war. Churchill praised them during a wartime visit to Cyprus; their bodies are scattered over Europe’s graveyards as testimony to the sacrifice they made for the Crown.
Later, during the Cyprus Emergency (1956 to 1959), a disproportionately large number of Turkish Cypriots helped the British army as police and special forces to fight EOKA guerrillas, and many died for it. Yet no official representative of Her Majesty has ever been permitted to visit their memorial in the Old British Cemetery in Girne.
So it is another insult to their memory – as well as being factually inaccurate – to talk of a 1974 Turkish “invasion” of Cyprus, as Mr Sunak did in his letter.
It’s clear the researchers of our would-be Prime Minister have failed to point out to him that in 1974, the Council of Europe’s Resolution 573 – fully supported by UK MEPs – stated that failure to reach a diplomatic settlement after a Greek coup d’état on 15 July 1974 “led the Turkish Government to exercise its right of intervention in accordance with Article 4 of the Guarantee Treaty of 1960″, which was of course drafted by Her Majesty’s Government (HMG).
They could have also added that the legality of Turkiye’s intervention was upheld by no less than the Athens High Court on 23 March 1979, case no. 2658. That does not sound like an “invasion” to me.
It may be that Mr Sunak’s inaccurate phrasing is simply due to a personal lack of familiarity with the facts; or is it intended to be a deliberate reversal of the view expressed by HMG in 1974? If he had still been in office, Mr Sunak’s comments could easily translate as an official insult from the British Government to a fellow NATO member.
Mr Sunak would do well to clarify his Cyprus comments to the UK’s half-a-million strong Turkish community, including elected councillors and members of the Conservative Party, so that they may know whether he is friend or foe.