In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and to this day occupies one-third of the island nation. Northern Cyprus remains the only occupied territory in Europe. Nor is Northern Cyprus simply disputed. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza—which were not a recognized part of an independent country when controlled by Egypt, Jordan, or Israel—northern Cyprus was and remains as much occupied by Turkey as Kuwait was by Iraq.
It is not surprising, therefore, that passions remain high in Cyprus, especially as the 40thanniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation approaches. After reports surfaced that Cypriots snatched a Turkish flag waved at a rally and burned it, Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış demanded an explanation and investigation. “Of course, burning the flag is not their place. We expect the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to give a very clear reaction to those who burned the flag,” Bağış reportedly said. Hürriyet Daily News continued, “Bağış indicated that protection of the Turkish flag’s honor must be an issue also for Greek Cypriots….”
What nonsense. Against the backdrop of the incitement in which Bağış’s partisans frequently engage, Turkish protestors regularly burn American flags. See, for example, new stories here, here, and here. While the flag burning is of course offensive—as is the fact that some of the Turkish protestors were doing so in outrage over Osama bin Laden’s death—no American official would dream of demanding investigations or seeking to punish the perpetrators. Bağış is known throughout both Turkey and Europe as a bit of a blowhard, but his comments should remind Europeans just how unready Turkey is for the European Union. When it comes to respect of free speech, even Russia has a better claim to meeting European criteria.
As for Cyprus, even Bağış should recognize that it has far bigger concerns right now than genuflecting to an occupying army.