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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey

Erdogan’s Turkish Delights

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There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.

In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.

Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).

WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.

Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.

Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.

Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.

The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.

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With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.

Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.

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Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.

However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.

In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.

Written by Matteo Figus

14/04/2017 at 19:32

Here We Go Again: Syrian Deja Vu

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The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.

What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.

All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.

The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like  going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put  foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.

Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.

The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.

This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.

Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.

Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.

A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.

Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matteo Figus

10/04/2017 at 20:49

IS Strength is Proportional to our Weakness

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The recent Paris attacks have opened a series of questions on security and the real strength of IS. However, one clear fact is in front of our eyes: IS strength is proportional to our weakness.

World powers division over Syria has just highlighted how easy is for groups like IS to increase their force and exploit the void created by our indecisions. IS strength has been unequivocally supported by the fragility of political institutions in Middle East, and especially after the raging war in Syria. It cannot be denied that the so-called Islamic State is a collateral effect of the western disastrous policy of “change of regime” and at the same time a sub-product of the illusory Arab spring. The weakening of secular states, pursued by the US during the Al-Qaida years, although has led to the fall of repressive regimes, created a void thus replaced by the only real organised and opposition force: Islamists groups.

While the Arab spring worked in a way in Tunisia, Egypt is the best example of how the dangerous shift to Islamism was blocked in time by the only possible resource available: a military coup. When Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, everyone just simply knew that it would be matter of time before Egypt would be engulfed in serious troubles. The army, conscious of the danger, used its force to avoid a Libyan scenario thus blocking the contagion from the IS fever. It is true nonetheless, that Egypt is still a terrain fertile for IS infiltration and the recent attack on a Russian airliner simply shows that.

Nevertheless, it is the total failure of western policies in Syria and Iraq, that ultimately led to the growth of IS and its apparently unstoppable force. Following the steps of Libya, Western powers have made a huge miscalculation in thinking to replace easily the Assad regime with a pro-western government. Arms sent to strengthen the illusory rebel army, instead favoured the growth of all Islamist groups and ultimately of IS. In Iraq, the total disregard and animosity towards the Shia government in power, united with their own mistakes in seeking revenge against the Sunnis, soon created the fertile terrain for Sunni resistance and ultimately IS growth.

However, how really strong is the Islamic State? Is terrorism a sign of power or weakness? IS in itself is full of contradictions: fights the West but many fighters are mercenaries from Europe where most of them enjoyed life of freedom; is against idolatry and western consumerism but uses all social media platforms; destroys cultural history, belonging even to their own past, but put forward slogans of brotherhood; it fights against other Muslims, mainly Shia, and does not concern itself with the Palestine problem.

It is quite remarkable for a group claiming to be ready to install a Caliphate to notice that in all their claims Israel and the Palestinian problem has been left out. Even when they slightly consider the issue, their targets are Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, for who they fight for then?

Terrorism is never a viable political solution, inevitably leads only to two solutions: total annihilation of the group or negotiation. By the choices of targets and its political agenda, it is unlikely that IS can pursue or even is willing to negotiate. Exactly because has been born from western hypocrisy is in itself a hypocritical and cowardly group: attacks minority groups, enslave women, fight a terror war against civilians, is armed and financed by foreign donors (powers). Therefore, the question is, can be destroyed? Yes and easily.

Taking into account that its main base is in Syria and part of Iraq, and it is surrounded by major regional power, we have: Turkey in the North, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq in the North, Lebanon backed by pro-Syrian groups and Hezbollah to the West, the sea to the West can be blocked (if wanted by any major power like the US), Israel and Egypt in South-West, Jordan in the South, Iraq Shia backed government to the East and obviously Iran that support Assad, Hezbollah and the Iraqi government.

At first looks like an impressive display of power but we need to consider the following issues affecting the real fight against IS:

  1. Turkey could block the borders better and support the Kurds, instead of fighting them for internal reasons;
  2. The western powers keep living the dream of the Free Syrian Army that in reality is just non existent as long as all weapons are used against the only other legitimate ground force to counter IS, which is the regular Syrian Army. Any future agreement on Syria should be postponed after the war. They face a common enemy.
  3. Western powers, namely US, against Russia: the Russian campaign in Syria was denigrated and attacked before the Paris attacks, while now Putin is seen as a messiah in the fight against terror;
  4. Russia is also not always clear on the real targets of its campaign in Syria: internal security, defence of strategic interests or to pin point US forces?
  5. Western powers refusal to acknowledge the importance of other actors in the scene: Iran and its allies.
  6. The hypocrisy and double play of some of the so-called “allies of the West”: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE. Financing for IS comes mainly from “donors” in these countries.
  7. The refugee problem: open door policy or closed borders? EU has not a clear strategy and swing from an excess to the other in the assessment.
  8. Media propaganda and misinformation: once again serious anti-Islam slogans and total disregard for an unbiased assessment of the reality. The theory of the double standards still applies and only has as a result an increase in racism and xenophobic attacks in the western capitals.

Nevertheless, the Paris attacks and the Russian plane bombing are changing everything, as France is now ready to cooperate (at least in words) with Russia; Egypt will have to answer about its security standards as surely cannot allow tourism to disappear following the recent incidents. Calls are growing on US and the UK (the most recalcitrant in changing their views and policies towards Syria) for a coalition to destroy IS, but the risk of leaving main actors such the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and Iran out of the decisions can also expose further the West and Russia in a direct intervention that will play IS propaganda. On the other side, all powers must reconsider their circle of friends in Middle East and realise that a shift of policy towards Iran could benefit these powers in the long term better than the current dependence from questionable partners, Pakistan-US relations are a lesson.

Written by Matteo Figus

18/11/2015 at 14:32

The Isis: An Offensive Not Only Towards Iraq

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The Isis offensive has exposed not only the failure of the Iraqi state but also of the whole Middle Eastern strategy pursued in these years by the US. “I told you so”, this is the resounding and well known sentence that many are now saying referring to the Iraqi situation. It is difficult not to comment or express sympathy for the use of the sentence when for years we have been brainwashed with the fairy tale of the “mission accomplished” or of Iraq becoming a stronger state. However, acute observers did not miss to notice the constant bloodshed of car bombings and suicide attacks targeting Baghdad’s markets or Shia sanctuaries as worrying signs of an incoming sectarian violence.

The hypocrisy is reaching gigantic dimension then if we look at Syria, where for years Assad warned of Al Qaida linked group filling the ranks of the insurgency and branded as mere propaganda from the West. You would have expected at least the decency of an “admission of misunderstanding” (a diplomatic way to admit failure) instead we heard American and British officials saying that they could not prevent or foresee Isis offensive. Is that true? One fact is established: unless Isis is taken into the wider picture that is set by its own goals, and therefore addressing not only Iraq but also Syria, the risk of a civil war spilling across the region, not on nationalist lines bit on sectarian ones, is becoming an alarming possibility.

 

Who is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant?

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (alternatively translated as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām), abbreviated ISIL, ISIS, now officially calling itself simply the Islamic State (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية‎ al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah), is an unrecognized state and active jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a sovereign state, it claims the territory of Iraq and Syria, which implies future claims over more of the Levant region, including Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, a part of southern Turkey and Cyprus.

The group in its original form was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organizations, the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the insurgent groups Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal Sunnah and Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, and a number of Iraqi tribes that profess Sunni Islam.

Isis has witnessed significant growth as an organization owing to the deteriorated security situation in Iraq and Syria, both subjected to the western change of regime strategy. In Iraq Isis flourished due to the Sunni population being sidelined by the Shia government in Baghdad, where political discrimination and even persecution created the fertile support for Sunni insurgents to join the group. In Syria, the civil war created the situation under which ISIS make the most of the inability of the government to control its borders, taking advantage of the influx of armaments from neighboring countries and supporting Sunni in their struggle against the Alawite minority in power. In the ongoing Syrian civil war, Isis has a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo.

Isis may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including 3,000 foreigners with many arriving from Chechnya and even from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

Isis is known for its harsh interpretation of Islam and brutal violence, which is directed particularly against Shia Muslims. In addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians on both Iraq and Syria. Isis had close links with al-Qaeda until 2014 but, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its “notorious intractability” and brutality, although the reason is more related to divergent strategic objectives between the group and the main al Qaida linked movement in Syria, Al Nusra Front.

Isis is now widely regarded not as a terrorist organization but as a proper army with ambitions to govern, similar to the Taliban: they have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, they currently run social programs, which includes social services, religious lectures, it also performs civil tasks such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.

The group is also known for its effective use of propaganda. In November 2006, the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produced CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products. Isis’s main media outlet is the I’tisaam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). In 2014, ISIS established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English and German, and the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants. Isis’s use of social media has been described as sophisticated and it regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter.

It is estimated that Isis have assets worth $2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three quarters of this sum is represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014, including likely $429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank as well as a large quantity of gold bullion. Sources of funding are mainly generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets, robbing banks and gold shops. The group is also widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in Gulf States, and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding Isis, although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case. The group is also believed to be receiving considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has control on oil fields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts. ISIS also generates revenues from producing crude oil and selling electric power in northern Syria.

A caliphate was eventually proclaimed on 29 June 2014, with the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named as its caliph, the group was renamed the Islamic State and calling for Muslims to accept obedience.

 

Paradoxes and Contradictions fuel ISIS growth

 

So why is now Isis becoming so important even to create a miraculous rapprochement of Washington with Iran? The reason it may be the obvious partition of oil resources but at a closer look the US policy is more similar to a matryoshka. On the exterior the policy may have been shortsighted and failed in addressing the future state structure when a change of regime is achieved, but it also offer inside a sub-goal that is to create a weak state unable to survive and be dependent of US assistance. This opens therefore to the third sub-goal that is to generate an instable situation in the region under which no one will be enough powerful to overcome or undermine western interests.

For years the US have branded the change of regime policy as an infallible tool to export democracy, but they never considered that once eliminating a strong power the spot could be soon filled by another questionable or even more dangerous figure. Nevertheless, this strategy, even though being blind on future scenarios, suits best for the principle of divide et impera by fuelling internal instability. Iraq with its Shia government, although officially approved by Washington, has also been under scrutiny due to its Iranian links, and this is the reason why Kurds have been allowed to maintain their formidable army of Peshmerga. But exactly as per Shia groups, the Kurds cannot be allowed to exert influence to the point of creating an independent state across the region. So whilst on the news the US branded Iraq a mission accomplished, the constant bloodshed in everyday life simply exposed a failing project waiting to develop a next stage. Isis grew out of these paradoxes and religious violence, but what Washington did not planned or considered is that the internal instability is evolving into sectarian violence and completely underestimates the importance of the Syrian civil war connection.

 

Isis could have never reached the current proportion without also gaining valuable advantages from the Syrian civil war. The other rebel and opposition fighters have been soon outgunned by government’s forces while the western and especially Arab supplies soon ended in Isis or Al Nusra hands thus polarizing the conflict not as political but as religious. Assad’s warnings have always been branded as regime propaganda, but on the ground ISIS gained not only equipment but also basis and oil fields in Syria, has been able to deploy a stronger army to counter not only government forces but also other rebel groups, Al Nusra and even to support Iraqi insurgency.

Whilst stronger concern has been put on Iraq with the Syrian side of the Isis activities continuing to be underestimated, on the other Assad and rebel groups fight against Isis basically alone and you can wonder how it would be possible to destroy effectively the group without targeting its basis in Syria.

Isis offensive in fact opened at the eyes of the whole wide world the paradox and contradictions of the Middle Eastern policy of several countries, all of which have little or nothing to do with the wellbeing of Iraqis.

 

ISIS Effects in the Region

 

Syria

Isis already controls large parts of northern and eastern Syria, including much of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour provinces. Emboldened by the gains made in Iraq, Isis fighters seized a number of strategically important towns along the Syrian side of the border. They also used weapons and equipment seized from the Iraqi army.

Isis’s advance is said to have alarmed the Syrian government, which has allegedly refrained from targeting the jihadist group because of the damage it has caused to more moderate rebel forces. However, over the past weeks, the Syrian air force has for the first time attacked Isis strongholds and also for the first time neighboring Iraq even welcomed action in its own territory.

The main Syrian opposition alliance, the National Coalition, has said it has been warning about the threat posed by Isis for years, and that pro-Western and Islamist rebel groups should have been given the military aid they needed earlier to counter it. They launched an offensive to expel Isis from Syria in January, triggering fighting that has killed thousands. Syria offers the excellent conditions for a jihadist group to raise and shine: security decay, arms influx, fighters joining from other countries, indifference of big powers. Buy Syria is not different from Iraq, you have an alawite minority, Shia linked, that struggle for maintain its power, you have the Kurds and you have the Sunni population that have been subjected to decades of discrimination.

But if Iraq received outmost attention and even forced US and Britain to reconsider their links with Iran, Syria on the other is still seen as a country to be left alone struggling against the group. This reinforce the idea that behind the concern there is in reality an use of Isis to reach the ultimate goal that is a change of regime and destroy another pillar of the anti US policy in Middle East.

 

Iran

Iran’s Supreme Leader rejected military intervention in Iraq by the US, accusing Washington of trying to manipulate sectarian divisions to retake the country it once occupied. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he believed Iraqis could end the violence themselves.

The region’s leading Shia power is reported to have sent troops to Iraq to advise its security forces on how to tackle Isis. The commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Gen Qasem Soleimani, has flown to Baghdad to oversee the capital’s defences and the thousands of Iraqi Shia who have responded to calls to take up arms and defend their country, particularly its Shia shrines.

Iran has steadily built up its influence in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, with whom it fought a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s. Many Iraqi leaders spent years in exile in Iran, and their political parties and militia receive support from Tehran. Iran strengthened its position in Middle East in recent years thanks mostly to the reckless actions of the western coalition, but at the same time Iran understood very soon the danger posed by the policy of divide et impera and the possible degeneration into sectarian violence. This is the reason why if one side Iran welcome the request of intervention to stop Isis on the other does not approve western involvement in a situation created ad hoc by them. Iran is aware that the West, without a powerful Iranian support, will not achieve its goals, reason why Teheran is instead strengthening its forces with Assad.

 

Jordan

Jordan has bolstered its defences along the border with Iraq with tanks and rocket-launchers after Sunni militants seized territory in the west of Anbar province and took control of the Iraqi side of the only land crossing with Jordan at Traybil.

The loss of Traybil is not seen as an immediate security threat to Jordan. However, army units had been put in a state of alert.

Some analysts believe Jordan could be Isis’s next target. However, they note that the government is more stable than Iraq’s, its army more effective, and its jihadist ideologues have denounced Isis’s brutality. In addition Jordan strong links with the Palestinian cause will open another theatre of operations with all the dangers connected to it.

 

Turkey

ISIS has taken over a number of cities and towns near Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, and kidnapped dozens of Turkish citizens.

Although the Turkish government has threatened to retaliate if any of its citizens are harmed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of the risks of launching air strikes against the Isis-led forces in Iraq because of the risk of serious civilian casualties.

Analysts say the Turkish government is changing its stance on the creation of an independent Kurdish state in north-eastern Iraq, which it has long opposed. Officials now reportedly believe that Iraq will end up becoming a loose federation of three entities – Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shia Arab – or divided altogether. Nevertheless, Turkey did not officially commented on the Kurds aspiration of creating a wider state encompassing also Turkish and Syrian territories.

Erdogan’s opponents also say his government has helped Isis by allowing Syria-bound jihadists to pass freely through its territory.

 

Saudi Arabia

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki openly accused Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni Gulf power, of promoting “crimes that may qualify as genocide” by providing financial and moral support to Isis. The Saudi government rejected what it called a “malicious falsehood”. It stressed that it wished to see the destruction of Isis, and blamed the “exclusionist policies” of Maliki’s Shia-dominated government.

Despite such assertions, Isis is widely believed to receive money from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of Saudis are also believed to have fought in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

The authorities in Riyadh are increasingly concerned about returning Saudi jihadists switching their attention to the kingdom.

 

Kuwait

The Kuwaiti government has been criticised for having allowed wealthy donors to fund extremist groups. Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah has said the recent developments in Iraq are “deeply worrying” but were “expected”.

The Kuwaiti minister responsible for border security, Maj Gen Sheikh Mohammed al-Youssef, assured citizens and residents that the emirate’s northern frontier was safe. He said the state of readiness of the Kuwaiti military did not need to be raised because the situation in the predominantly Shia south of Iraq was “calm”. Wealthy donors based in Kuwait are believed to have given money to ISIS and other extremist Sunni rebel groups in Syria. This has increased the hostility of Iran and Syria towards the Gulf States.

 

Conclusion

The US are now caught in this situation that on one side may be a step further of their policy but in reality it could spill out of control very soon. While the US are trying to get Iran into the dispute, the move could be seen as hardly genuinely believable, as there is a sense that an Iranian involvement into the conflict could in reality exacerbate the sectarian violence rather than solve it. For many analysts Iran intervention is as questionable as Israel’s one. In such polarized situation while Isis is pushing for an all out war against Shia groups, on the other Israel in engaged again in the never ending saga with Hamas in Gaza. A war in the Gaza Strip would inevitably offer even more dangerous reasons to further damage the already fragile situation in the region, out of which Isis could get the biggest benefit.

The US are finding themselves caught in the paradox of their own policy without a future but with sub targets. The problem is that this time an intervention in Iraq could be seen as pro Shia government and will open questions about inaction in Syria; an intervention in Syria at the same time is not even considered, and while Turkey is calling for Kurds independence like Israel, it is difficult not to question why Tel Aviv government is keen to appease independence for Kurds and reject any negotiation on the Occupied Territories. This reinforces the idea that the whole project is to split the area in small states, and that there is a convergence of interests bringing together the US, Turkey and Israel on eventually accepting the partition of Iraq but continuing to destroy the Assad regime.

Syria and Iran are on the other side strengthening their partnership and, although not mentioned, they look with preoccupation at Lebanon as the possible next confrontation ground for ISIS, where the ground for a sectarian violence is fertile and where the two states have an ally in the Hezbollah.

 

The choice between partition versus enabling governments, although questionable they may be, to fight on their own terrorist groups, is the key to resolve Isis crisis, but a wrong move could open even more dangerous perspectives not only for the Middle East but also for US security and the West as a whole.

Written by Matteo Figus

11/07/2014 at 17:08

Cyprus: Towards a Permanent Partition?

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The recent economic crisis that is affecting the EU and many of its members brought to the news the case of Cyprus. The Island, forced to request a financial bailout, is not only a troubled EU member struggling for its economic survival, but also home to one of the longest unsettled territorial disputes since 1974.

Cyprus is currently divided between the official Republic of Cyprus in the south and mainly inhabited by Greek-Cypriots and the internationally unrecognized Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic, supported by the Ankara’s Government.

The dispute on the partition following Turkish invasion in 1974, has not found any solutions and recent events seem to increase rather than favor a reunification of the Island.

Cyprus nationalism and independence

In 1571 the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and held until 1914 when Cyprus was formally annexed by Britain following the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers; subsequently the island became a British Crown colony.

The two communities of Greeks and Turks, soon developed a strong national sentiment toward the respective mother countries, although they lived peacefully for many years. Nevertheless, this nationalist sentiment grew stronger after the First World War due to several reasons. One can be linked to the colonial policy of “divide and rule” which was applied in other areas such Nigeria for example. The major counter effect of this policy was to strengthen division among the population on ethnic lines, but serving British interest in keeping both groups weak and unable to challenge colonial rule.

Whilst Greek-Cypriots grew a strong sentiment of reunification with Greece, enosis, the Turkish nationalism was reinvigorated by events in the Anatolia peninsula where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, attempted to build a new nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and elaborated the program of “six principles” (the “Six Arrows”). These principles of secularism and nationalism reduced Islam’s role in the everyday life of individuals and emphasized Turkish identity as the main source of nationalism.

In the early fifties a Greek nationalist group was formed called the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA, or “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters”). EOKA wished to remove all obstacles, British, Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot from their path to independence, or union with Greece. EOKA initiated its activities by planting the first bombs on 1 April 1951 with the directive by Greek Foreign Minister Stefanopoulos. A “Council of Revolution” was established on 7 March 1953 and EOKA’s campaign against the British forces began to grow. On the other side, the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT, Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı) declared war on the Greek Cypriot rebels as well.Cyprio demonstration 1930

Following the above surge in attacks and decolonization policy in the post WWII, British rule lasted until 1960 when the island was declared an independent state under the London-Zurich agreements. The agreement created a foundation for the Republic of Cyprus, which joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities in a single state, seen as a necessary compromise to avoid intervention from Greece or Turkey.

Independence and Partition

The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable however, lasting only three years. Greek Cypriots wanted to end the separate Turkish Cypriot municipal councils permitted by the British in 1958, as this would have exacerbated Turkish nationalism and increase risks of partition. The Greek Cypriots, at this stage where strongly supporting the enosis, a union with Greece, whilst Turkish Cypriots were in favor of taksim, partition between Greece and Turkey. Along with different vision on Cyprus future, the two communities accused each other of altering constitutional equilibrium and persecution. The Greek Cypriots complained about Turkish Cypriots larger share of governmental posts compared to the size of their population. Additionally, the position of vice president was reserved for the Turkish population and both the president and vice president were given veto power over crucial issues. In this condition, the 1960 constitution fell apart and communal violence ensued. Between 21 and 26 December 1963, the conflict centered in the Omorphita suburb of Nicosia, which had been an area of tension in 1958. The participants were Greek Cypriot irregulars, Turkish Cypriot civilians and former TMT members. The Turkish fighters were less powerful, outnumbered from the superior Greek Cypriot side that were supplied with stored EOKA guns and eventually weapons from foreign powers. Both President Makarios and Dr. Küçük issued calls for peace, but these were ignored. These clashes, as in 1967, were only settled after Turkey threatened to invade on the basis that they would be protecting the Turkish population from possible ethnic cleansing by Greek Cypriot forces.

In 1967, a military junta overthrows Greek government, establishing an obscurantist far right government widely condemned by the whole of Europe but had the support of the United States. In the autumn of 1973 there had been a further coup in Athens in which the original Greek junta had been replaced by one still more obscurantist headed by the Chief of Military Police, Brigadier Ioannides, with head of state General Phaedon Gizikis. Ioannides believed that Cypriot president  Makarios was no longer a true supporter of enosis, and suspected him of being a communist sympathizer. This led Ioannides to support the EOKA-B and the National Guard as they tried to undermine Makarios. On 15 July 1974 sections of the Cypriot National Guard, led by its Greek officers, overthrew the government. Makarios narrowly escaped death in the attack; he fled the presidential palace, whilst the British managed to assist his escape to London the next morning. Makarios_III_and_Robert_F__Wagner_NYWTS_croppedIn the coup itself, 91 people were killed, all Greek-Cypriots. The Turkish-Cypriots were not affected by the coup against Makarios; one of the reasons was that Ioannides did not want to provoke a Turkish reaction. Nikos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new Cypriot government; Sampson was a Greek ultra nationalist who was known to be fanatically anti-Turkish and had taken part in violence against Turkish civilians in earlier conflicts.

In response to the coup, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent Joseph Sisco to try to mediate the conflict. Turkey issued a list of demands to Greece via a US negotiator. These demands included the immediate removal of Nikos Sampson, the withdrawal of 650 Greek officers from the Cypriot National Guard, the admission of Turkish troops to protect their population, equal rights for both populations, and access to the sea from the northern coast for Turkish Cypriots. These demands were rejected as they would have given Turkey an unacceptable amount of power on the island. Turkey, led by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, then applied to Britain as a signatory of the Treaty of Guarantee to take action to return Cyprus to its neutral status. Britain declined this offer, and refused to let Turkey use its bases on Cyprus as part of the operation.

The inevitable happened: Turkey invaded Cyprus on Saturday, 20 July 1974. Heavily armed troops landed shortly before dawn at Kyrenia (Girne) on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces. Ankara said that it was invoking its right under the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the Turkish Cypriots and guarantee the independence of Cyprus. The operation, codenamed ‘Operation Atilla’, is known in the North as ‘the 1974 Peace Operation’. By the time a ceasefire was agreed three days later, Turkish troops held 3% of the territory of Cyprus. Five thousand Greek Cypriots had fled their homes.

Along territorial changes, the Turkish invasion had also the effect to facilitate on 23 July 1974 the collapse of the Greek military junta with Greek political leaders in exile started returning to the country. On 24 July 1974 Constantine Karamanlis returned from Paris and was sworn in as Prime Minister.

Talks to solve the issue started in Geneva, Switzerland, with all the guarantor powers present: Greece, Turkey and Great Britain. These talks, divided in two rounds between 25 July and 14 August 1974, were intended to find a solution for a permanent settlement of the Cypriot crisis. If during the Greek military power international sympathy was mainly on Turkish side, after the return of democracy Greek Cypriots were gaining more support. The Turkish invasion if justified at first to prevent a pogrom was now starting to be seen as a possible act to consolidate partition. Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a federal state, and population transfer. When the Cypriot acting president Clerides asked for 36 to 48 hours in order to consult with Athens and with Greek Cypriot leaders, the Turkish Foreign Minister denied Clerides that opportunity on the grounds that Makarios and others would use it to play for more time.

On 14 August Turkey launched its “Second Peace Operation” with troops rapidly occupying even more than was asked for at Geneva. 40% of the land came under Turkish occupation reaching as far south as the Louroujina Salient. In the process, many Greek Cypriots became refugees. The Cypriot government estimates their numbers at about 200,000, with other sources stating 140,000 to 160,000.  The ceasefire line from 1974 today separates the two communities on the island, and is commonly referred to as the Green Line.

As a result, the de facto partition of the Republic and the creation of a separate political entity in the north was established. On 13 February 1975, Turkey declared the occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus to be a “Federated Turkish State”, to the universal condemnation of the international community. The United Nations condemned the move with the UN Security Council Resolution 367-1975 and reiterating that they recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus according to the terms of its independence in 1960.

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot assembly declared independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) considered the “attempt to create the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid, and will contribute to a worsening of the situation in Cyprus”. It went on to state that it “Considers the declaration referred to above as legally invalid and calls for its withdrawal”. The conflict continues to affect Turkey’s relations with Cyprus, Greece, and the European Union.Cyprus_districts_named

Negotiations

Negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem have been taking place on and off since 1964. Between 1974 and 2002, the Turkish Cypriot side (effectively controlled by the Turkish government) was seen by the international community as the side refusing a balanced solution. Since 2002, the situation has been reversed according to US and UK officials, and the Greek Cypriot side rejected a plan which would have called for the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus without guarantees that the Turkish occupation forces would be removed.

Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plan in an April 2004 referendum. On 24 April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute. The plan, which was approved by the Turkish Cypriots in a separate but simultaneous referendum, would have created a United Cyprus Republic and ensured that the entire island would reap the benefits of Cyprus’ entry into the European Union on 1 May. The United Cyprus Republic consisted of a Greek Cypriot constituent state and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state linked by a federal government. More than half of the Greek Cypriots who were displaced in 1974 and their descendants would have had their properties returned to them and would have lived in them under Greek Cypriot administration within a period of 31/2 to 42 months after the entry into force of the settlement. For those whose property could not be returned, they would have received monetary compensation.

Following Greek Cypriots rejection, the entire island entered the EU on 1 May 2004 still divided; the EU acquis communautaire – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under direct government control, and is suspended in the areas occupied by the Turkish military and administered by Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus views

The Greek Cypriots started their struggle for independence against the British, and the Turkish community at first to establish enosis, the union with Greece. Today, this initial goal has been completely sidelined, especially after Cyprus joined the EU in 2004; Cyprus is seen as an independent country that, although maintains strong ties with Greece, has its own path. The conquered economic progress until 2013 and the achievement of EU membership shifted Greek Cypriots towards a conservative position in maintaining the status quo. The reasons are:

  1. The collapse of the Greek economy, united with the achieved own development, contributed to the abandon of enosis in recent decades.
  2. Cyprus joining the EU has also strengthened the community and the nationalist sentiment, bringing economic development and international stability.
  3. Greek Cypriots fear a strong Turkish influence in a possibly reunited island, mainly due to the presence of a strong military force in Northern Cyprus, thus maintaining an unbalanced and disproportionate section of the Island.
  4. Alteration of equilibrium: a reunification for many Cypriots is a threat to stability. For them could unite a strong-developed south and a militarized but poorer north, with consequent afflux of population to the Greek Cypriot inhabited areas.

The Turkish Cypriots have fought along British forces against Greek and Cypriot nationalists to avoid independence or enosis. After independence they maintained a strong and defensive approach, due to being a minority in a 3% of land. This increased their idea of being discriminated and under constant attack. The actions of the Greek military junta and EOKA-B in Cyprus in the 70’s demonstrated to many the existence of an anti-Turkish agenda. This led to the first Turkish invasion, still seen by many as justified. The second invasion, however, altered existing equilibriums and historical balance, with Turkey occupying 36% of territory and in the following years favoring settlement to increase its population. The Turkish community, at first rejected any plan of reunification, fearing reprisal and abandon by Turkey, represented at best by its leader Ruf Denktash. _58910932_cyprus_raufdenktash-gThis sentiment today changed to a contrary position, switching side with Greek Cypriots. Turkish community voted for integration, dreaming of an EU membership in 2004.

  1. They see the reunification as the best chances of a bright future and abandon of isolation, as the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic is not recognized.
  2. They also know that Turkey will appease this desire of a settlement due to Ankara’s EU membership claims.
  3. The fear of inter communal clashes and Greek pogrom is considered unlikely in a country today part of EU with strict international monitoring.
  4. Turkey’s NATO membership is another guarantee that Turkey will commit herself to international obligations.

The guarantors: Greece and Turkey 

Although Greece maintains strong relations and ties with Greek-Cypriots, its role and influence is clearly undermined by the recent crisis that shattered the economy. Greece sympathy for enosis finds the same indifference as in Cyprus; Greeks would clearly prefer a peaceful settlement of the question rather than having their country embroiled in an expensive Cyprus conflict or even the resurface of political tensions with Turkey.

Turkey’s position today is more complicated and rather different from the past. If their first invasion of the Island received some sort of support and understanding as a genuine intervention to defend its population against an attack supported by a fascist regime in Athens, the second invasion is widely seen as a clear attempt by Turkey to a partition on permanent basis. The years that followed saw Turkey’s hostility to any negotiations on reunification, although something is changing today:

  1. Turkey has a fast growing economy with enormous potentials. This is in contrast with EU countries struggling to cope with debt.
  2. Turkey is widely accused of maintain strong military presence, but Turkey is also a member of NATO and has strong relations with the USA, that strongly support a solution on Cyprus for reunification.
  3. Turkey is seeking EU membership and any obstacle to a permanent settlement of Cyprus dispute will undermine her chances.

Turkey therefore is seen today as more cooperative towards a solution for Cyprus and a possible reunification. However, there are some points that could undermine this view:

  1. Turkey’s recent interference in the Syrian conflict can drag the country in a proxy war, leading to tensions with regional powers and, in case of joining the EU, would pose risk of stability by bordering a troubled region.
  2. Turkey is still unstable internally with Kurds insurgence, and the renaissance of Islamism that, if not controlled, could threaten the established laicism that marked Turkey’s modern history.
  3. EU recent crisis could make less desirable an entrance into the union to ordinary Turkish people, especially after having seen the effects in Greece and Cyprus.

 

The Mediators: EU and UN

The EU is in a difficult position. Favor Cyprus reunification will be a statement of progress in a continent that saw fragmentation and rising nationalism rather than the idyllic European dream of bringing countries together. The economic crisis is shattering hopes and the support to the EU both on political and economic basis. Cyprus therefore could be at the same time the savior or the destroyer. A reunification will boost political chances and will increase the possibility of Turkey joining in the future, bringing an emerging economy inside the European market. On the other, Cyprus recent financial crisis has shown once again the limits and the opposition of the population to an EU guided from the top, imposing unjust policies to their governments. This trend, noticeable in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and UK, could alienate both Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Turkey’s population itself.

A reunification of the Island could also speed up Turkey’s chances of joining the EU; however, this will open the risk in sharing a border with a troubled region: Kurds insurgencies, Lebanon unstable governments and Hezbollah, Iraq fratricidal bombings, and a future Syria that, with or without Assad, would be far from being a stable country for decades.

The UN has always been a stronger supporter of Cyprus reunification and, compared with the above players, the only one who maintained a coherent position. Nevertheless, UN attempts to solve Cyprus dispute have been undermined during the years by:

  1. Greek nationalists during the military dictatorship, and their interference in Cypriots affairs that ultimately led to Turkish reaction
  2. Turkish strong military presence and refusal to withdraw
  3. Influence of superpowers: the USA in an anti-communist stance appeased the Greek dictatorship first and then switched to Turkey when non aligned Cyprus leaned towards pro-soviet links.
  4. Swinging position of Cypriots sides moving out, alternatively, from a vision of reunification. Refusing the Annan plan, Greek Cypriots joined the EU as a separated country, whilst pro-European Turkish Cypriots were left outside.

Conclusion

Based on the above, to many the Cyprus dispute appears as leaning towards a permanent partition, and even to consider this the best solution. A two-Cyprus States will ease tensions in the short term, and only a Turkey’s admission to EU will ease all the remaining tensions related to military attacks or reprisals, therefore paving the way for a reunification under EU policy of integration in the longer term. The above solution is plausible only if the central pillar will resist to the recent storms: the EU.

Seen the recent developments, appears that the EU is the key to the future settlement for the Island; a survival of a reformed EU could bring solutions and stability, but a collapse and the constant rising of anti-EU sentiment and nationalism could effectively make way for the permanent partition of Cyprus.

Written by Matteo Figus

28/05/2013 at 13:23

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