The recent Pyle Incident on the island of Cyprus is becoming a major diplomatic issue because it threatens the precarious truce between Turkey and Greece over how Cyprus ruled. Cyprus is an island off the southeast Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Most of the population is Greek and 0nly a quarter of the 1.2 million people on the island are Turkish. Cyprus became an independent nation in 1960 but suffered political and diplomatic problems that culminated in the establishment of a separate Turkish enclave in 1983. That brought peace, but not unity.
For over a thousand years Cyprus belonged to the Greek Byzantine Empire, which the Turks destroyed in 1453. The Turks occupied Cyprus in 1571. The Turkish Empire collapsed at the end of World War I in 1918 but Cyprus had already come under British control in the late 19th Century. Britain gave up rule over Cyprus in 1960. The Greeks and Turks on Cyprus could not get along and Greece sponsored a rebellion by Greek Cypriots with the goal of incorporating Cyprus into Greece, assassinating the US ambassador in the process. The Turks objected and sent a military force to Cyprus in 1974 to protect the Turkish minority and prevent the Greek annexation. The Greeks backed off and the Turks established a Turkish Cypriot enclave in Northern Cyprus. Some Turkish troops remained to protect the Turkish enclave, which declared its independence in 1983. The Greeks protested and the only nation that recognized the independence of the Turkish enclave was Turkey.
The UN is trying to prevent the recent border violence against UN peacekeepers in Cyprus from escalating. This time it is the Turks who are misbehaving. UN peacekeepers in Cyprus were physically abused, or manhandled, by members of a Turkish Cypriot security force on August 18th. The incident took place in the village of Pyla, which is in the island’s 180-kilometer long buffer zone monitored by UN peacekeepers. The zone divides the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the Greek dominated Republic of Cyprus. Pyla is ethnically mixed, meaning both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live in the town. On August 17 the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus formally complained that Turkish Cypriots were illegally building a road that would run from the Turkish Cypriot village of Arsos to Pyla. The peacekeepers said they would use peaceful means to block construction. However, Turkish Cypriot security personnel “manhandled” peacekeepers while Turkish Cypriot bulldozers pushed away peacekeeper trucks and barbed wire. Turkish Cypriots claim only a short portion of the road encroaches on the buffer zone.
The Turkish Cypriots are building a road into the UN buffer zone without obtaining UN permission. NATO allies Britain, France and the U.S. issued a joint diplomatic warning, reminding the Turkish Cypriots that according to international law threatening UN personnel is a crime. Britain also reported that “scuffles” have occurred near one of its sovereign base areas on Cyprus. The peacekeeping force has been present since 1964. On July 20 Turkey demanded international recognition of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot statelet and the Turks want to gain international recognition for TRNC. Erdogan wants what Turkey calls a “two state solution” for Cyprus. While both Turkey and Greece are NATO members, both nations have developed war plans that concentrate on a Greece-Turkey conflict. Old habits die hard in this part of the world. (Austin Bay)
August 24, 2023: In northern Iraq, two Turkish UAVs used missiles to kill seven PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) members who were using northern Iraq as a base.
August 21, 2023: The U.S. government decided to lift the U.S. arms embargo on the Greek dominated Republic of Cyprus through September 2024. Turkey has complained that the arms and economic sanctions on the TRNC are unfair and Turkish troops remain in the independent Turkish enclave in Cyprus.
Turkey is seeking to get Ukraine and Russia to cooperate with Turkish efforts to restore the Black Sea Grain Initiative which Russia suspended in July 17.
August 20, 2023: Turkey's central bank has begun the process of ending so-called KKM accounts, a policy that protects Turkish lira bank deposits from depreciation related to foreign exchange. The policy was implemented in 2021. It was one of several damaging economic decisions made by president Erdogan, including cutting interest rates despite high inflation. Economists warn Turkey’s inflation is far from over. According to one report annual inflation this year will exceed 40 percent (42+ percent). The Turkish government was expecting (hoping) 2023’s inflation would be around 30 percent. The lira will also decline in value to the U.S. dollar by an estimated 20 percent.
August 19, 2023: Hungary and Turkey announced they will continue to coordinate their policies regarding Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Turkey is refusing to approve Sweden joining NATO until the Swedes turn over Turkish Kurds living legally in Sweden. Turkey considers some of these Kurds criminals and wants them extradited to Turkey. The Swedes do not believe the Turkish accusations justify that. Such disputes often occur between Western nations. Some of these disputes are settled, some are not. The dispute between Turkey and Sweden is unresolved. The Turks are using the NATO agreement to admit Sweden to the NATO to coerce Sweden to give up some of the Kurds living in Sweden. Most NATO members side with Sweden on this issue, but Turkey does not and NATO can admit new members only if all existing NATO members agree.
August 17, 2023: Turkey announced that by 2027 it will have armed at least eleven navy warships with its domestically produced Atmaca all-weather anti-ship missiles. The Atmaca will replace Turkey’s inventory of aging U.S.-made Harpoon missiles. The Atmaca has a land-variant. A typical Atmaca weighs around 750 kilograms (1,653 pounds) and has a range of 220 kilometers (137 miles). The missile carries a 220 kilogram warhead. The defense ministry estimates buying the Atmaca will meet Turkish Navy requirements and save Turkey over $500 million.
Turkey warned Russia to avoid further escalations in the Black Sea. This is all about an incident four days ago when a Russian warship fired on a Turkish-owned cargo vessel. Russian naval infantry subsequently boarded the vessel using a helicopter. Russia has released video footage of the incident. The incident is definitely testing the Erdogan government’s policy of trying to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.
August 13, 2023: Russian naval infantry (marines) boarded a Turkish-owned vessel 60 kilometers off Turkey’s northwest Black Sea coast. The marines searched the vessel then let it continue to the Ukrainian port of Izmall. The ship was later identified as the Sukru Okan. The Black Sea Grain Initiative, officially known as The Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs, established inspection protocols. Russia says it has withdrawn from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The initiative created a safe passage sea corridor for freighters carrying Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea from Ukraine to Turkish waters. Empty freighters could pass from Turkey to Ukraine. The Russian armed boarding sends the message Russia is willing to return to a sea blockade.
August 12, 2023: Turkish media contend that Russia sent a “clear message” to Turkey when it attacked the Ukrainian Motor Sich factory on August 6. Motor Sich makes engines for Turkish aircraft. Russia used both missiles and drones in the attack. The attack killed six people. Motor Sich supplies Turkey’s Baykar manufacturer with engines for two of its UAV models.
August 11, 2023: In the east, Turkish army UAVs struck several PKK targets inside Iraqi Kurdistan today and yesterday. The attacks killed 19 PKK gunmen. This was in retaliation for earlier PKK attacks that killed six Turkish soldiers.
August 7, 2023: It’s six months since the deadly February 2023 earthquakes. Turkish media complain that the recovery is slow. One report claims the town of Kahramanmaras remains uninhabitable. Another report says demolition crews have begun taking down several poorly constructed buildings in the Istanbul-area. The February quakes didn’t damage Istanbul. However, engineers have determined that several buildings are ripe for collapse in another earthquake. Istanbul is also on a major fault line. The Turkish government is dominated by political parties opposing president Erdogan, but the national government and the municipal government agree that “hundreds of thousands” of buildings are unsafe. Critics contend the Erdogan government’s weak enforcement of building codes contributed to the February 2023 disaster.
August 6, 2023: Russian forces struck Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich, which supplies Turkish UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) manufacturer Baykar with key components. Baykar's TB2 UAVs played a critical role in Ukraine's defense against the Russian forces. A senior Turkish diplomat described the attack on Motor Sich as a symbolic Russian warning against Turkish involvement with Ukraine.
August 2, 2023: Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has criticized the Walt Disney Company for not broadcasting a documentary series on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This is a serious matter for Turkey because Ataturk is the founder of the modern Turkish Republic (1923). The documentary series was going to be shown on a Disney-owned streaming service. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) demanded that Disney cancel the program. ANCA called Ataturk a dictator and genocidal killer. However, there is no evidence Ataturk participated in genocidal attacks on Armenians in 1915 because in 1915 he was fighting Australians and New Zealanders at Gallipoli.
August 1, 2023: In the southwest (Izmir), a Turkish female employee was gravely wounded in an attack on Sweden’s consular office. The woman worked as a secretary in the consulate. Police described the attacker as a mentally disabled man.
July 27, 2023: Discussions continue about Turkey’s July 10 decision to admit Sweden to NATO without demanding Turkey be admitted to the European Union. Turkey is learning that there are limits to what extortion diplomacy can accomplish. Turkey did gain several concessions, particularly on issues involving the PKK and other anti-Turk militant groups. NATO is also creating a new office, “the special coordinator for counterterrorism.” Turkey wanted NATO to agree to assist with stopping PKK attacks inside Turkey, not just attacks across NATO borders. Some cooperation goes on anyway because international terrorism threatens all NATO members. Access to superior military hardware is another pay-off when sanctions on Turkey are ended. Though some American legislators still oppose selling F-16s to Turkey, diplomats believe it’s all but certain the U.S. will sell Turkey upgraded F-16s. Turkey also wants to acquire some Finnish and Swedish artillery weapons systems.
July 25, 2023: A magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck in the province of Adana (south central Turkey). There were no injuries reported.
July 24, 2023: In the south (Hatay province) locals are objecting to mountains of rubble accumulating as the cleanup from the February earthquakes continues. Some of the piles contain asbestos and other toxic materials. There are at least 18 major rubble sites in Hatay and a few more across the border in Syria.
July 20, 2023: To fight inflation, Turkey’s central bank raised interest rates by a .25 percent 17.5 percent. Foreign economists consider this inadequate to deal with the 40 percent inflation rate consumers have to deal with. The Turkish currency, the lira, remains at a record low value versus the dollar. Pumping more foreign aid into the Turkish economy doesn’t seem to help. Turkish interest rates remain at record high levels in a failed effort to reduce inflation.
Turkey demanded international recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The demand was made at a ceremony marking the 49th anniversary off Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus (1974). In 1960 an independent Cyprus was established, with a Greek President and a Turkish vice-president. Britain retained two Sovereign Military Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia bases "in perpetuity". By treaty, Great Britain, Turkey and Greece were to guarantee Cypriot sovereignty via the Treaty of Guarantee. In 1974 the Turkish military entered Cyprus to counter an attempted coup by Greek Cypriots belonging to the National Organization of Cypriot Struggle, a radical Greek Cypriot nationalist group dedicated to Cypriot union with Greece. At the time the Greek radicals were backed by the Greek “Colonels Regime” that was running Greece. (Austin Bay)
July 18, 2023: Turkey and Saudi Arabia have signed several new memorandums of understanding. The agreements relate to defense, energy and communications. One agreement involves the sale of Turkish AKINCI Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) which are capable of air-to-ground and air-to-air attack missions. Turkey is now ranked as the world’s 12th biggest arms exporter.
July 17, 2023: The Black Sea Initiative grain deal governing ship export of Ukrainian grain expired today. Turkey believes the deal will be revived.
Turkey has sent five Ukrainian POWs (Prisoners of War) home to Ukraine, breaking an agreement with Russia to hold them until the war was over. The men were officers in Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. Russia called Turkey’s decision a violation of the agreement. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had just met with his Turkish counterpart president Erdogan while in Turkey.
July 15, 2023: President Erdogan said that Turkey’s parliament won’t ratify Sweden’s NATO membership bid before October, but that he hopes for a swift ratification once lawmakers return from a break. But Sweden will be approved. The parliament’s new session begins Oct. 1.