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Profiles in Cowardice: When did the State Department go from “Invasion/Occupation” to “Intervention”?

Monday, January 9, 2017  | 

A great deal of international attention is being paid to the Cyprus talks this week in Geneva.  It seems as if the American media — from The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to Bloomberg and Foreign Policy – has featured more in-depth analysis on Cyprus in the last week than it had for 42 years.  Despite more than four decades of an illegal Turkish occupation, a potential conflict hasn’t turned into an actual one in Cyprus.  So the media treated Cyprus according to the “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” maxim.

Yet there was a time when Cyprus bled.  And while inter-communal violence of the 1960’s was responsible for some bleeding, most of the bleeding that Cyprus has suffered from came at the hands of Turkey’s army — which invaded in two phases in 1974 and has occupied the northern part of the island ever since.  165,000 Greek-Cypriots turned into refugees, thousands dead, over 1,600 missing.

This is why much of the coverage is misleading.  Unfortunately, it seems that it is intentionally misleading.  Amanda Sloat, who led the State Department’s diplomacy on Cyprus during most of President Obama’s second term, recently published a piece in Foreign Policy in which she repeats the typical State Department nonsense regarding Turkey’s actions in 1974 by calling Ankara’s two wave invasion a “military intervention.” This begs the question: how, in all that is holy, does the US State Department consider Turkey’s crimes in 1974 as a “foreign intervention” but what Russia did in Crimea an “invasion” and “occupation”?  Also, why does the State Department avoid characterizing Turkey’s 40,000+ occupation troops on Cyprus?  If it wasn’t an “invasion” what are those troops doing on Cyprus, taking a vacation?

The State Department used to get it right. In internal US Embassy cables from 1975-1980, officials are found consistently using the terms “occupation,” “occupied areas,” and “Turkish occupying forces.” Don’t take my word for it, you can read the cables yourselves (if anyone has Amanda Sloat’s email, they might want to pass them on to her):

Download (PDF, 524KB)

Let’s not stop there.  In a Freudian slip, Secretary John Kerry recently deviated from the State Department’s official line. During his remarks at the launch of the “MissionOne” Initiative in July 2016, Kerry used the word “invasion” when discussing what happened in 1974 in Cyprus.  Maybe it was a wine and cheese reception and we can chalk this up to in vino veritas. You can watch his remarks in the video below:

The words of the State Department allow the for the impression that Turkey had some peaceful intention vis a vis Cypriots.  The facts — the lives lost, the lives upended, the churches demolished and desecrated — suggest exactly the opposite.  President Obama came into office promising to end Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus.  The wordsmiths at the State Department — who have no problem using “occupation” in association with Russia/Ukraine, or with Israel/Palestine — convinced him to stop using such language (lest Turkey be offended and stop working with us on important issues like ISIS. . .Oooops, guess that strategy didn’t work.)  If Amanda Sloat and her former colleagues really want good news in 2017 from Cyprus, it is high time for a bit of honesty: Turkey invaded Cyprus and it has occupied it for 42 years.  Pretending otherwise just keeps us from getting to a solution.

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