Turkish base on Cyprus

Turkish base on Cyprus

I have no idea how it came up but for some time, very much like a soap opera, self-proclaimed strategists discuss Turkey’s need for establishing a military base in Cyprus. Why? Does Turkey not have a huge military presence in the northern third of the island?

Since the 1974 intervention on the island after a Greece-engineered coup, Turkey has been maintaining a sizeable military presence on the island. Anyone can describe that presence with whatever terminology they wish, but the bottom line is there is a Turkish corps there. According to political claims, the strength of that force is at around 34,000 while many intelligence reports place the figure at around 19,000 to 24,000.

My information is that presently due to an increasing need at home and in Syria, the Turkish military presence in Northern Cyprus has probably gone down as low as 14,000. It might be an issue for the officious and empty debate on the Greek Cypriot side, but it is not the size the actual presence of Turkish troops there that ought to matter.

The proximity of the island to the Anatolian shores is so close, that even if Turkey does not have a military presence on the island, on the other hand, it might take a very short time to reach it by its aerial or naval capabilities. Naturally, intervention cannot be repeated like a touristic visit and Turkish withdrawal requires a political settlement on the island which for obvious reasons stemming from the recent history of the island must anyhow entail continued Turkish guarantees for the Turkish Cypriot people.

On the other hand, the British continue to possess two sovereign bases on the island—that are liberally used by the Americans as well--while scores of nations, including France, Russia, and of course Greece have arrangements with the Greek Cypriot administration to “sovereignly use” the naval, aerial and land facilities in southern Cyprus.

Turkey has a 1,577-kilometer-long Mediterranean shoreline. Its distance from Cyprus is only 60 kilometers. Is it rational to say Cyprus is strategically important for the British, Russian, French or the Americans but has no significance for Turkish interests and Ankara should abandon the island? That is total nonsense. That is why I often say even if there was not one Turkish Cypriot living on Cyprus, the island would be of existential importance for Turkey.

Yet, as if Turkey’s presence on Cyprus does not emanate from the 1960 framework of guarantee and of alliance schemes, suggesting to go further and establishing a formal semi-sovereign military naval or aerial bases on Northern Cyprus requires some serious reconsideration of the Cyprus issue. What kind of a resolution is wanted should be taken into consideration and finally, a decision on the fate of the 1960 Cyprus Republic should be made.

With all problems regarding its illegal governance by an all-Greek government against the 1960 treaties and its constitution, the Cyprus republic is still a reality. The moment the 1960 guarantee scheme was placed aside and a new base arrangement is done with the Northern Cyprus government, I am afraid Turkey will become an “occupying country” in Cyprus.

Besides, if Turkey can freely use the ports, airports and the land of Northern Cyprus as if it is a huge and undeclared Turkish base, is there any meaning of discussing whether there is a need to establish a base on a certain size of territory with certain capabilities?

Thus, what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said was a concise summary of this nonsense discussion. Turkey can withdraw—and that cannot be a full withdrawal—only if there is a deal on the island. Until that moment, expecting a unilateral troop withdrawal, total disengagement or consolidation of the military presence on a base is empty talk.

Turkey is compelled to be strong in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is compelled to stand firm on its Cyprus position.