Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Cyprus and the Labour party’s sad demise

It used to be the case that Cypriots could rely on the Labour party and Labour politicians in their fight against the Turkish invasion and occupation of their island.

Here was a clear case of unprovoked aggression, the strong trying to impose their will on the weak, ethnic cleansing, massive human rights violations and a cynical disregard for international law, all issues you’d expect to arouse and did arouse the consciences and principles of socialist luminaries such as Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Robin Cook.

Indeed, it was the Conservative party – partly because it felt the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was some sort of revenge for the Greek Cypriot rebellion against British colonial rule (1955-1959) and partly because it was unwilling to alienate Turkey, perceived as an invaluable ally during the Cold War – that was felt to be hostile to the Cypriot cause.

But more recently, since Tony Blair became leader, it is the Labour party that has been appeasing Turkey, bizarrely picking on that country to demonstrate to British Muslims and the rest of the Muslim world that Britain is not intrinsically hostile to Islam and that Islam and Western democracy – which Turkey supposedly provides a representation of – are compatible.

That Labour should suggest that a brutal, authoritarian, corrupt, militaristic, hypernationalist, semi-fascistic, unreliable country like Turkey is a model for other Muslim countries is appalling and shows the extent to which the Labour party has degenerated and lost its identity.

The situation now is that although there are still Labour politicians – such as London mayor Ken Livingstone, Andrew Dismore and Eddie O’Hara – who support Cyprus, the most outspoken British opponents of the Turkish occupation are from the Conservative party.

Two of the most active Conservative justice for Cyprus campaigners are Theresa Villiers – the admirable MP for Chipping Barnet and Shadow Transport Secretary – and Brian Coleman – London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden.

Indeed, in this week’s New Statesman, Coleman has a good piece – The desecration of Cyprus – in which he reflects on a recent trip he made to Cyprus to take part in an anti-occupation rally organised by Greek refugees from the town of Morphou.

Coleman describes occupied Cyprus as having been given over to Turkish settlers from Anatolia, who have reduced northern Cyprus to a state of ‘Asiatic poverty’, and goes on to say that:

‘The desecration of Orthodox churches and the wholesale stripping and sale abroad of religious icons and archaeological treasures has to be seen to be believed and the ethnic cleansing carried out in the north of this magnificent island is as bad as anything experienced in the former Yugoslavia.’

No reasonable person could quibble with Coleman’s description of the Turkish occupation – he’s not saying anything which thousands of other observers haven’t said before about Turkish depredations in Cyprus.

But this hasn’t stopped Turkish Cypriots commenting on Coleman’s piece questioning not only his knowledge of the Cyprus issue but also his probity and integrity. A pity, especially since the arguments Turkish Cypriots have deployed against Coleman – and not only against Coleman but also here on my mirror blog – their depiction of the history and politics of Cyprus, is so outlandish and so perverse that it makes you wonder about their grasp of reality and mental equilibrium.

Of course, Turkish arguments against the Armenian genocide should have made us used to crazy justifications and weird versions of history, but it is still disappointing – and depressing, a cause for pessimism – that so many Turkish Cypriots should put forward such arrant nonsense about the island they claim is their homeland.

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