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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.1 (2003) 25-31

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Security in the Eastern Mediterranean:
Bargaining with Law Breakers

Donald M. Payne

In the post-11 September world, the eastern Mediterranean has been the focus of attention of policy makers, news organizations, and academics. The daily horrors of schoolchildren being blown up by homicidal desperados, churches being seized by gunmen and assaulted by an organized army, and homes being bulldozed have lowered our levels of sensitivity to human suffering. But above all, these events symbolize the failure of American policies that seem devoid of fairness and lack the vision that could potentially reverse the course of irrationality and put an end to violence against innocent human beings.

In this geographic neighborhood of perennial tensions that have lasted over half a century, a major U.S. ally, Turkey, seems always poised to seize every opportunity to cash in on emerging crises and to bully its neighbors.

For almost three decades, the Republic of Cyprus, an island of astounding economic success, political maturity, and dogged determination to overcome a legacy of aggression, has been a favorite target of Ankara's ruling elites, which, unfortunately, seem to enjoy the obvious toleration of Washington policy makers. Now that Cyprus is on the verge of joining the European Union, thanks to its economic success, Ankara once again has reverted to bellicosity and threatens a modern republic that has neither the capability nor the inclination to threaten anyone. Turkey's role, tolerated by Washington, underscores the hypocrisy of successive U.S. administrations—both Republican and Democrat—vis-à-vis international law. [End Page 25]

There is no point in citing chapter and verse of the violations of United Nations resolutions that failed to inspire Washington officials to become worked up in defense of international law. A couple of items will suffice to make the point concerning perennial violators of the world community's will.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Turkey holds second place on the list of the most frequent violators of UN Security Council resolutions in the world organization's history. 1 Yet the Department of State has never mustered enough courage even to publicly admonish Ankara for thumbing its nose to international law. Specifically, Turkey has been charged with twenty-three violations of the 1974 Security Council resolution calling for "withdrawal of its troops from Cyprus." When it refused to comply, the Security Council reiterated its demands with eleven more resolutions over a decade. 2 In 1996 the Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Turkey at least reduce the number of troops occupying Cyprus as a show of good will and its intention to resolve the issues separating the two communities. Nothing happened, and neither the Department of State nor its special envoys took notice of a serial violator of international law. The Security Council repeated its demand eight more times through 2001, but Ankara again ignored the will of the world community. Apparently, some U.S. allies can get away with law breaking while predesignated enemies must surrender their sovereignty and prove their innocence or else run the risk of being bombarded, supposedly to save the UN from becoming irrelevant.

No one underestimates the value of Turkey's geographic location, but as we know from cases like Iran and the Philippines, location does not ensure espousal of our values, nor does it affirm a commitment to democracy, long-range stability, and respect for human rights. On the contrary, exploiting its usefulness to our unfolding adventures in a tense region, Turkey provocatively makes a mockery of democratic processes. Thus, ten days from the 3 November 2002 elections, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), which according to the New York Times was the "most popular political party" in Turkey, was barred from participation. The reasons are laughable. Erdogan, while mayor of Istanbul, read a poem [End Page 26] in 1997 that, five years later and ten days before a national election, the prosecutor found to contain fundamentalist sentiments. 3 Erdogan, who "had a good chance of becoming Turkey's next prime...


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