A record-breaking judgment against Turkey for its 1974 invasion of Cyprus is likely to damage further its frayed relationship with Europe.
Turkish officials said today that the country will not pay the 90 million euros ($124 million) in damages ordered yesterday by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the largest such ruling in its history.
European Union support for Turkey’s membership bid has already been diminished by accusations of growing authoritarianism and waning press freedom, as well as recent anti-European rhetoric by Turkish leaders to score points domestically. Turkey's rejection of the court damages will not help that.
The ruling also risks stalling reunification talks over the island of Cyprus, which remains divided between the Greek south and Turkish north 40 years after the war. The money would go to the families of those who died or went missing in the invasion and to Greek Cypriots who remained in an enclave in the Turkish-controlled north.
“It’s unfortunate that this decision has come to pass at the present time,” says Sinan Ulgen, director of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul. “Not only because there are negotiations on the island, but also because it tends to strengthen the claims that Europe doesn't like Turkey."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the ruling is not binding because Turkey does not recognize Greek Cyprus.
“In terms of the grounds of this ruling, its method, and the fact that it is considering a country that Turkey does not recognize as a counter-party, we see no necessity to make this payment,” Mr. Davutoglu said.
Turkey’s refusal may be the first such instance since it accepted the ECHR’s jurisdiction when it was formed in 1959. Non-payment is likely to result in sustained diplomatic pressure from the Council of Europe, a 47-nation body that recognizes the court’s jurisdiction. However, short of suspending Turkey's membership – an unlikely move – there are few formal sanctions that can be applied.
“There are no precedents for this,” says Mr. Ulgen, “particularly because the ECHR is demanding that Turkey pay a government it doesn’t recognize. More than the quantity of the fine itself, it’s the procedural aspects that are an obstacle."
Turkey invaded the island in response to a Greek-backed military coup. Thirty thousand Turkish forces remain stationed in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Turkey recognizes as a sovereign state.
The Greek-populated Republic of Cyprus has meanwhile joined the European Union and is considered to have formal sovereignty over the whole island. In February, talks between the two sides over reunification resumed after a two-year hiatus.
Hugh Pope, the Turkey-Cyprus director for International Crisis Group, said the fine underlines the fact that the Cyprus conflict continues to inflict economic damage on Turkey.
Ankara props up Northern Cyprus to the tune of $600 million a year. The ongoing dispute has effectively barred all sides from exploiting the country’s oil wealth and hindered Turkey’s efforts to act as a conduit for oil and gas reserves offshore of Israel.
“One can argue about the fairness of this fine, but I hope that it will at least remind Turkey that not solving Cyprus is like driving around with the handbrake on,” says Mr. Pope.