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A Case of Amnesia

On January 15, the United Nations was writhing into the supreme crisis of its engagement to lift an alien tyrant’s heel from Kuwait, and encouragement of sorts arrived with a message of solidarity appearing unobtrusively on its pressroom’s racks. It read in part as follows:

The office of the Representative of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus presents its compliments to the Secretary General and has the honor to inform him of [its] decision…to abide by the provisions of the Security Council Resolution 661 and to reaffirm its commitment to the full implementation of this resolution in the conduct of its relations with Iraq….

In just these high-flown terms, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has pledged itself as a sovereign partner in boycotting Iraq until Kuwait gets back the freedom it has not unvaryingly tendered its own citizens. This decision had been ratified on August 8 and, curiously enough, its transmission had taken five months to reach the secretary-general over the signature of the Turkish ambassador to the United Nations.

Northern Cyprus has been occupied by Turkish troops for sixteen years. The Turkish government has as much right to credit it with a republic’s independence as Hussein has to identify Kuwait as Iraq’s nineteenth province; if anything, the insolence of Turkey’s false coinage is more excessive than Iraq’s.

The Turkish seizure of Northern Cyprus has been condemned by the UN in resolutions hardly less severe although much less far-reaching than those visited upon Iraq. At least 200,000 Greek Cypriots were expelled to the south in the first wave of occupation, and their property was looted and shipped back to Turkey so thoroughly as to deplete the survivors of the resources that enabled the Kuwaitis to hire Hill and Knowlton and set their suffering to resounding around the civilized world.

At least 3,000 Greek Cypriots have disappeared into mainland Turkish jails. The very appellation “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” has been declared “invalid” by the UN Security Council, which is why any announcement in the name of this legal fiction had to be conveyed by the government of Turkey’s ambassador to the UN. It might with more scrupulous accuracy have borne the letterhead of a Bureau of Prisons.

In the January 28 issue of The Nation, Christopher Hitchens has salvaged Northern Cyprus from the memory hole with the reminder that no degree of her enormities has abated the $500 million annual share of the US military aid program that goes to Turkey and will no doubt now be increased as reward for her cheerful strenuous efforts in the cause of an oppressed people.

The foreign policy of the United States sometimes seems to find inspiration in the rules that now prevail for half of major league baseball: the American League has the designated hitter; and our government has invented the designated enemy, who is the transient but always solitary focus of its moral outrage.

The Libyan UN delegation enjoys what passes for the peace of our streets, Daniel Ortega is a welcomed tourist, and our journalists dine amiably with the Iranian ambassador. What are the monsters of yesteryear except forgotten discards in the attic of an America that can only think about one monster at a time?

Who remembers East Timor or Northern Cyprus; or, for that matter, who in official calling ever noticed them at all? America fits its moral passions to its passing whims; and now to assert the new world order we affirm the old and,

Let twenty pass and stone the twenty first,
Loving not, hating not, just choos- ing so….
As it likes me each time….

When Browning wrote those words, he was speaking as Caliban might when imagining himself in God’s image. America is Caliban with the signal difference that Browning’s Caliban did not quite mistake himself for God.

—January 17, 1991

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