The Islamic State, a self-proclaimed caliphate that started a sectarian war in 2013 vanquishing territories in Iraq and Syria and causing havoc in the Middle East and Europe, has become a concern even for small and isolated countries like Cyprus.
After terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, French President François Hollande declared, “France is at war” and called for a united coalition against the group, which is frequently known by the name ISIS. The British prime minister, David Cameron, was the first to respond to joined attacks and besides offering France to use their Royal Air Force to launch airstrikes, he also received an authorization from the British parliament to strike eastern Syria from their base stationed on Akrotiri peninsular near the second largest city in Cyprus, Limassol, just 70 miles away from Syria.
“Of course, I am worried about this,” said Stefan Posnagidis, 39, an economist and financial director of a real estate company, who lives in Limassol with his wife and two kids. “If they decide to strike back, they will strike us.”
Although many Cypriots view British sovereign military bases as relics of colonial times, the government of Cyprus supports Cameron’s plan, seeing ISIS as a potential threat. The indirect involvement of Cyprus in the fight against jihadist militant groups raises mixed feelings among the population, which is still recovering from the Turkish invasion in 1974.
“Anybody, any country against ISIS is welcome to Cyprus to use Cyprus’ facilities,” said Viktoras Tzingis, a septuagenarian Cypriot and former military officer. “I don’t have any objections, because they have to finish with this case.”
Mr. Tzingis, who was born in Morphou, a town under de facto control of Northern Cyprus moved to the Greek side after the war with Turkey in 1974. He admitted that there is a possibility that Cyprus may become a target and he added that stronger powers should defeat ISIS.
“It is worrying for me, but not to a big extent since we are not a threat to ISIS,” said Antonis Hannas, a fund manager in Limassol. “We are not a big country and they might rather attack another region of Europe in order to make their point.”
Cyprus is a small island in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea that is rich with history, with a population of 840,000 that has long been a focus of intense geopolitical interest, because of its strategic location.
“We are in a close proximity to Syria and the Middle East, and the northern part that is occupied by Turkey has had comings and goings to and from Syria that we–and possibly none–can control,” said Nikitas Hatzimihail, a professor of law at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia.
Mr. Hatzimihail, who is an expert in private international law, does not think that France needs to use the bases, since France already has their aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, in the area. “We are very keen on taking care of ISIS, but the idea of the British prime minister offering Cyprus as if he owns it, is not really appreciated. But we deal with it stoically,” he said.
According to the Zurich-London agreement signed in 1959, Cyprus became an independent republic, after 82 years of British rule, however, Britain retained two Sovereign Base Areas at Dekeleia and Akrotiri-Episkopi and does not require Cyprus’ consent on how their bases operate on the island. As stated in the agreement, the bases can be used only by Britain or any countries, which belong to the Commonwealth– 53 independent states, where most are former British colonies.
The former Secretary of the Cyprus Peace Council, Stefanos Stefanou, who delivered a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels in 2005, stated that Britain constantly violates the agreement. “The British military bases in Cyprus are the only ones in the world, which claim to be sovereign, the only ones which refuse to pay rent to the country ‘hosting’ them and one of the few for which no time limit for their abolition is provided for,” he said in the statement.
Mr. Stefanou and many Cypriots compare British military bases in Cyprus to the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and do not think that they provide any protection to the citizens of Cyprus, which is a part of European Union, but not NATO. “In Cyprus, Europe ends at the fence of the two British bases,” said Mr. Stefanou.
Cyprus authorities have discussed the possible installation of Russian warships and a military airbase in Paphos earlier this year, raising tension between the West and Moscow. Cypriot officials have denied any agreement, according to a BBC report. Though, some people support Russian military operations in Syria against the Islamic State.
“We are glad that Russia is doing something,” said Mr. Tzingis, who has served in Cypriot army. “If Russia wants to use Cyprus facilities, they are welcome. We are so small, we cannot say no to anybody.”