Someone has some explaining to do at the U.S. Embassy in Türkiye. Maybe it was US Ambassador Jeffry L. Flake, or perhaps it was just some lowly consular official. Either way, someone in the State Department issued a visa to Ersin Tatar, the separatist leader of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC), the puppet regime that the Turkish General Staff and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization established following Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the island. Tatar, who styles himself president but in reality acts as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governor on Cyprus, used a Turkish passport to attend the UN General Assembly.
This raises a number of questions:
If the United States does not recognize occupied Cyprus as a second country and, indeed, believes its pretensions of statehood threaten the peace, why did it issue its leader the visa on a Turkish passport?
More specifically, since the Republic of Cyprus allows Turkish Cypriots to obtain passports, why should the United States issue any Cypriot a visa on anything other than a Republic of Cyprus passport?
While the State Department is obliged to issue visas to leaders from countries like Cuba and Iran, “The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is no more legitimate than Luhansk and Donetsk, the two states Russia carved out of Ukrainian territory. By enabling Tatar entrance to the United States, the State Department is bestowing legitimacy on a colonial project that deserves no such courtesy. Put another way, if Sergey Kozlov, the prime minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic, wished to attend the UN General Assembly, would the US Ambassador in Moscow issue him a visa on a Russian passport or instead demand he present a Ukrainian passport since, after all, Luhansk is part of Ukraine?
If the State Department owes Cyprus an apology, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres owes far more, for Guterres’ interactions at the UN General Assembly betrayed Cyprus and undermined peace.
One month before Guterres hosted Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot leader’s militias attacked UN peacekeepers in the worst incident in years. Several UN peacekeepers still recover from injuries sustained when Tatar’s forces beat them and rammed UN vehicles with bulldozers. For Guterres to meet with a man who sought to leverage violence against the United Nations for political gain was poor judgment. There would have been merit in Guterres telling off Tatar, but he did no such thing. Perhaps misguided etiquette trumps the protection of men and women who serve the UN as peacekeepers.
Guterres further enabled his own humiliation.
Returning to the Turkish-occupied airport in northern Cyprus from his meetings in New York (and shopping in its luxury boutiques), Tatar bragged about putting Guterres in his place. “I told [UN Secretary-General Antonio] Guterres that we are very opposed to the appointment of the special representative to implement Security Council decisions, to make reports, and to impose a federal solution onto us,” he said. His press conference apparently substituted for any official response.
It gets worse: While Guterres made time for Tatar, the Turkish delegation at the last minute shuffled their date cards. Instead of Guterres meeting Erdogan, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan came in his place. In effect, Erdogan signaled to his supporters that he was too important for the Secretary-General and stood above Tatar and Guterres. Perhaps such symbolism matters little in Guterres’ home state of Portugal, but they resonate in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. To complete the coup de grâce, Erdogan then proceeded to slam the United Nations’ mediation on the island. “The realities of the island are obvious and the TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] is the most concrete reality of Cyprus,” Erdogan declared.
Guterres may not be an exceptionally talented secretary-general, but State Department negligence compounded the problem and enabled Erdogan to both empower himself and bolster Tatar before the cameras. Erdogan’s proxies do not deserve such respect or the trappings of legitimacy. They certainly do not deserve visas. If Ambassador Flake will not explain how and why Tatar got through, it is time for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to compel Secretary of State Antony Blinken to do so.
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.