Tag Archives: United Nations

Letter from Lefkoşa: A new occasional feature

Our guest columnist

Living in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an experience in itself and allows a view of events rarely – if at all – publicised in the UK press and media. This website will occasionally publish articles by Mr Stephen Day, an ex-Westminster MP who retired to the TRNC in 2006. These posts will offer a unique insight into the reality of life in an unrecognised country.

Stephen Day was the former Conservative MP for Cheadle, Cheshire (1987–2001) and Member of the Tory Whips Office. He successfully brought into law a Private Members Bill introducing the compulsory wearing of seat belts by children, consequently winning the Automobile Association silver medal for his contribution to road safety. Prior to Parliament he worked as a Sales Executive, as a Graduate Member of the Institute of Export. In 2006 he retired to North Cyprus and is currently President of the British Residents Society (BRS). 

He has been a columnist for the Cyprus Today newspaper for the last 16 years.

Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for North Nicosia, the capital of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.

Stubborn stupidity

You would hope that an august organisation like the United Nations, might at last produce a Secretary–General capable of some original thought on the matter of Cyprus. Forget it. There’s as much chance of that as a resident of Lefkoşa being selected for the next crew of the International Space Station. In other words, none at all.

The latest ‘biannual report on Cyprus’ (Christmas, 2021), submitted to the UN Security Council by Secretary–General Antonio Guterres, is about as original as a forged Da Vinci masterpiece. It looks the same, but is worthless. In fact, the late, great, founding TRNC President, Rauf Denktaş, would have recognised every word – from 1983 onwards. The yawns of the Security Council must have been audible in far-off California, never mind in New York’s UN headquarters. 

The Secretary–General is concerned that ‘the faltering economy of the TRNC and the passage of time without a settlement being reached are thwarting reconciliation efforts.’ Well, I never. Get away! For a statement of the blindingly obvious, you can’t beat that, now can you? To some extent, Guterres blames the impact of Covid for that ‘faltering economy’. Undoubtedly so, but isn’t there another important factor impacting on the TRNC? Like the UN’s never-ending enforced diplomatic and economic isolation of the North, for instance? How can you overlook the impact of that? You can’t. It’s what the Secretary–General proposes to do about it that staggers me. Something different? No chance – just more of the same old failure (the mind boggles at the extent of the inertia).

He went on to say that there is ‘a risk that the deepening of disparities between the two [Cypriot] economies may start eroding the basis for important convergences achieved in the past.’ Pardon? What convergences? The so called ‘Republic of Cyprus’ in south Cyprus is still the recognised ‘government of the whole of Cyprus’ (even though it isn’t) and the TRNC doesn’t exist! What kind of ‘convergence’ is that? And what’s all this ‘may start’ eroding convergence? The UN’s (and EU) stubborn stupidity in pursuing repeated failure began eroding the chance of a settlement decades ago. It still does and, if the Secretary–General has anything to do with it, it will continue to do so. Favouring one side with all the recognition and ignoring the existence of the other hardly smacks of even-handedness, now does it? Inviting the Greek–Cypriot President to address the UN General Assembly last year and failing to invite the Turkish–Cypriot President to do the same was a classic example of UN bias. What incentive does the favoured side have to concede anything? It doesn’t. That is why they don’t. The status quo suits the Greek part of Cyprus nicely.

If not achieving a settlement worries the Secretary–General, isn’t it about time that the UN started asking itself why? It should be as obvious as the wart on Oliver Cromwell’s face, Cyprus needs a radical UN rethink. We need a new UN vision, like treating both sides equally and recognising the obvious fact there are two states in Cyprus, not one. 

This shouldn’t be too hard for the Secretary–General to comprehend. For instance, as one writer pointed out last week, ‘the UN supports and advocates the proposal for a two state solution for the Israeli/Palestine situation but rejects ratifying the two state solution in the island of Cyprus, where it actually exists’ [my italics]. Quite! That is amazing in itself – and it is even more incredible that the ‘Palestine’ bit of the equation is divided in itself, territorially and politically, between Hamas and Hezbollah. They are at each other’s throats. Not only that, but Hamas – a militant, so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorist group – rule that part of ‘Palestine’ called ‘the Gaza Strip’ and regularly fire missiles into Israel (Tel Aviv in particular). They receive Israeli retaliatory attacks in return as a consequence. In other words, in Palestine both the threat and the reality of violence exist on both sides. 

How is it right that the UN is quite prepared to grant recognition to two peoples in conflict but not to a Cyprus at peace? There’s no armed conflict here. What message does that send? Chuck a few missiles and bombs around and we will recognise you? I’m sure the UN doesn’t intend that, but that is the consequential inadvertent reality of the UN’s differing attitudes to both disputes. If so, it is literally ‘bloody’ madness!

The UN stupidity goes further. They want Cyprus reunited but under Greek rule. They want Turkey out of the Cyprus equation – especially her troops, whose presence has really ensured fifty years of peace in Cyprus, not the presence of the UN. Everyone on Cyprus knows better than to mess with the Turkish Army. If those troops had not come here, it would have been a ‘Palestine plus’ scenario! Turkey could have taken the whole island. They didn’t. They simply saved the Turkish Cypriots from extinction. That is the reality. That is the truth. Before they came, civil war raged: ethnic cleansing to evict the Turks was rampant. Since when has putting two peoples back together again, who experienced such division and conflict, ever been a clever idea? Never, unless you happen to be the UN.

If Turkish Cypriots remain eternally isolated and treated as some sort of pariah who does the UN think they have to turn to? There is only one place that can help and it’s Turkey: the very opposite of what the UN claims it wants to achieve! Madness incarnate.

The Secretary–General readily identified the current lack of common ground between Cyprus’s two sides and ‘the deepening distrust, both between the two sides and among the two communities.’ He got that right, at least. He called on the leaders to ‘look to the future with pragmatism.’ Well, I never. If anybody is lacking in pragmatism and needs to ‘look to the future’ it’s the UN. For goodness sake, it is blindingly obvious that the UN position on Cyprus is untenable. It is not working. It never has worked. It never will. It has failed, failed and failed again, almost more times than the sun has set. 

It’s time to accept there are two states, Mr. Guterres. There is no other way. Make history and recognise the facts. On the ground, sticking to the same old song is pointless. As things stand, so is the UN. 

One day, someone in New York might realise it.

Peace in Cyprus?

Last chance – or just another missed opportunity?

Originally drafted in April 2021

According to the UN there are still two long standing unfinished wars, both halted only temporarily by a ceasefire or armistice. One is Korea; the other is Cyprus.

The Greek–Turkish war on Cyprus of July and August 1974 still remains a legally unresolved international conflict. In Cyprus it was only a UN-sponsored ceasefire that officially ended the fighting. This has been the situation for the past 48 years. A well-armed corps of around 30,000 Turks still garrisons the North, where its deterrent presence ensures peace on the island.

The best hope yet of reuniting war-partitioned Cyprus was dashed in 2017 after reconciliation attempts were brought to an abrupt halt following two years of intense negotiations. On Friday, 29 April 2021 the various parties had yet another round of inconclusive talks in Geneva, Switzerland to end this long running conflict.

The previous round of talks to unite the Mediterranean island ended in 2017 when the United Nations special envoy, Espen Barth Eide, announced that he was terminating negotiation efforts.

“Without a prospect for common ground, there is no basis for continuing this shuttle diplomacy,” the Norwegian former foreign minister said in a short statement. 

For nearly five decades, tenacious and skilful propaganda has managed to airbrush the Greeks’ responsibility for the tragedy of the hot bloody summer of 1974, and the war that followed, out of the history books. The story of Cyprus has been seen only through the distorting prism of the Greeks’ tragic chorus. Turkey has been denounced as the aggressor and the sole cause of all Cyprus’s woes. This is not only untrue, but it makes a lasting solution harder.

At the time, Archbishop Makarios III – the last head of a united Cyprus – himself quite openly blamed his fellow Greeks for the disaster of 1974. After a narrow escape with his life from an assassination attempt by the Coupists, the Archbishop publicly admitted to the UN Security Council that his fellow Greeks were to blame, and he was unequivocal that it was the terrorist leaders of the Greek-Cypriots who destroyed the Republic of Cyprus in the name of Enosis, saying:

 “It was a [Greek] invasion, which violated the independence and the sovereignty of the Republic … The Security Council should call upon the military regime of Greece … to put an end to its invasion of Cyprus.”

Although the wily Archbishop later conveniently forgot his tearful outburst to the UN, not only had he for once admitted the truth about the coup of 1974, but his interpretation of events was – astonishingly – backed by Greece itself. 

On 21 March 1979 none other than the Greek national Court of Appeal in Athens ruled that the Turkish intervention of 20 July 1974 was not only legal but, significantly, was in direct response to the Greek coup:

“The Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, which was carried out in accordance with the Zurich and London Agreements, was legal. Turkey, as one of the Guarantor powers, had the right to fulfil her obligations. The real culprits … are those Greek Officers who engineered and staged a coup and prepared the conditions for this intervention.” 

This Greek judgement supported the Standing Committee of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, which confirmed the legality of the Turkish Intervention in Cyprus at the time, confirming that Turkey’s actions were a response to the Greeks’ coup: “Turkey exercised its right of intervention in accordance with Article IV of the Treaty of Guarantee.”

Today, peace around Cyprus can only be secured by recognising the fact that there are now two separate communities. Cyprus is now split into a Greek Republic of South Cyprus and a Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.  

Agreement needs to be centred round the delimitation of the territories of the two States; numerous property claims – by both sides – and compensations; the re-deployment of military forces; and the management of residual issues covered by the London–Zurich treaties of 1960. Such agreements can only be expected once the factual existence of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus has been recognized without any doubt. Therefore, ending the Conflict lies not in the hands of the Greek and Turkish conflicting parties but in the hands of relevant governments, the UN and even the EU.

The core of the Cyprus Conflict however remains in the insistence by the Greek-Cypriots to reign over the whole island and the Turkish-Cypriot community’s equal determination to govern themselves. The problem is compounded by the backing of the respective “motherlands,” Greece and Turkey, supporting the conflicting parties. The UN has assumed the role of additional partner to the conflict and most governments have muddied the waters over the years by embargoing the Turkish Cypriots, instead demanding that they must agree to a common Cypriot State with the Greek–Cypriots: to which Ankara or Turkish–Cypriots can never agree. The EU has exacerbated the problem further by claiming that the whole island is really EU territory and admitting Greek Cyprus into the EU.

The result has been that in nearly 50 years of negotiations, no agreement on conditions for the formation of a joint Greek-and-Turkish State of Cyprus has been reached. Instead, ever since the EOKA terrorist campaign of 1955, (“first the British and then the Turks)  the Greek–Cypriots have employed every means to evict the Turkish Cypriot community or to enforce their submission to Greek rule.

The result is that in order to end the Conflict, only four real alternatives exist: 

  1. Subjugation of the Turkish Cypriots by force majeure to the Greek-Cypriot claims. 
  2. Greek agreement for Turkish self-government in part of the island’s territory. 
  3. Voluntary submission of the Turkish Cypriots to Greek-Cypriot claims. 
  4. The UN, the EU and international governments recognition of a separate Turkish Cypriot State existing in part of the island’s territory without consent of the Greek conflicting party.

Alternative one can be ignored. Experience shows that no power is willing to challenge any armed Turkish resistance. Moreover, the UN, the EU and relevant governments have confirmed they will not violate the de facto-border delineating the separate territories inhabited by the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. 

Alternative two has no little chance of realisation as long as the UN, the EU and relevant governments refuse to recognise the reality of a separate Turkish-Cypriot community.  The Greek-Cypriots are well aware of this loading of the dice and use it to uphold its claim of ownership of the whole island. The status quo suits them economically and politically.

Alternative three is, given the Turkish-Cypriot experience of Greek rule since 1960, a non-starter. Turkish mistrust based on past misdeeds and murders runs too deep to expect surrender by the Turkish-Cypriots to be a realistic option. Moreover, Ankara recognises the geo-strategic realities if the island and can be relied on to block the existence of a Greek-ruled state only 40 miles off Turkey’s southern coast in the middle of a new hydrocarbon field. Another obstacle would be the massive national debt of the Greek Republic of South Cyprus to EU banks and the European Central Bank; this is a major deterrent to any new pooling of economic resources with the Turks.

Alternative 4, recognition of a Turkish-Cypriot separate state, would undoubtedly end the Conflict. However it would also end any claim by Greek-Cypriots to reign supreme over the whole island. Such a solution overlooks two serious problems, however: the deep-seated festering sense of Greek-Cypriot grievance after their defeat by the Turks in the 1974 Cyprus war, (“I want my Grandad’s house in Kyrenia back…”) and second, it would require Athens, Nicosia and Brussels to accept such an outcome. On the evidence that is unlikely as the status quo suits those three parties nicely and has for 48 years.  They have little incentive to agree.

On balance, the only hope for future talks in appears to be:

  1. An acknowledgment by the UN and international community that that there are two sovereign equal states with equal status on the island of Cyprus.
  2. With a level playing field established through the above principle, the two peoples of Cyprus – the Turkish–Cypriots and the Greek–Cypriots – should negotiate freely a mutually acceptable settlement that will create a new co-operative relationship between them.
  3. This will facilitate security, stability and cooperation on the island and the region. There is no way either side will subordinate itself to the will of the other. Future peace and stability lies in recognition of this fact. The parties are equal. 

Despite unrealised EU and international community promises to lift restrictions on the Turkish–Cypriot side in 2004, continuation of the economic embargoes has worsened trust and made a political settlement on the island less likely. Economic, cultural and social restrictions on North Cyprus have significantly worsened trust between the Greek–Cypriot, the EU and international parties. There is a sense of resignation. More talks? Again? After 50 years of fruitless negotiation?   

Don’t hold your breath; a unilateral declaration and decision now seems the only solution. Over to Ankara and President Erdogan to break the logjam … 


August 1974 – Hubris, Nemesis and Lies

Everyone in Cyprus knows that the Turks intervened in Cyprus in July 1974. However, thanks to clever, well-funded and unremitting Greek propaganda, the world has been led to believe that this was nothing less than a brutal and uncalled-for invasion against the peace-loving Greeks – an Ottoman jackboot to seize Greek land and occupy Cyprus.

Nothing could be further from the truth – but for once the victors have not written the true story of events. Thanks to Turkish Cypriot laziness, incompetence and a refusal to see the PR importance of explaining what really happened, the Greek Cypriots’ mendacious version of events is finding its way into the history books.

The true story is simple. On 15 July 1974, the Greek army, in conjunction with fascist Greek-Cypriot gangs, mounted a coup to overthrow and murder the island’s president. A panic-stricken Archbishop Makarios III fled in his socks to be rescued by the British and flown to safety. An EOKA thug and admitted murderer called Nikos Sampson became the new ruler of Cyprus.

On 19 July 1974, President Makarios addressed the UN Security Council in New York and denounced a Greek invasion. The next day, the Turkish army intervened – quite legally – as a guarantor of the1960 Cyprus Constitution. The British forces on the island were ordered to sit tight and become mere spectators. In 1976, the UK House of Commons Select Committee found that Turkey had proposed joint Anglo-Turkish action under the Treaty of Guarantee. However the then Labour Government in Britain refused to help (see written evidence submitted on 30 September 2004 by former MP Michael Stephen to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs).

They argued that Britain was under no duty to act, even though Article II of the Treaty provided that Britain would guarantee the state of affairs established by the 1960 Constitution. The Parliamentary Committee concluded that ‘Britain had a legal right to intervene; she had a moral obligation to intervene. She did not intervene for reasons which the Government refuses to give.’ In other words, this was not Whitehall’s finest hour.

One of the other inexplicable mysteries of the affair is the extraordinary stupidity of the Greek military junta in Athens not to think through the inevitable consequences of their actions on Cyprus in 1974. A bloody civil war among the Greeks, together with attacks on Turkish Cypriots, gave Ankara the political excuse to move into Cyprus that Turkey had been seeking for years.

The Greek word hubris springs to mind, in its sense of human pride, arrogance and defiance of the Gods. However, hubris is inevitably followed by nemesis – retributive justice from vengeful Olympus  to squash over-ambitious mortals. Nemesis now struck the new Greek-Cypriot regime a fatal blow.

The Greek-Cypriot National Guard and their Greek allies made things worse by making a monumental strategic blunder. One of the principles of war is ‘concentration of force.’ The Greeks should have sealed off the Turkish beach head in the north and counter attacked. Instead, blinded by a determination to wipe out the hated Turkish minority once and for all, they spread their forces all over the island in a muddled attempt to crush the widespread Turkish-Cypriot armed enclaves. The notorious Akritas Plan, to get rid of all the Turks in Cyprus, became the Greeks’ ruinous priority.

This dispersal of effort failed. Turkish forces broke out of the beachhead, and parachute and helicopter infantry were flown in. Outgunned, outnumbered, out-manoeuvred and – critically  lacking air superiority, the Greeks fell back and (on 22 July 1974) the UN Security Council was able to broker a ceasefire that brought an uneasy end to the fighting by 24 July. Turkey had intervened, got her foothold on the island and protected her minority. By then the Turkish forces were in command of a wide land corridor between Kyrenia and Nicosia

Thus far, this part of Turkey’s ‘illegal invasion’ is common knowledge. What happened next is not so well known and is blurred in the history books, because there were two phases to the ‘Cyprus war’. After the July lull there were numerous breaches of the cease fire as both sides jockeyed for position and played for time. The UN ceasefire was more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

On 2 August 1974 Greek forces captured a Turkish armoured resupply column, including an M47 tank and an armoured personnel carrier. (The captured M47 later engaged a confused Turkish tank squadron near Skylloura on 15 August, hitting seven M47 tanks.) Also, on 6 August, Turkey’s 28 Division launched a surprise attack supported by 30 tanks and overran the Greek forward positions around Lapithos (Lapta) and Karavas (Alsanjak), west of the bridgehead to straighten out their line.

By 14 August the Geneva talks, aimed at a political solution, had broken down. Turkey’s demands for a bi-zonal federal state plus complete population transfer shocked Cyprus’ new acting President Glafcos Clerides, who begged for an adjournment in order to consult Athens and Greek-Cypriot politicians. The long shadow of the Machiavellian archbishop fell over the negotiating table, however. No one trusted Makarios, who was dissembling, lying and stalling to the last.

Turkey flatly refused any more delays and the Prime Minister ordered Phase 2 of Operation Attilla. Now with two divisions, an armoured brigade, 200 tanks (many of them the newer M48) and over 150 guns on the island, plus total air supremacy, the result was inevitable. The outnumbered Greeks could do little in the face of such overwhelming Turkish superiority.

The breakout to the West was spearheaded by 28 division and the Commando Brigade, heading for Morphou (Guzelyurt) and Kormakiti. The Greek defenders were pushed back to their final ‘Troodos Line’ to the south. To the east, 39 division’s tanks and armoured personnel carriers attacked along two axes: one raced east towards Famagusta and another to the south east towards Mia Milia (Haspolat), and on towards Larnaca. The 10 Greek battalions and 20 tanks defending the Eastern sector were overwhelmed.

In the centre of the island, a vicious battle developed on 16 August around the Greek national contingent (ELDYK) near the grammar school close to Nicosia International Airport. After the area had been softened up by bomb and napalm attacks, 2000 men of the reinforced ‘Turkish Cyprus Regiment’, supported by 17 M48 tanks, assaulted the regular Greek Army positions. Both sides fought hard. From somewhere near the Star Chinchilla Farm, an unknown Greek Forward Observation Officer (FOO) managed to call in artillery fire from widely dispersed batteries of different guns. This artillery tour de force separated the Turkish armour from the infantry, causing serious casualties until a napalm airstrike silenced the FOO for ever. The fighting went on all day. Four Turkish M48 tanks were knocked out and 100 Greeks died in the fighting before the survivors slipped away.

The final battle was at Pyroi (Gaziler), south east of Nicosia on 16/17 August. As the Turks advanced south, a single Greek infantry platoon with tank support attempted to repel a Turkish infantry battalion. In the fighting four T-34s were abandoned on the road as the defenders fled. The Turks followed, creating the ‘Lourajina Appendix’ in the ceasefire line, bringing Larnaca within range of their guns.

After three days of continuous advance and confused fighting it was all over. Cyprus was sliced in half. The two communities were ethnically separated. Thousands of refugees were displaced from their homes. The Greek Junta and their puppet Sampson went to jail. The UN’s temporary ceasefire still remains the legal position.

Who was responsible? Even the Greek Court of Appeal in Athens ruled in 1979 that the Turkish intervention was legal: ‘The real culprits… are the Greek officers who engineered and staged a coup and prepared the conditions for the invasion.’

Council of Europe agreed: in Resolution 573 it supported the legality of the first wave of the Turkish intervention of 20 July 1974, under the Guarantee Treaty of 1960.

The bitter truth is that Athens and the Greek Cypriots brought it on themselves. Arrogance, pride and stupidity had brought defeat and disaster.

The ancient Greeks were right: hubris invites nemesis…

ISIS: The Final Countdown?

Winston Churchill once famously said, ‘battles are the punctuation marks of history.’ Well, we have just avoided a potentially disastrous ‘exclamation mark’ in the bloody history of the Middle East. Whilst the post-colonial Versailles settlement of 1919 is being brutally readjusted to take account of the harsh realities of today’s Muslim world, a major crisis has just been avoided. At Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Turkey and Russia have agreed to form a joint, demilitarised buffer zone around Syria’s embattled north-western province bordering Turkey: Idlib.

This agreement defuses a growing crisis between Ankara and Moscow by preventing any major Russian-backed government offensive from exploding into ISIS’s final rebellious Syrian redoubt. However, significant obstacles remain; Idlib could still become a flash point.

The problem is that the Middle East is as much of an unexploded bomb today as Europe was in 1914. Sunni Saudi Arabia hates Iran, and Shi’a Iran loathes the Saudis. Shi’ite Assad’s remaining chunk of Syria is the close ally of Iran. Behind the Saudis stand the USA, Britain and France. Behind the Iranians stand the Russians, sometimes the Turks, ever keen to obliterate the Kurds, and perhaps China – and watching nervously from its ringside seat is Israel.

For the past ten years we have all been living with this savage struggle to the death. Muslim has been slaughtering Muslim, all in the name of the Prophet of the religion of Peace and Love – ‘May his name be blessed.’ Now this round is nearly over; or is it?

The Turkish-Russian Sochi deal has been welcomed by all sides as an opportunity to avert the suffering that any major offensive would inflict on the province’s 3 million civilians. UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the agreement, saying that the ‘creation of a buffer zone in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province should avert an all-out military assault and provide reprieve for millions of civilians.’

It would also avoid the heavy losses that would be incurred by government forces in launching the biggest battle yet of the Syrian war against the cornered rebels. Turkey, the UN and aid groups have warned that any major assault by Russian and government forces backing President Bashar al-Assad against the trapped rebel fighters would lead to a massacre. It could also send 800,000 new refugees fleeing across the border into an already overwhelmed Turkey.

Many of the civilians in Idlib are already refugees from other parts of Syria following the collapse of the opposition resistance in cities such as Aleppo. The consequences of an all-out offensive against Idlib with its hapless civilians and the risk of Turkish troops fighting Russians could have led to a bloodbath.

The agreement is specifically designed to halt this major Russian-Syrian-Iranian attack on Idlib, with its trapped civilians.  The agreement calls for a 9- to 12-mile demilitarised  zone around the borders of the region, safe from Syrian and Russian air-force attack and which must be in place by 15 October. Heavy weapons including tanks, mortars and artillery will be withdrawn and Russian and Turkish troops will police the neutral zone. The Syrian government said that it ‘welcomed any initiative that stops bloodshed and contributes to security and stability.’ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added, ‘With this memorandum of understanding, I believe we have prevented a major humanitarian crisis in Idlib.’

However, the devil is in the detail. The deal’s success hinges on the withdrawal of an estimated 10,000 fanatical jihadi rebel fighters from the buffer zone, fighting under the banner of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian franchise of al-Qaida and listed as dangerous terrorists by Russia, the USA and the UN.

These are some of Syria’s fiercest rebels, battle-hardened over years of gruelling warfare. HTS will fight to the death rather than surrender and they have good reason to do so: talks with the government have gone nowhere. In recently recaptured parts of the country, Assad’s goons have promptly arrested former rebels and opposition officials despite assurances of amnesty. Many have disappeared into Assad’s torture dungeons. ‘It’s either die, or surrender – and then die,’ says one rebel leader.

Despite these problems, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (a staunch supporter of Assad) tweeted: ‘Diplomacy works.’ However, he added that his visits to Turkey and Russia in recent weeks had achieved ‘a firm commitment to fight extremist terror.’ Putin himself added, ‘Russia and Turkey reiterated their commitment to continue anti-terrorism efforts in Syria in any of its forms or manifestations.’

Quite how this agreement to quarantine Idlib helps to stamp Islamic terrorism remains unclear because the deal is very fragile. With jets from at least six countries – Israel, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Britain and America – roaming the skies over Syria, the risk of mistakes leading to further escalation of the fighting are just a pilot’s blink away. Also, where will the rebels go?

Nevertheless, the international consequences of Sochi are important. Russia has scored a major diplomatic victory by striking a deal with Turkey. Moscow has avoided damaging its growing strategic relationship with Ankara, whilst achieving its own aims in Syria without more bloodshed. The Syrian war may be ending.

However, some things have not changed. ‘Russia doesn’t like the rebels and they want to help Assad lock down his victory; but they also have strong incentives to continue courting the Turks,’ said Aron Lund, an expert on the region. ‘Syria is just a small part of what Putin cares about. If he can just make the Syrian conflict quiet and unthreatening with Assad still in power, then Russia has won the war ….’

Idlib’s locals have mixed emotions about the Sochi deal. Abdulkafi Alhamdo, a 32-year-old teacher living in Idlib remains wary. ‘After seven years, if we trusted anyone we would be fools. Whenever we trust anyone they trick us,’ said Mr Alhamdo, who lived through the siege of Aleppo before fleeing to Idlib.  He added that he was ‘so happy, and so sad’ about the deal, because it still leaves them in limbo.  ‘People might be able to live again. Children might know there is tomorrow without planes. But we are still in nowhere. Refugees forever.’

Others have spotted the loopholes in the agreement. Thanassis Cambanis of The Century Foundation warns: ‘The gaping hole is that “terrorists” are still fair game. Putin has endorsed a lot of truces, but then Russia proceeded to bomb groups it defines as terrorists, because it says they weren’t part of the wider deal.’

This truce might be different. Putin’s own credibility is at stake, having made such a high-profile deal with President Erdogan. Turkey and Russia are increasingly becoming trade and diplomatic partners. Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear reactor. The Kremlin also sees the strains between Turkey and western countries as a wonderful opportunity to divide and weaken the NATO alliance, to which Turkey provides the second largest number of troops. Putin has a personal stake in the Idlib agreement.

However, whilst for the Jihadis the battle may be lost, their long war is not over, because crushing ISIS in Syria will not eradicate the real problem. If the jihadis escape, the deadly spores of terrorism will merely disperse to spread their Islamist terrorism, which is already ‘global and growing.’ Islamist extremists caused 84,000 deaths in 2017 and intelligence agencies have identified 121 groups sharing a common ideology, now operating worldwide. They killed 84,000 people – nearly 22,000 of them civilians – in 66 countries in 2017, according to latest reports.

Even Whitehall admits that a convicted jihadi terrorist is being released onto the streets of Britain nearly every week. Home Office figures show that 46 prisoners held for terrorism offences were released in 2017 (The Telegraph, 13 September 2018)

ISIS and al Qa’ida are still very dangerous. Whatever happens in Idlib, we have not heard the last of them. The fallout from Syria will be with us for years.