Macedonian Information Agency  

By Boban Nonkovic

Ozdil Nami, Foreign Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, in an exclusive interview with the Macedonian Information Agency speaks about the experience both Macedonia and Cypriot Turks have been having in their long running disputes and negotiations with Greece and Cypriot Greeks. Nami says that Greece, and Cypriot Greeks, are using their clout in the European Union to evade closing both disputes, and expects that they will continue to do so for a very long time. Nami was born in London, as son of Cypriot Turkish immigrants and has graduated in Istanbul while completing his masters at Berkeley. He has advised Presidents Denktash and Talat and has led the negotiations on the fate of the issue of Cyprus between 2008 and 2010.

It’s known that Cyprus is divided in two parts, but most of the attention is given to the Southern, Greek part, which is internationally recognized as a state and is part of the European Union. Nobody seems willing to talk about the situation in Northern Cyprus. How does this as of yet unrecognized state function?

– In the 1960ies, Cyprus became independent, after being a British colony. The British left and the Republic of Cyprus was founded by Cypriot Turks and Greeks. There was a power sharing agreement. But, three years later, the political leadership of the Greek community decided to break this agreement, they wanted to amend it and to cause an inter-ethnic conflict. This conflict erupted in 1974, when paramilitary units formed by Cypriot Greeks organized a coup and tried to have the entire island join in with Greece. The Republic of Turkey reacted and the island was divided in two. All Turks that lived on the island, moved to the northern part, while all Greeks moved to the south. Since then, southern Cyprus is run by a Greek led Government, and the north is governed by the Turkish community. In the northern part, we have developed our own Parliament, democratic institutions and, as elsewhere in the democratic world, we hold our elections.

What is your system of Government?

– The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has a Parliamentary system, not a Presidential one. Yes, we have a President, but main authority is vested in the Prime Minister and the Parliament.

And only one country in the world recognizes your independence?

– Yes, only Turkey has recognized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and also covers about one third of our annual budget.

Is this aid enough? How do you make up for the remaining two thirds of the budget?

– Our main source of income, on top of the Turkish financial aid, is the well developed high education system. We have eight Universities with over 60.000 students from all over the world. Our second economic sector is tourism, followed by agriculture, citrus fruits and grapes, dairy and cheese. Those are our main sources of income. Our population is 400.000, and the per capita income is 12.000 USD.

So, why is it so easy for the Cypriot Greeks to impose their version of events about the island, even after, as you said, Greek paramilitaries and the Greek junta were responsible for the confrontation? Also, how did it happen that jut one part of the divided island, the Greek one, joined the European Union in 2004, even without meeting any of the necessary conditions?

– That’s a fact. It all began in 1964, when Greek paramilitaries began attacking Cypriot Turks, inflicting major casualties among our people. In these attacks, Cypriot Greeks outnumbered the Turks four to one! So, the bloodshed had to stop, and there was a United Nations Security Council resolution to send peacekeeping forces that will stop this shedding of the blood of the Cypriot Turks. The Greeks formed a Government that was illegitimate, because it only represented one side of the population, and then in 1974, after an attempted coup by the Greeks, the Turkish Army reacted. The United Nations formed a “green zone” that divides the island to a southern and northern part to this day. The Security Council addresses the Cypriot Greek administration as if they are the Government of all of Cyprus. This just shows how unjust political arrangements can be. We were under threat of violence, by an administration that was recognized as a legitimate Government. This problem remains until this day, and the entire world recognizes the Greek Cypriots as a legitimate Government, they were even admitted into the European Union, even after our votes said “yes” to the agreement offered in 2004, before the EU enlargement, and the Greek voters said “no”.

This is the 2004 Annan plan, which the Cypriot Greek leaders indicated they would accept while they were waiting for approval of their EU membership, but the day after they joined, they turned the page?

– Yes, German diplomat Gunther Verheugen was in charge of Enlargement of the European Union. Before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament he then said that the Cypriot Greek Government had lied to and deceived the European Union. But, that was the way they became members of the European Union. Unfortunately, nobody was willing to take action about this in 2004, and nobody reacts even today, in 2014.

Macedonia is also involved in a process of integration with the European Union and Greece is blocking our opening of negotiations, even after the European Commission has made repeated positive recommendations. In our case, Greece is blocking us over the name of the country, and rigidly demands that we change our name before we can join. What in your experience, gives Greeks the strength to do what they do to both Macedonia and Northern Cyprus?

– It’s a difficult question. The fact is that Greece is a member of the European Union and that is an important factor. I’m no expert on the Macedonian issue, but in the case of Turkey, there are also many other Union members who fear Turkish membership and don’t want to see it happen, so they are using Cypriot Greeks as a tool to block Turkish accession talks. In this way, they support the Cypriot Greek Government, play their game to keep the Cyprus issue unresolved, and Turkish EU accession blocked. Unfortunately, as I said, this is unfair and unjust. But, many countries contribute to this unfair policy.

Macedonia has a clear verdict from the International Court of Justice that Greece can’t block our membership in NATO, or any other international organization it is a member of. Greece violates this verdict, but calls on the same court to rule in its favour in the case of the Cyprus issue. Why would you trust the Greeks to obey an ICJ decision on Cyprus when they disregard the ICJ decision on Macedonia?

– It’s a duplicitous approach and it is clear for anyone to see. Greeks are constantly using against us the fact that we are unrecognized. In 2004, when the Annan plan failed, as Secretary General of the United Nations he wrote a report that said that it is no longer justified to keep the Cypriot Turkish community isolated from the rest of the world, and this report calls on all members of the UN Security Council to establish multilateral and bilateral relations with the Cypriot Turkish community? And do you know what happened with this report? It became the only report prepared by the Secretary General of the UN that was not brought up for discussion in front of the Security Council. The report was not put on the SC agenda, was not voted on, it was essentially destroyed. This is the unfair treatment we get, and I know that Macedonia also suffers from a similar, two-faced policy.

What do you expect in the case of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and in the case of Macedonia, how can we resolve our issues with the Greeks, when they refuse to honor the international agreements they previously sign. Like in the case of the Interim Accord with Macedonia, they sign a treaty and then break it.

– Of course, our wish is to end the conflict with the Cypriot Greek community and establish cooperation with them. But, the longer these problems drag on, the more we are obliged to look for alternatives elsewhere. So, we are trying to establish and improve our relations with Turkey, and other countries in the region, and with the rest of Europe. Maybe not through the European Union, but we can work on a bilateral level. It is clear that the EU will always take the side of Greece and Cypriot Greeks, That is marginalizing EU’s influence in the region, and is reducing its power. Just look at the relations between Turkey and the EU. They’ve came to a halt, and the EU doesn’t work with Turkey any more. And there is great need for policies of cooperation, but Europe is losing so much because of its position on our issue, and is wasting its potential in the region. The narrow-mindedness of some of the political elites in Europe is the reason for this.

You negotiate with the Greeks in a United Nations framework, but they have evaded the offered agreement. We have been negotiating with the Greeks for over 20 years over our own name, but there is no solution. Can an agreement ever be achieved with the Greeks in the UN framework, and have them honor it later?

– You ask a difficult question. We have been debating Greeks for over 50 years in the United Nations. Half a century. We say, enough! I’m very sorry to say this, but I advise you to not keep your hopes up. In the case of Cyprus, the UN Secretary General said that this is a never-ending game and that the negotiations can’t last forever. We hope that there will be a final attempt in the United Nations to solve the entire process. If the Cypriot Greek Government refuses to negotiate with us seriously, that brings the negotiations to a collapse, it even collapses the UN initiative to solve the Cyprus issue, and we will be forced to look for alternative initiatives. If you ask me what could happen, I don’t have an answer right now. But the fact is that we are at the end of our journey in the United Nations.

You say that you develop bilateral relations with countries in the region, but with the exception of the Republic of Turkey, no other country in the world has recognized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus yet. What is the reason for this, what about countries that are not members of the EU?

– Every country has its own reasons. One of the main factors, of course, is the United Nations Security Council resolution that calls on member states to not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This is a major diplomatic impediment for us, and for all those countries that would want to normalize their relations with Northern Cyprus. Another major factor is the influence of the EU. There are countries that don’t want to have a diplomatic problem with the EU, and Greek Cyprus, although unfairly, was accepted as if it was a normal country in the United Nations and in the European Union, and this brings other countries to hesitate with recognizing us as an independent state on the territory of an EU member state. Azerbaijan, for one, wanted to initiate direct flights to our country, but the European Union told them that if they do so, the Union will not sign an open skies agreement with Azerbaijan! So, now the EU is becoming part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Many countries are wary of becoming involved in problems like ours.

This brings us to Kosovo. Their Parliament declared independence from Serbia which was accepted by many countries, and they are widely recognized even though they are not member of the United Nations. Why would the rest of the world accept an independent Kosovo, but not an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?

– In the case of Kosovo, that country was born from the collapse of Yugoslavia, and I believe it was also part of the struggle between the US and Russia on European soil, and also a result of Balkan real-politics. But, in the case of Cyprus the historic development was different, and the United Nations have never passed a resolution for non-recognition of Kosovo, like they did with us. So, these are two different cases.

What is your message to the Macedonian people, considering that there is enlargement fatigue in the European Union, and also fatigue from the permanent state of waiting in the Macedonian society. Of course, your country is in a much worse position than Macedonia, and as the head of the diplomacy of one of the longest suffering nations on the world stage, what do you think Macedonians should do to keep spirits up and keep the desire to join the biggest military and political institutions in the world?

– It is up to the Macedonian people and your elected political representatives to decide which direction is best for your country. From our experience, I wouldn’t rely too much on the United Nations and its negotiators. It is also a fact that the European Union and the international community as a whole have treated Macedonia unfairly, and that the Greeks are masters at tactics of delaying, postponing, blackmailing, setting their opponent up… You simply need to think about whether it’s worth waiting and being blackmailed for your EU and NATO membership. Macedonia is a proud country with a deep and long history that would make any nation in the world proud, and you need to keep your reputation. On top of that, you are a member of the United Nations, recognized under your constitutional name by two thirds of the countries on the planet. I don’t believe you will be able to come to an agreement with Greece within the United Nations, and perhaps it is better to focus on bilateral relations with other countries around the world, follow the international affairs and prepare good conditions for economic developments, which I know your Government does well. You have many friends worldwide, the world is a big place and offers many opportunities for cooperation. Turkey is one of your greatest friends and you should use that fact to make the conditions for life of the Macedonian people better, build a strong economy and stop being dependent on those that are blackmailing you.