Honorable Faculty and Staff,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and privilege to be among valued members of one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the world, to which I would like to start by extending my heart felt greetings on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot people and our government. I also would like to thank Dr. James Ker-lindsay for inviting me to speak to such a distinguished audience.
The Cyprus problem, the grave yard of hundreds of diplomats and politicians, will celebrate its fifty first birthday at the UN agenda in a few weeks time. I hope it will be its last!
The good news is it can be. A simple comparison of the Cyprus issue with other ongoing conflicts in the region clearly shows that if we are to have a success story in conflict resolution, Cyprus is the number one candidate to gain that title.
Let me list some of the reasons why I believe we deserve this optimisim:
- Turkish and Greek Cypriots have an open border with thousands of crossings every day without any incidents,
- There is a good amount of person to person and family to family socializing,
- Several bi-communal events, and to a certain extend trade of goods and services, are taking place.
- Inter-faith dialogue is improving and the number of religious activities across the Green Line is increasing.
- And even parents are sending their children to the other side for education.
Of course, the leaders performance at the negotiations has to reflect this reality on the ground. Accordingly, despite the rejection of the UN comprehensive settlement plan in 2004 by the Greek Cypriot community, the leadership of both sides under different names managed to produce some success stories, such as the agreement on the establishment of technical committees, opening of new crossing points and the issuance joint statements, like the 11 February 2014 statement, that describe their common vision for the future of Cyprus.
Between September 2008 and the election of Mr. Nicos Anastasiades as the new Greek Cypriot leader in February 2012, the leaders met more than 140 times and their Special Representatives more than 300 times. As a result of this arduous and sincere effort aimed at bringing the two sides closer to a solution blueprint, the two sides were able to produce more than thirty convergence papers in a variety of issues including the chapters of governance and power sharing, EU matters, economy and property.
With the visit of the UN Secretary General to the island in 2010, and then of the United States Vice- president Mr. Biden in summer of 2014, the winds of hope for a solution swept across the island once more. Against this backdrop, it can be hard to fathom how we got to the point where the talks have come to a complete standstill.
Let us for a moment analyze the Greek Cypriot leader’s reasons for unilaterally suspending the talks on 6 October 2014.
First, Mr. Anastasiades claimed that the issuance of a NAVTEX by Turkey, on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots, is a violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, and while the sovereignty of his country is not respected, he cannot resume the talks.
One cannot help but ask, how did the negotiations continue all these years, while both sides engaged in acts that according to their respective views, violated the sovereignty or rights of the other?
Allow me to give you an example.
For decades, every few months, the Greek Cypriot administration has been sending official protest letters to the UN Secretary General, listing all the purported “violations of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus” by the airplanes and ships belonging to Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots. Did any leader, including Mr. Anastasiades himself, declare anytime that he cannot negotiate while their sovereingty in their airspace and territorial waters is “violated”? For the period before October 6 2014, the answer is no.
Furthermore, let us not forget the fact that the whole reason behind the Greek Cypriot precondition of a joint statement by the leaders before the resumption of the talks was the issue of sovereignty within the context of the settlement of the Cyprus problem. The Turkish Cypriot side showed great flexibility and accepted the famous “3 s’es” with the 11 February 2014 statement, which aimed to address the Greek Cypriot fears about single sovereignty after a settlement is found.
Second, the Greek Cypriot leadership claimed that in October 2014, the Turkish side issued the NAVTEX knowing very well that such a move would result in the withdrawal of the Greek Cypriot leader from the table.
Actually, the Turkish Cypriot side, both before and after its proposals for joint management of hydrocarbons in 2011 and 2012, repeatedly made it clear through official statements that it would not remain idle while the Greek Cypriot administration continued its unilateral drilling activities and that it would take “equivalent and simultaneous reciprocal steps” to protect its rights in the region.
Furthermore, those among you who have been closely following the Cyprus issue will clearly remember that Turkey issued a similar NAVTEX for scientific research by the seismic exploration vessel “Piri Reis” in September 2011, after the commencement of Noble Energy’s drilling in concession blocks designated by the Greek Cypriot administration. Yet the then Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Christofias, did not use that NAVTEX as an excuse to suspend the talks. On the contrary, he attended tripartite Greentree meetings with the UN Secretary General and the Turkish Cypriot leader and resumed his efforts to find a settlement to the Cyprus problem.
Thirdly, the Greek Cypriot leader says that even though the Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa seismic vessel has not yet left our Famagusta port, he cannot return to the table while the NAVTEX issued on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot side is still in effect.
In fact, before the new year, the UNSG Special Adviser Mr. Eide shared with the two sides his view that a “window of opportunity” could be created for the resumption of talks during the period after the expiry of the NAVTEX on 30 December 2014. The Turkish Cypriot side responded positively and accepted not extending the expired NAVTEX on 30 December 2014 until 5 January 2015 to provide the Greek Cypriot leadership a face-saving opportunity to return to the negotiation table. As a response to this good-will gesture, the Greek Cypriot administration not only issued three new and expanded NAVTEX’es for the drilling activities of ENI/Kogas in the Greek Cypriot “concession blocks”, but also moved the start date of the drilling from the originally announced date of 6 January to 2 January 2015, which effectively shot down Eide’s attempts to restart the talks.
Still determined to give more time to the Greek Cypriot administration to utilize this window, the Turkish Cypriot side waited until 5 January 2015 as promised. However, instead of announcing that he is returning to the table, the Greek Cypriot leader reiterated the precondition that Turkey “respect the sovereignty of the republic of Cyprus” for him to return to the negotiations and stated that “the Turkish Cypriots would only have a say over the management of the natural resources after a settlement”. Thus while claiming that the problem is the NAVTEX, Mr. Anastasiades did not utilize the window of opportunity without a NAVTEX.
So where do these facts leave us? Considering all these developments, as well as the long list of preconditions the Greek Cypriot leader came up with since his election, one comes to the conclusion that the Greek Cypriot leadership has serious doubts and fears about engaging in a meaningful, result oriented negotiation process that will bring about an end to the Cyprus problem. Whether the issue stems from some internal political dynamics or other reasons we cannot know, we still need to focus on the ways to overcome it.
As the Turkish Cypriot side, in our recent dealings with the Greek Cypriot leadership, we have come to recognize a pattern in their actions whenever a new potential area of cooperation is found. Whether it is regarding an issue under the UN-led negotiations or cooperating in day-to-day matters, the Greek Cypriot positions are based on the idea of “being the only legitimate government” and the rhetoric on “sovereignty”. Recent examples of this behavior can be seen in potential areas of confidence building measures such as the establishment of an interconnected gsm network across the island or the registration of the pdo of hellim/halloumi at the European Union.
While retaining our forward looking outlook, sometimes it is necessary to look at the past for lessons. We must not forget that the greatest strides in the road to a solution were taken in the years after the decisions of the international community to lift the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots, in the aftermath of the overwhelming “no” vote by the Greek Cypriots to the Annan Plan. In this regard,
- the report of the then Secretary General dated 28 may 2004,
- reports of the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee,
- the statements of the Council of Europe,
- the decisions of European Council of Ministers and the European Commission,
As well as the
- inclusion of the Turkish Cypriot side into the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the organization of Islamic Conference as observer states,
All played an important role in convincing the Greek Cypriot leadership that a compromise settlement is in the interest of everybody involved.
It has been more than 10 years since these statements were made and a lot remains to be done by the international community to fulfill these promises. Considering current stalemate at the settlement negotiations, it is no surprise that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the following assessment in his latest report on Cyprus, dated 9 January 2015. I am reading in quotes:
“The removal of restrictions and barriers that impede the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community will promote trust. Such a development will help to address the isolation concerns of the Turkish Cypriots, as well as their inability to participate meaningfully in an interconnected world, thereby preparing Cyprus for a comprehensive settlement.”
Following the issuing of the said report as well as the subsequent statements from the US Ambassador and the UK High Commissioner in Cyprus regarding the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriot leader stated that “he will not succumb, under any circumstance, to threats or blackmail, in order to be drawn into negotiations.”
This response clearly shows the critical value the Greek Cypriot administration attaches to the continuation of the isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriots and thus it should come as no surprise to anyone that rather than focusing on bridging the gaps between the two sides in the chapters of the talks to reach a comprehensive solution, the Greek Cypriot leadership is vehemently spending all its resources and energy to maintain the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriot people.
We therefore believe it is high time for the international community to take concrete steps aimed at ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in all aspects of life, from participating in international sports competitions and children’s folklore festivals to joining the Erasmus exchange program and trading their local produce with the rest of the world. As stated by the Secretary General himself, such steps would prepare Cyprus for a comprehensive settlement; and we believe that they would give the Greek Cypriot leadership the incentive it apparently needs to explain to his people the need for cooperation and compromise in the settlement negotiations.
I want to stress this once more: we are ready to seriously engage in talks and exchange views on how we can move forward and work together. The resumption of the talks would surely pave the way for further cooperation in other fields, such as jointly benefitting from the hellim/halloumi pdo application or the hydrocarbons around the island, as well as the ongoing undersea pipeline project, which aims to transport drinking and irrigation water and electricity from Turkey to North Cyprus. Joint endeavors in these areas in turn could create even further regional interdependencies, as was the case in the foundation of the European Union in the form of the coal and steel community.
Valued Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
While Cypriots traditionally focus at the implications of a solution for the island itself, it is equally important to analyze the Cyprus problem through a regional perspective. Recent events in our geography serve as a stark reminder to all of us that we cannot expect change while clinging to our old positions and power politics. The turmoil in the middle east, the news of capsized ships carrying hundreds of migrants with nothing but dreams of better lives and the escalation of tension in the Eastern Mediterranean all show us more than ever that coordinated efforts of all regional actors are needed to bring peace and stability to our region. The end of the Cyprus problem would bring about the necessary catalyst to enable a broader partnership and cooperation among Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and all other relevant powers of the region. Through a united Cyprus, the west would find the channel to efficiently reflect its values based on human rights and dignity to the near east; and conflicts which were deemend ‘unsolvable’ would be taken in a new, more positive light.
At a time of unprecedented challenges in the form of unconventional wars, terrorism and islamophobia as well as deteriorating relationship between the European Union and Turkey, the Turkish Cypriot side chooses to envision itself in a scenario of stability, cooperation and interdependence, rather than ever increasing tension and hostility.
I sincerely believe that with the good will and leadership of all involved actors, we can make a prosperous and peaceful future for all of Cyprus a reality.