By Mass Mboup
Özdil Nami is a busy man. On the back of a round of visits to Gulf States, the Foreign Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, was earlier this month in Brussels for three days of meetings with various officials, including Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, and other diplomatic figures. He hopes to go to Africa soon. In between his Brussels engagements, he found time to appear at the Brussels Press Club to brief journalists on the situation of hydrocarbon resources and the possibility of a new breed of co-operation in the region. Following the briefing, he spoke exclusively toEU Reporter about the situation in Northern Cyprus, and his hopes for a solution to end the division of the island.
Solidarity, he says, is the key. Only by extending the hand of friendship can the isolation of the Northern Cypriot community be ended. This is his mission. “Our cause is a very just cause,” he says. “And the world must accept that when you have a just cause, justice must be delivered.”
Despite having what he called a “very productive” meeting with Commissioner Hahn, the situation remains somewhat stagnant. “Currently Cyprus is a divided island. In the north, there is the Turkish area, and in the south the Greek-cypriot community. In 2004, all of Cyprus was admitted as a member of the European Union, however the European law has been suspended in the north. We as Turkish Cyprus voted on a peace plan to unite Cyprus back in 2004. This plan had the backing of all UN nations, but unfortunately our Greek Cypriot neighbours said no. From that time on we have been promised the embargoes and isolation will stop.”
Unfortunately for Turkish Cyprus, he says, this never happened, despite the efforts of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who recommended that the international embargo levied against the community be lifted. “Kofi Annan wrote a report saying the yes vote [to the peace plan] removed all excuses to keep them under embargoes and isolation. Therefore, he said, I call on all the member states of the United Nations to establish multilateral and bilateral relations with the Turkish Cypriot community. We are still waiting for that to happen.”
Indeed, the only country that has come to the assistance of Northern Cyprus was Turkey itself. But, says Özdil Nami, “we are asking for more solidarity from the international community, because we have acted in line with the will of the UN, we voted for peace and reunification of our country, and therefore we should not be punished for the ongoing division. That is the main message I bring to places like Brussels.”
The Annan plan, however, was scuppered before it had a chance to get anywhere. “Unfortunately some permanent members of the Security Council blocked the debate for their own political reasons. That is the sad reality of international relations. But our fight goes on.”
Despite the ongoing problems, Northern Cyprus is trying to develop its economy. It has a vibrant university sector, with around 75,000 international students from around 140 countries, as well as an improving tourist sector. In addition, northern Cyprus is keen to keep and maintain strong social and cultural internationally through the Islamic Co-operation Organisation (ICO), of which Northern Cyprus is an observer member. International co-operation, says, Mr. Nami is key for the development of Northern Cyprus. It is important “we get to know each other better,” he says, and show solidarity.”
“This is our message: show solidarity with Turkish Cyprus. Your Brothers in the North have been ignored for too long.” He says the potential is “huge” for all sides willing to engage economic, trade and cultural in co-operation. He hopes that soon Northern Cyprus will become a full member of the ICO.
Before heading to Brussels, Özdil Nami met with the ICO secretariat in Saudi Arabia. This was followed by meetings in Muscat and Doha to meet with political and business representatives. “We are doing our best to reach out to our brothers in the region.Insha’Allah, I will be able to visit our brother countries in Africa also.” He says, in both the Gulf and African countries, Northern Cyprus continues to “find out mutually-profitable areas to invest and trade,” an effort that “must go both ways.”
“This effort will go on, and by helping each other, I think we can achieve much more,” he continues. “Our cause is a very just cause. There are a lot of conflicts in the world, and a lot of prejudice. Globally, we have to fight this, and one way to demonstrate this is to show solidarity with communities, irrespective of religion, when their cause is right.”
Despite the situation as it is know, Mr. Nami says he remains optimistic. One day, he says, he hopes to see an end to the demarkation line that divides the island of Cyprus. “To live in a divided island, and to live your life in a country that has no international status, is a psychological burden.” Isolation, he says, takes its toll on the spirit of the people, where even the open border prevents schoolchildren from different sides of the divide mingling with each other, even to participate in friendly sporting contests.
“I don’t want, at least, my grandchildren to suffer this. I was hoping for my child not to have to go through this, but now we have to talk about our grandchildren. “The two communities get along on a day to day basis, there is social interaction.”
He added: “We have a common vision, a European vision. It is very sad that in such a beautiful country people are unable to overcome their difficulties, and I ask myself if we are not able to do it in Cyprus what chance does the world have in places with worse and more bitter conflicts?”