Hurriyet Daily News

By Barçın Yınanç

Foreign Minister Emine Çolak gave an interview to Hürriyet Daily News published in Turkey. The newspaper reported the interview as follows :
“Turkey is displaying a largely hands-off attitude to the current Cyprus negotiations, according to Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Emine Çolak. Turkey’s stance at the moment is devoid of any manipulation or interference”, she says
Ankara is allowing the two sides in the Cyprus dispute to pursue negotiations to unify the island in peace, according to the north’s foreign minister.

“Turkey is not intervening or trying to manipulate or being part of specific content that are being discussed between our leaders,” said Emine Çolak, the territory’s first female minister. “I get the feeling that they are thinking that if the Turkish Cypriots are able to reach a consensus, that would be okay with [Turkey].”

How do you feel about being the first woman minister?

Of course it is a source of pride both for my country and for women in general, as I have a history of being active in both human rights and gender equality issues. It is important to me both to fulfill this role as best as I can as a foreign minister and also to be, if I can, a role model to all women.

How would you define the current state of affairs in the peace talks?

In one word, I would say hopeful. There is a positive climate, in which there are active, frequent, constructive negotiations. The issues are being discussed and, as far as possible, convergence is being secured.

There is good speed; we can see that progress is being made.

To what do you attribute this change in the climate?

Our current leader [Mustafa Akıncı] immediately moved after being elected to deliver his campaign promise to do his utmost in the negotiations. The Greek Cypriots’ leader [Nikos Anastasiades] is also someone more positive compared to past leaders.

It is an important combination of two leaders who want peace and solution. It needs courage. People have a lot of concerns. In order to face [criticism] and gain confidence, it needs courage and a lot of commitment.

Second, I think time is always a factor. As far as Turkish Cypriots are concerned, with all these uncertainties [for more than 50 years], we have reached a stage here we are fed up with [the situation].

Compared to the 2004 referendum, Greek Cypriots have a very serious economic crisis. They need this opening and to get rid of the problems so that the island can strive. They can get back their property rights.

Maybe after 11 years, they are able to think we rejected this opportunity and after 11 years, things have not become any better. Things have gotten worse. There is a chance that things could get better.

Some would argue that reaching a solution might be difficult because Greek Cypriots might feel vulnerable and become more intransigent, suspicious that their weakness is being exploited.

When there was an economic crisis 2.5 years ago in the south, this was discussed openly. And on our side, all the leaders of the parties and NGOs made a call, saying, “Don’t see this as an opportunity to impose a solution that will not be fully digested by Greek Cypriots.” There is no such discussion now because the crisis has diminished somewhat.

Greek Cypriots are working hard and succeeding partially in reducing the effects of the economic earthquake.

They are not in such a desperate situation. And the degree of maturity on the Turkish side is not in that framework of mind.

But if Greek Cypriots’ stances have changed because of the circumstances, and not because they genuinely believe in a peaceful coexistence, the peace might not be a sustainable and lasting one.

Another way to look at what can be referred to as the pressure of circumstance is from the perspective of need.

We all need to cooperate and do business. You can say the same of Europe after the massive bloodshed of World War II when afterwards the need to reconstruct Europe led to cooperation.

You talked about the positive stance at the leadership level; what do you see when you look at the Greek Cypriot community?

I see on the Greek Cypriot side a mind more open to a solution. I think many minds were closed in the past because there were maximalist expectations and bad leadership discouraging people from a solution; there was the influence of history teaching and the church, which still sometimes has a negative impact on the prospects for cooperation. These are all slowly changing in addition to the need created by economic circumstances. That makes them less complacent.

Do you see a change in the church’s stance as well?

I do. [It’s] a gradual change. They have started to make fewer hard-line statements. And there is a parallel process which we call confidence-building measures. Among those is a very interesting track coordinated via the United Nations that is bringing together religious leaders on the island. We see how they come to see through their problems, making expressions of goodwill. This is something we have not seen before.

How is the mood on the Turkish side; they seem less enthusiastic than the leadership perhaps due to the disappointment of 2004.

It’s been so long and there have been so many serious disappointments that people are skeptical that it will happen. I don’t think they have lost the desire to see a solution, but they have lost hope over very many inactive years. If there is hope for peace, then you get enthusiasm for peace, but if there is nothing happening, people get on with their lives. I believe that a solution is still preferred by at least more than 50 percent or 60 percent. [There is not pessimism but lethargy.] But they are able to compare with past processes; I think they feel this change in the climate, the good chemistry between the two leaders.

Can Varosha be included in the deal?

I can’t see at this point in time Varosha being removed completely from the comprehensive discussion because it is such a big issue in terms of practicalities to sit and discuss – how would you would repair it and administer it, et cetera? Since there is hope about solving this problem, maybe in six month or a year at the most, breaking away Varosha [at this stage] would be counterproductive.

You expect a referendum in six months to one year’s time?

Looking at how things are progressing now, it would not be impossible to have a referendum within six months to a year.

Kudret Özersay, the former negotiator, has voiced criticism over the issue of properties that was published on the Foreign Ministry’s website. This is an interesting sign. Do you share his criticism?

What he says is definitely worth listening to. But, we are realistic on the issue; this is not about giving back Greek or Turkish Cypriot property.

This is about finding a solution about respecting property rights. There are European court decisions which say you can respect property rights by returning them, exchanging them or by compensating them. These are the headings that are being discussed.

The spokesperson of the president said the guarantee issue was not a taboo. What’s your view?

There are three sticky issues; property, territory and guarantees. They are technical but also to a large part emotional issues. They are not things the two leaders can sit and decide. There are three guarantors also involved. It is emotional in that we are looking for a solution where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would feel safe. To my knowledge it is being left until the last points to be discussed.

We should not think of anything as unchangeable. If we are talking about guarantees put in place in 1960, does it necessarily mean they have to be exactly the same or have to be completely thrown away? I think we are looking for something in between.

How do you see the relationship between the two sides and Turkey’s contribution?

I see Turkey as sincere in wishing to see a resolution in Cyprus. I also felt this in 2004. Today I have the same feeling. It has its own interests of course as a growing power and as a country with a vision for the EU for which the Cyprus problem is a major headache, and there are a lot of reasons why Turkey wants to see the problem resolved. I see this support. As you know, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came here; apart from his open statements, we also had a shot period of time in which I also got to hear his private statements. My personal impression is that there is a sincere desire to see this resolved. Turkey is not intervening or trying to manipulate or being part of specific content that are being discussed between our leaders. There is no pressure, intervention or any paranoia about what is being agreed at the table. I get the feeling that they are thinking that if the Turkish Cypriots are able to reach a consensus, that would be okay with [Turkey] – with the provision that when it comes to the guarantees, in the same way that Greece and Britain have a say, Turkey will also have an opinion in relation to the new united Cyprus.

But Erdoğan’s harsh reaction toward the Turkish Cypriot president’s statement that relations should be on an equal basis gave the impression that Turkey would like to maintain its say over the process.

This is a sensitive issue. I told Turkey’s new ambassador that relations with Turkey are very important to us.

At the same time, Turkish Cypriots have strong feelings that we want to be masters of our own home.

Turkish Cypriots will respond to anything that Turkey does or says which makes them feel this is under threat. Following Erdoğan’s statements that were seen as offensive to our newly elected leader, Turkish Cypriots reacted to it, saying he should not speak to our president like that. We want to have Turkey on our side, but we also want to stand on our feet.

Are you concerned the recent turmoil in Turkey may have a negative impact on talks on the island?

I am concerned about recent events in Turkey. I am sorry that there is bloodshed. Perhaps there won’t be a direct impact, but its focus is being directed elsewhere.

For decades, we heard rhetoric that “this is the last chance for a solution,” yet all we saw failures. What’s your final message?

I am hopeful, encouraged and optimistic. But there is nothing like a last chance and it could be achieved in the indefinite future. In that case, I am concerned about the word indefinite – I am concerned about the uncertainty for my community. No community should be condemned to uncertainty.
Who is Emine Çolak?
Emine Çolak was born in Nicosia on March 9, 1958. She earned a law degree from the University of London (SOAS) in 1979, qualifying to become a lawyer one year later.

Since 1982 she has been practicing as a lawyer specializing in administrative, commercial, family, heritage, human rights and property law. Between 1994 and 2002, she was a member of the Nicosia Turkish Municipal Council. She was also the coordinator of a committee which discussed laws during the Annan plan process in 2003-2004.

Çolak was appointed by former President Mehmet Ali Talat as a member of the High Judicial Board responsible for the appointment of judges and the efficient functioning of the courts in northern Cyprus in 2007, continuing her mission until 2011.

Çolak has also worked as the head of the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation. Starting from 2002, Çolak has attended meetings held in Nicosia, Istanbul and Athens as a member of the Turkish-Greek Forum.