CYPRUS: THIRTY YEARS AFTER
On March 7-14 a group of 19 Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists visited Cyprus. The trip was organized by Yerevan and Baku Press Clubs under a bilateral project “Possible Resolutions to the Karabagh Conflict: Expert Evaluations and Media Coverage”, supported by Network Media Program of Open Society Institute. Assistance in the preparation and the realization of the visit was provided by Press and Information Office of the Interior Ministry of Republic of Cyprus and personally its representative Loucas Louca, the Press Department of the Embassy of Republic of Cyprus in Russian Federation, the Chairman of the Cyprus Journalists Union Andreas Kannaouros, Press and Information Office of the Government of Northern Cyprus.
The purpose of the visit of this – as the hosts invariably noted, for the first time so numerous – group of representatives media and journalistic associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Mountainous Karabagh was to try and gain an insight into the Cyprus problem and, possibly, draw parallels with realities of our region.
The thirty-year-old – since 1974 – history on negotiations on the reunion of Northern and Southern Cyprus may be drawing to its end. Should the direct dialogue of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish community of the island fall flat till March 22, according to the plan of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and under his auspices, the guaranteeing countries, Greece and Turkey, would join the talks. Should this stage end in a failure too, Kofi Annan will present his final proposals. If this version of the plan is again disagreed on by the parties, the final solution will be given by simultaneously conducted referenda in the North and the South of the island. The suggested referendum date is April 21 – a most remarkable month in the newest history of Cypriots.
After the military coup in Athens on April 21, 1967 and the “black colonels” assuming power, on July 15, 1974 an attempt to join Cyprus to Greece was made that resulted in the entry of Turkish troops on the island.
On April 23, 2003 free movement was allowed across the so-called “green” line of separation. According to the Spokesman of the Government of Republic of Cyprus Kypros Chrysostomides, after the border opening, about ten thousand of Turk and Greek Cypriots cross it and not a single incident was registered. "Is it not the best proof that the two communities can and want to live together?”, Mr. Chrysostomides stresses.
Finally, the freedom of movement enabled the Turk Cypriots to receive passports of Republic of Cyprus. According to the figures of RC Interior Ministry, currently 13.5 thousand of “Northerners” have such passports. For those unaware I will explain the significance of the moment: on May 1, 2004, RC is joining the European Union and, therefore, the zone of free movement for its citizens is significantly expanded. However the RC Interior Minister Andreas Christou places equal emphasis on the fact of “local importance” – since this same April last year 34 thousand of Cypriot Turks received identification cards. “Overall, in our archive we have records of having issued such ID cards to 115 thousand Cypriot Turks”, the Minister noted.
Our meeting with Prime Minister of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat was before his departure to Ankara for consultations with the Government of Turkey – the only country that has officially recognized the TRNC. The nearest future will show what reflection these consultations will have on the position of the new (since 2003) head of the Government, the leader of opposition Republican Turkish Party. Mehmet Ali Talat believes that “the political unification of the island is one of our main tasks”. “We do realize that this cannot continue, the situation where the Northern Cyprus is not internationally recognized, exists in a closed system, must be changed. Nothing good will happen if the Southern Cyprus joins the European Union, and we do not”, the Prime Minister confesses and adds that if the referenda on the unification yield no result, a question of who is to blame will arise. The President of TRNC Rauf Denktas is more radical and insists on the confederation of two sovereign states.
The option proposed by Denktas for Greek Cypriots is absolutely unacceptably, but there are smaller stumbling blocks, or, as Prime Minister Talat put it, questions that are being traded. What will be the fate of migrants from Turkey, who are said to be more numerous in Northern Cyprus than the indigenous inhabitants? No specific figures are given, as the Greek party maintains, they make about 125-130 thousands, while according to the estimates of the Turkish party they are 35% of the 200-thousand population of the North. Who of these people that have already settled on the island will be able to stay, and who will have to leave, having received compensation? What is the percentage of Cypriot refugees from both sides and how long their re-settlement will last? What will the compensation for their property left in the North or South be? Greek Cypriots announce about the 35-40 thousand Turkish military troops. The leaders of the Turkish community do not give specific number in this regard. What will be the further presence of foreign troops (besides Turkish, there are British and Greek soldiers) in both parts of the island?
This and number of other questions, also referring to the organization and administration of the island, have answers given by Annan’s plan, by Greek and Turkish Cypriots. And almost all of them differ.
The RC Interior Minister Mr. Christou believes in reunification via economic ties, which are becoming all the intensive after the opening of the “green” line. He is more concerned with the question what will the cost of the reunion be for Cyprus? “In my opinion, this will take 6 billion pounds (13 billion USD – Ed.), the maximalists speak about 16 billion. One thing is certain – we will not be unable to ensure the viability of the state without donors”, Mr. Christou says. The annual revenue of Greek Cypriots (16 thousand per capita) today is higher not only than that of Turk Cypriots, but also than that of such “old” EU members as Greece and Portugal. Will the “Southerners” agree to tighten their belts for the reunification is another open question. Its answer, I believe, greatly preconditions the “yes” of the Greek community to the reunification in case of the referenda. Both the Greek and the Turkish parties in their referendum forecasts were reticent.
At the Southern approaches to Famagusta flags of RC and Greece are flapping. A bit farther – on another deserted building with its windows and doorways blocked with bricks the flags of TRNC and Turkey are flown. On the building facade a poster is attached: “Cyprus will never be Greek”. This is how Famagusta looks when you gaze at it with a binocular from the South. “This is truly a ghost city”, I thought, as I directed the lenses at the skeletons of dead buildings. “Is this the same Famagusta?!” The North dazzled us with expansive construction of countless glamorous cottages, villas, bed-and-breakfasts of white, red, green… The rumor goes that not only the Turkish but also the Greek capital is involved in an effort to return the past glory to the city – one of the best resorts on the Mediterranean. The businessmen are prudent folk and are investing in stability…
The Minister of Interior of RC Andreas Christou is confident, that the intercommunal economic ties along with the institutional frameworks established by the EU will enable to solve the Cyprus problem very fast. “We will re-learn walking, having the bitter, but the good example of co-existence.”
The X hour for Cyprus will be on May 1. Will this May Day signal its accession to European family reunited, or the 30-year separation will continue? Little time is left. One thing is certain: the changes in the atmosphere in both South and North do inspire some optimism.
It is much harder to predict, whether we – the Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists that happened to find themselves on the hospitable Island of Aphrodite right on the eve of “moment of truth“ – will “re-learn walking”. So alas, it is still too early to draw parallels with the realities of South Caucasus. But the second purpose of our visit was the discussion of further cooperation between the journalistic associations and media of the two countries.
Editor of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter