AHI Luncheon and Briefing on the Hill “Cyprus: Latest Efforts in Pursuit of a Settlement” Presented by Ambassador Andreas Kakouris
Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the United States
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Rayburn House Office Building Room 2257
WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is pleased to transmit to the Members of Congress, the Executive Branch, the media, our nationwide members and the Greek American community, the following remarks of the Ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S., Andreas Kakouris, given at a luncheon on Capitol Hill.
“Cyprus: Latest Efforts in Pursuit of a Settlement” Presented by Ambassador Andreas Kakouris
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Thank you Gene. Ambassador Mallias, Representatives, ladies and gentlemen. Firstly, Gene thank you for what was a very flattering introduction. I think I received a couple of promotions in there somewhere along the way. Thank you all for coming this afternoon to allow me to speak to you about Cyprus—where we are today, where we hope to go, efforts for a Cyprus settlement, and various other issues which are on the radar screen right now. I would be happy to take your questions following my remarks.
I would like to thank AHI firstly of course for arranging this and particularly Nick and your staff at AHI. I think it is a wonderful way of interacting with people on the Hill. I am also very happy to see familiar faces from a decade ago when I served in Washington.
I have been in Washington now for 5 months and it is of course a slightly different Washington to the one when I served here before. But when one looks at Cyprus, there is no change from a decade ago as far as a solution of the Cyprus problem. We still have an illegal occupation of 37 percent of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus since 1974 when Turkey invaded.
I think what should always be remembered when one talks about the situation in Cyprus is that 1974 was the first time that Greek and Turkish Cypriots were separated along ethnic lines. From the time the Ottomans came onto the island in the 16th century, and if you look at the map of Cyprus before the 1974 invasion, you will see mixed Greek and Turkish villages and towns interspersed throughout the island. You did not have a geographic area in Cyprus where the Turkish Cypriots lived exclusively and another area where the Greek Cypriots lived. In the former Czechoslovakia you had a situation where the Czechs lived in one area the Slovaks lived in another area. In Cyprus however, Greek and Turkish Cypriots were intermingled throughout the island. Now I am not going to sugar-coat the situation and tell you we didn’t have our issues. Yes, we did. But it sure does not justify an invasion, nor does it justify continued occupation nearly 33 years on.
So, on the ground that is the situation. There is still the occupation. We have 43,000 Turkish troops in the occupied part of Cyprus. There is regrettably a conscious policy of continuously bringing illegal settlers from Turkey onto the island. Today, there are about 160,000 settlers from Turkey in the occupied part of Cyprus. When you add the 160,000 plus the 43,000 Turkish troops we are talking over 200,000 Turks from Turkey and under 100,000 indigenous Turkish Cypriots.
There have been many efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. And the basis for a solution to the Cyprus problem is there. It is the United Nations Security Council Resolutions which call for a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, a single sovereignty, a single citizenship, a single international personality, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded. The efforts of the Government of Cyprus have been consistent in trying to find a settlement on that basis and within that framework.
What has happened in recent years in Cyprus, of course, is the major development of the European Union. Cyprus joined the European Union on the first of May 2004. I was privileged to be in Dublin as Ambassador during the Irish EU Presidency at the time of accession. With the European Union’s birthday yesterday, I think it is poignant to remark on the following observation during the accession ceremony that took place. To see the flag of Cyprus being raised simultaneously with the flags from the remaining 24 countries, was a symbolic moment which characterized the equality of the EU and the respect and solidarity between each Member State.
I make that point because the European Union is for us the new dimension of efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. The hope was that there would be a solution before Cyprus joined the European Union. That did not prove possible. But we still firmly believe that it can act as a catalyst for a settlement. A settlement that reunites the people, the country, society, the institutions, the economy on the basis of United Nation’s Security Council Resolutions. In addition, being a member of the European Union, a solution grounded on the values and principles on which the EU is founded. After all, you have a situation where three countries Cyprus, Greece and the UK are members of the European Union and you have a fourth country, Turkey, that is seeking to join the European Union.
Many know that in 2004 there was an effort for a Cyprus settlement, dubbed as the “Annan Plan.” That plan did not pass. It was put to separate referenda on the island of Cyprus and the 76 percent of the Greek Cypriots voted “no.” It should not have come as a surprise to anybody either before the referendum or afterwards when looking at the Annan Plan provisions. The Greek Cypriots did not say “no” to a settlement and I want to stress this because much has been written. They said no to that particular version. But I found in my time here that the more I speak to people and the more they scratch the veneer of the Annan Plan, the more they realize why it could not be accepted.
The Greek Cypriots could not accept a plan that in essence did not reunite the people, the island, the social fabric, and its institutions. They could not accept a plan that allowed for the permanent presence of Turkish troops, that allowed for outside intervention, that did not guarantee the return of refugees to their homes, that in essence allowed for the permanent presence of the Turkish settlers. And these are just in broad brushstrokes some of the issues, there are many others which I think when you look at, you would ask yourself why was this ever included?
I will just give you one example sort of totally by-the-by. An individual that wanted to sell property under the Annan Plan, goes to the land registry office and that transaction would have to be not only agreed to by the Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot deputy director but also signed off by the Greek or Turkish Cypriot director. So, where is the trust, where is the confidence that you are building in trying to reunite the people when in essence you are talking about a structure where everybody is looking over everybody else’s shoulder.
The economic cost of a settlement, would in essence have been borne by the Greek Cypriots. And Turkey which invaded and occupied would have been absolved of their actions. So the Greek Cypriots said “no” to that particular version of the plan. And regrettably what happens is that people take the Annan Plan and look at it in splendid isolation and in a cocoon as if nothing happened before and nothing can happen after. One needs to ask oneself the question, why would the community which had suffered the most as a result of the invasion and occupation, not want a settlement? Of course the Greek Cypriots want a settlement, but they want a settlement that reunites the people and the island. The Annan Plan did not.
Now I won’t go into details, leaving aside the whole machinations of the run-up to what was known as Annan-5. So where are we today? We have moved on because our priority is to get a settlement. In February 2006, President Papadopoulos met with former Secretary-General Annan in Paris where it was agreed, as had been the President’s strong view, that a future settlement in the Cyprus problem needs to be properly prepared.
As a result of that February meeting an agreement was reached on July 8 last year in the presence of Under Secretary General of Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari between President Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot Leader Mr. Talat. What was agreed to was the establishment of technical committees that would look at day-to-day issues, and working groups that would look at issues of substance. Both of which would run concurrently and would serve towards preparing the ground for substantive negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. This process also recognized the importance of confidence building measures.
The Cyprus Government is determined to get this process moving forward immediately. It is a process that the international community supports. It is the way forward for us to get to where we want to go, and that is to get to the serious negotiations. Regrettably we have not moved to the point of starting the technical committees or the working groups and it is very disconcerting when one sees recent statements from the Turkish Cypriot leadership that clearly indicate a backtracking from the agreement.
The Gambari process, as it is called, is the way forward and we would like to see it implemented as soon as possible. We do not want to lose any more time in this. We think 2007 should be used productively. It shouldn’t be lost and therefore we call on the Turkish side to embrace the process as agreed and to allow the agreement to be implemented.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Cyprus is an important issue that does not come on the radar screen as much as it should. Why? Is it because we are talking about an issue of an invasion of 33-years ago? Or is it because against the backdrop of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Sudan and other conflicts where there is killing on a daily basis, the continued occupation of Cyprus regrettably does not generate the same sustained attention. What invariably happens is that people forget. It falls off the radar screen and some look at Cyprus and say, well there may not be peace but there is quiet and that is comfortable when one looks at these other situations. It is not comfortable, not at all. It is still an occupation and I think it is important that the issue of Cyprus is put back in its proper perspective which is that of an invasion and occupation, blatant violation of the rule of law and those very principles and values that this country holds dear.
Earlier this year there was one event where Cyprus did get some attention. You may have heard of the government’s decision to dismantle the wall on Ledra Street. Ledra Street was our main thoroughfare, the main road in Nicosia the capital, the last divided capital in the world. The government unilaterally decided to dismantle the wall on the government controlled side of Ledra Street as a gesture of goodwill, but also as a practical confidence building measure within the framework of the July 8, 2006 agreement which called for confidence building measures. It was a practical move aimed at turning Ledra Street into another crossing point that would allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots to cross the divide. There is a lot of symbolism attached to Ledra Street, both for the capital Nicosia but also for the country.
Since the partial lifting of the restrictions along the ceasefire line in April 2003, we have had over 12 million crossings of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Twelve million crossings and not one serious incident. For me that augurs well for the future because I think it clearly defeats what was being peddled by some who sought to keep Greek and Turkish Cypriots apart, namely that as soon as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots get together, there would be conflict. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t happen in London where you have over 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots living harmoniously in the same areas and in the same streets.
The Government took this unilateral move regarding Ledra Street and called upon the Turkish side to respond positively. What the Cyprus Government asked for, was that there should be no troops at the crossing point and in the immediate vicinity. So, we are saying move the troops back 100 meters or demilitarize Nicosia inside the walls. Secondly, let’s make sure that the buffer zone, which is the area between the occupied area and the government controlled area, is swept so we know there are no mines. And, thirdly, let’s make sure that the buildings in the buffer zone, which have been derelict for 33 years, are structurally safe. And, again we call on the Turkish side to move forward on what is clearly a win-win for all Cypriots.
Recently, a few of weeks ago, we also took the decision of dismantling the national guard post in an area in the northwest of Cyprus called Kato Pyrgos, which for those of you who know Cyprus would mean the travel time from Nicosia to the north-west would be cut down tremendously. It would also mean another crossing point where there would be social and economic interaction between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Today, thousands of Turkish Cypriots come over on a daily basis to work in the government controlled area. They get the same salaries and as Cypriot citizens they have always been entitled to free medicine. I think you will also be interested to note that Turkish Cypriots have come over in their thousands to apply for their Cypriot documentation. We have figures that approximately 35,000 have applied and received their Cypriot passports and 60,000 have received Cypriot official documents. We have this very strange situation where Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus. Mr. Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community would refer to us as the Greek Cypriot administration. Yet, the Turkish Cypriots come over to get their Cypriot passports, to get their Cypriot ID cards, to get their Cypriot birth certificates. Why? Because with that passport, a Turkish Cypriot, like a Greek Cypriot, an Armenian Cypriot or a Maronite Cypriot, can reside in Germany, work in the UK, or study in Hungary like any other European Union citizen can. That is a benefit they are entitled to as Cypriot citizens, and as the Government we will continue providing that benefit to our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. In essence their Cypriot citizenship gives them the opportunity of utilizing Cyprus’ accession to the European Union.
As a government we will do whatever we can to assist the Turkish Cypriots. We have taken many measures that also help the Turkish Cypriot community economically. If you look at the per capita income of the Turkish Cypriots, this has more than doubled, in fact, nearly tripled in the last few years.
Where we draw the line though is where there are efforts to upgrade the illegal entity in the occupied area, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” An entity that was declared illegal, null and void by the Security Council in Resolutions 541 of 1983 and 550 of 1984. And the Security Council further went on to say in Resolution 550 that no state should assist nor facilitate the so-called “TRNC.” So where we draw the line, as the government of Cyprus, is where there are attempts to upgrade this illegal entity either through the back door or through certain policies or what I would classify as creeping encroachment. This only emboldens the Turkish side to avoid returning to the negotiating table. We have seen this in very recent statements by Mr. Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader only 3-4 days ago. Where is his incentive to return to the negotiating table if he believes he can have all the trimmings of statehood short of diplomatic recognition?
The European Union is for us still a very important catalyst for finding a solution to the Cyprus problem because it also brings into the equation Turkey. As you know Turkey has applied to join the European Union. There are certain stories that find space in the press which claim that Cyprus is the country blocking Turkey’s accession into the EU. Well, I would like to tell you that Cyprus is not the country that is blocking Turkey’s accession into the EU. Quite the opposite. Where it could have justifiably said no to Turkey’s forward movement towards the EU because of the occupation and non-recognition of Cyprus by Turkey, Cyprus took a different stance. President Papadopoulos took the position that a europeanized Turkey is a good thing. Firstly for Turkey itself, because it would go through a process of human rights and other reforms needed of a democratic country seeking to join the European Union. Secondly for Cyprus, because I think it is very clearly understood that Turkey would not be able to join the European Union while it is still occupying European Union land. And that is what Cyprus is—European Union land—not only Cypriot territory. A Turkey that would respect my territorial integrity and sovereignty and end its occupation. And thirdly, it is a positive thing for the European Union because Turkey is an important country.
As long as what we are talking about is a europeanized Turkey that takes on the board, lock stock and barrel what the European Union stands for—its values, its principles, the acquis communautaire, its rules and its regulations. Not a country that cherry picks what it likes about the EU and discards what it doesn’t like about the EU.
In December 2004, President Papadopoulos did not veto Turkey’s forward movement to the European Union. In October 2005, Turkey officially started negotiations. Again Cyprus did not veto because we firmly believe in giving Turkey the opportunity of showing its European colors and credentials. Regrettably, on the issue of Cyprus we have not seen this. One example is that Turkey, in violation of its own obligations and commitments to the European Union, does not allow Cypriot interest vessels to dock at Turkish ports. It is not just Cypriot flagged vessels, but you may have a US flagged vessel that docks in Limassol and from Limassol is going to go to a Turkish port. That vessel is guilty by association. Cypriot aircraft cannot overfly Turkish airspace, again in violation of its obligations. Cyprus has applied to various international organizations, some of which directly relate to an area very important to the United States, namely the war on terror. Organizations such as the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Missile Technology Control Regime dealing with nonproliferation and weapons of mass destruction. We cannot join those organizations and various others because Turkey has vetoed Cyprus. We are a member of the European Union, but we are not a member of the OECD, because of the Turkish veto. So there is a disconnect between its obligations and its commitments and what it is actually doing.
Our hope of course and the demand of the EU collectively is that Turkey will respect its commitments and realize that it needs to move on its obligations. That is a rather convoluted way of getting back to what I said on the particular issue of EU/Turkey relations and how one sees this portrayed in the press, particularly at the end of last year, that supposedly Cyprus is blocking Turkey’s accession. The European Union took the decision last December not to open certain chapters in the negotiating process because Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations. Quite clearly, Turkey was driving the train that led the EU to this decision because of the non fulfillment of its commitments and obligations.
There are other issues as well which some of you would be familiar with. The property issue is one of the key issues of the Cyprus problem. What we are seeing is a concerted policy by the occupation regime of illegally exploiting and building on land belonging to Greek Cypriot refugees. This makes a solution even more difficult. The property of the Greek Cypriot refugees still remains theirs even though it is in the occupied area and they do not have access to it. The European Court of Human Rights in the Titina Loizidou case and subsequent cases has been very very clear on this matter and has held that the property belonging to a Greek Cypriot refugee legally remains that person’s property.
Secondly, when one goes to the occupied area you will be struck when you go to the churches and see what has happened to them, at the hands of the Turkish forces and occupation regime. Icons have been stripped off the walls, graffiti, churches turned into everything except a place of worship. You do not need to be Greek Orthodox to be offended by seeing this. I think it is an offense to anybody to see any place of worship being desecrated in that way. The government on its part, maintains and protects the Muslim places of worship in the government controlled area. Firstly out of respect because these are places of worship and secondly because we look towards a settlement and one day Turkish Cypriots will be back in a reunited Cyprus and will want to go to their places of worship. That is another issue that I think is important to highlight.
Let me now briefly turn to U.S.–Cyprus relations. I would like to describe Cyprus as a reliable partner of the United States in a very important part of the world. If we look at the war on terror, Cyprus stands side by side with the U.S. If you look at our geographic location, we are very close to the Middle East. Cyprus, and in essence the European Union, is half an hour flying time from Beirut, from Damascus, from Tel-Aviv. Cyprus is the European Union’s outpost and lighthouse in that part of the world—at the crossroads of three continents. And because of the very close relations we have with Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and others in the region, we have been able, in a very modest and quiet way, to sort of play a track two diplomacy to bring people onto the island in an attempt to facilitate the peace process. And that is a value added that Cyprus has always offered, even more so now as a member of the European Union.
I started at the beginning talking about the flags being raised at the EU enlargement ceremony on May 1st 2004. That is the way that I look at the European Union. The European Union is a mosaic. Each mosaic has big pieces and small pieces, but each piece is unique to that mosaic. Now, within the European Union mosaic, Cyprus is a small piece but it has its own unique value added.
In addition and finally, I think we all recall the tragic events of last summer when over 60,000 people were evacuated from Lebanon through Cyprus, including 14,000 U.S. citizens. That was a role that we were called on to play and it is a role that we had a moral and ethical duty and obligation to help everybody and anybody that needed assistance at that time. It was the Republic of Cyprus that was called upon and offered itself to assist the tens of thousands who were evacuated from Lebanon. There are many many other issues that I can talk to, but I think I have spoken long enough and I would like to give people an opportunity to ask questions. So thank you for listening to me and I look forward to your questions.
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AHI Luncheon and Briefing on the Hill “Cyprus: Latest Efforts in Pursuit of a Settlement” Presented by Ambassador Andreas Kakouris