By Serpil Kadilar…..
As I entered the gates of the Presidential Palace on the 18th of August, 2017, I found myself dividing my cognitive functions into sub sections. A part of which was reserved for communication – with the police at the gate, the security at the door, and the butlers within the palace. Another part of my mind I’d reserved for organizing the historical and political knowledge and mentally arranging this data into a chronological order and then there were my personal feelings of apprehension – perhaps a little nervousness.
We took our seats and waited, I scanned the room, knowing that everyone within was representing a Turkish Cypriot association of some sort, as I had attended in representation of the British Turkish Cypriot Association. I was just as curious to hear the thoughts and opinions of the associations they’d represented, as much I was interested to hear from our president.
Shortly afterwards, President Mustafa Akıncı entered. Alongside him were his chief negotiator, Özdil Nami, and the presidential spokesman Barış Burcu, who is also part of the team of negotiators.
President Akıncı clearly came with the intention to explain the most recent and most important of issues this year – one which affects every Cypriot on the island – the failure of the Crans-Montana talks, which so many had hoped would bring a secure and sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue.
To avoid writing news which has already been reported several times, at this point I will keep to the contents of this meeting and offer a synopsis of the most important and telling statements entailed.
President Akıncı expressed that, from even before the first day of the Crans-Montana talks, the issue had been steered in a rather negative stance since the 12th of January – of which the security conference held among the Cypriot leaders and guarantor states in a meeting in New York almost immediately started with the Greek Cypriots demanding ‘no guarantees, no soldiers’ narrative. One which is utterly unacceptable to all Turkish Cypriots – citizens and politicians.
President Akıncı expressed the difficulties created by the Greek Cypriot administration when trying to resolve the resettlement plan – where some Greek Cypriots residing in the north pre 1974 would be settled in the north.
President Akıncı had requested the number of Greek Cypriots to be resettled and in which area of the north would they be resettled – a question which any reasonable politician would ask in a matter such as this.
Alongside the issue of resettlement, the Turkish Cypriot politicians attempted to negotiate reasonable terms for the effective resettlement of citizens in Cyprus. That, in the event where a Turkish Cypriot shall be removed from a formerly Greek Cypriot home, the Turkish Cypriot will be given a home and land of equal value to their current home and land, and that re-housing must offer the same work opportunities as was available when the citizen was living in a formerly Greek home.
During these propositions, President Akıncı also offered a compassionate stance – that if a Greek Cypriot had lived in their home in the north for a long number of years, and they now wished to live their final days in their previous home, that this should be granted within the parameters of the re-housing/work opportunity proposition mentioned above.
I had noticed that there was no mention of the vast amounts of EVKAF land, former Turkish villages, and mosque lands which were all annexed of Turkish Cypriots and illegally occupied by Greeks – and reminded myself that throughout the Crans-Montana talks, and listening to the president talking, had not been taken into consideration, and I wondered, as I always have in this matter, why the fact is buried with no acknowledgement for Turkish lost lands in the south nor of compensation which is owed for the annexation of the rightful Turkish owners. Knowing that the President himself was born in Baf (now Paphos) this surprised me, but I continued to focus on the president and his words.
Despite the very reasonable requirements and suggested terms of resettlement, the Greek Cypriot response to this was, in the most basic of terms, ‘agree now, and we’ll discuss details later’
That was the response given after the Greek Cypriot side expressed reluctance to re-house Turkish Cypriots in an equal home/equal work opportunity basis.
Of course, there is no single politician in the world who would accept the notion of agreeing to such a situation which could place a massive proportion of his citizens in a position of dire insecurity. 15-20,000 Turkish Cypriots are currently living in what were formerly Greek homes.
On the subject of security, as mentioned at the beginning of this report, the Greek Cypriot request of ‘no soldiers, no guarantees’. Although this request is one which is absolutely impossible, the Turkish Cypriot negotiators offered to significantly cut the numbers of Turkish troops by tens of thousands, and pending a review after a period of time, agreed by both communities, to aim for complete withdrawal of Turkish troops. This proposition was also rejected by the Greek Cypriot side.
At this point, Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades requested that he would need more time to discuss the issues of security and settlement with his constituents and colleagues, and therefore required a trip to Cyprus to do so. President Akıncı agreed to this, and suggested that the talks could be put on hold for two days while they wait for Anastasiades to attain the clarification he needed.
Anastasiades replied that he needed more time- at least a week – because he needed to speak with Athens too.
President Akıncı agreed to this, although he and many others had identified that, among the Greek entourage of around 35-40 politicians, anybody who could have provided the clarity that Mr Anastasiades needed was already present in Switzerland.
It was during this break, that one of President Akıncı’s advisors had spotted and shown the President the online sources and social media which had already been frantically sharing news about the Crans-Montana talks ending in failure, and this was how the president, who until that point knew only of a ‘break’, found out that the talks had ended in a no deal.
After explaining all of these things, to say the very least, President Akıncı appeared exasperated. He referred to an interview he’d had with the ‘Hürriyet’ news agency, where he was quoted as saying ‘If the Greek Cypriot government continues to behave in an uncooperative manner, they will find themselves living next door to Turkey, which is neither the desire nor will of the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey herself’.
The president then invited those of us in the room that came in representation of their respective Turkish Cypriot associations to express the general consensus, stance and desire.
Although it’s tempting to personally credit those who stood up and raised some very reasonable, intelligent and honest issues, without individual consent from the people themselves, I cannot state names. I can however, explain what appears to be the general wish of the Turkish Cypriots. All but one expressed that the trust has completely left the hearts and minds of the Turkish Cypriots. The desire to focus on aiming for an independent state had become among the strongest desire, as the people no longer believe that the Greek Cypriots intend to or ever did have any intention to work towards equality and a tangible solution which will work for both communities while ending the unjust isolation imposed on Turkish Cypriots.
President Akıncı expressed that before complete independence is even a thought, that we must work between a two state federation – and only if a federation is beneath the umbrella of the protection of Turkey. Only then, will all avenues be exhausted enough to consider complete independence.
Finally, came the time to address the elephant in the room, a question upon my lips and the lips of many others in attendance that day.
When the President was sworn in, he’d promised that if a solution was not in place by 2017, that the government would seek to find a means via the international community to end the embargoes. Would he stick to this promise?
The President reiterated, ‘we have been subjected to 50 years of embargoes – I cannot tell you how or when, I cannot give you a time frame, but for the remaining two years of my presidency, I will be working towards a solution for ending these embargoes. No youth should be subjected to isolation and exemption from the International area – be it sports or education or any other way these embargoes affect the lives of every Turkish Cypriot’.
Although it’s easy for us to demand more details, a time frame, a plan and a method, I can understand, with the amount of pressure both internally and externally, why our president was unable to give more details than he did.
I was grateful that I was able to have the opportunity of seeing the President speaking in the flesh. Only when a person is sat before your very eyes, can you truly see the facial expressions and body language. Only then can you truly feel the frustration that comes with such hopes being dashed away by that Greek word we’ve become unfortunately accustomed to hearing – ‘oxi’.
With permission granted, I approached the bench where the President and his negotiators were sat and handed him a letter.
A letter on behalf of the British Turkish Cypriot Association. One which expressed gratitude for the vast efforts of the president and his cabinet during the talks, and, in the same letter, expressed regret that such hard efforts were disregarded yet again by a Greek Cypriot government being unwilling to cooperate. The letter expressed that, since 1963, Turkish Cypriots had been treated as second class citizens and denied basic human rights in their own country, and now this attitude has been taken to the international arena. Highlighting that the UN had stood by and spectated the unjust treatment of Turkish Cypriots, then and now, and given the fact that Turkish Cypriots had been promised, on several occasions, that the embargoes would be lifted, the UN had failed to perform its duty and stick to their word. In light of these facts, the urgency is now, more than ever, to rearrange the Turkish Cypriot parliament and politics and begin to pursue an avenue which we have not done so before, given that all previous attempts have failed. The letter continued with a plea on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots – those of us who have entrusted our well being in the hands of our president, that the president sees his duty and continues to protect the citizens of his country and those in Diaspora, while working towards ending our isolation and inhumane treatment from external powers and in his success of doing so, will immortalize his name in our history.
The letter ended by offering the boundless support we all offer to work in the best interests of our people.
As I left the president’s meeting room, I stopped to shake his hand and thanked him for all he had done and for the opportunity to hear the people express their wishes.
I somewhat softened to our President. I had previously been rather dubious and critical of some of his actions, but being there made me realize – although this man had offered negotiations which were way beyond the comfort zone of Turkish Cypriots, he in no way was trying to ‘sell out’.
This is a man who tried tirelessly to bring a solution to the decades old problem. A man who genuinely believed that the Greek Cypriots were willing and ready to be reasonable and come to the table with peace. Instead he was met with one broken promise after another, one refusal following the next; and is very disappointed at the outcome.
I realize that many are not disappointed – many, if not most, do not desire reunification with the Greeks and feel their lives would be in danger if they did, and quite frankly, with enosis still being honoured by the GC majority, and 15,000 people voting for an extremist group like ELAM, one can understand the concerns.
I remain hopeful. The international community has seen the unwillingness of the Greeks, and the huge efforts from the Turks. A new wave of determination has reached every corner of the TRNC. Voices which were silent yesterday, resonate today, and the people are ready to take control of their destiny even if the politicians are unable to.
I end this report by wishing the best for President Akıncı, his cabinet, and all of us here in the beautiful TRNC. We will live on.