CYPRUS: 'We have to succeed in reunifying Cyprus'
In July of this year, it will be thirty years since Turkish forces landed off the northern coast of Cyprus and occupied more than a third of the country. The island has been divided ever since.
While dividing walls fell in other parts of Europe, the Cyprus issue showed no signs of abating. But now there are hopes that the conflict might at last find a solution.
After three days of intensive negotiations in New York last month, President of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash agreed to grant the United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan the discretion to complete the final agreement for the country's unification, should they fail to reach agreement on their own by the end of March.
Cyprus ambassador to the United States Euripides L. Evriviades has lived with the negotiations for a long time. His previous posting was as Cyprus' ambassador to The Hague in the Netherlands -- the site of the previous UN talks. Those negotiations broke down in March of last year, with the Turkish side walking out.
"The Turkish side told us to accept the finality [of the invasion]. Denktash said the Annan Plan was a crime against humanity. He said it was dead and buried, and walked out," Ambassador Evriviades says.
Since the two sides are negotiating the same plan, the Annan plan, what is to say things will be different this time around?
"This time there is a qualitative difference. After the collapse in The Hague, the Turks are now coming back. We welcome the process. We're starting the negotiations with a lot of goodwill on our side."
The two leaders met again back in Cyprus on February 19.
"We're aiming for an April 21 referendum [on unification]," the ambassador says. "Papadopoulos and Denktash aim to conclude their talks by March 22, which, in case they do not come to an agreement, would leave a week for Greece and Turkey to participate in the talks. If that fails the UN will complete the accord."
If the two leaders fail to reach an agreement, Kofi Annan will personally organize another meeting with representatives from Turkey and Greece, and if that fails, the UN Secretary General will exercise his discretion to complete the plan.
If the people say yes in the referendum, the goal of a united Cyprus entering into the European Union by May 1 will become reality. If the outcome of the vote is negative on unification, a divided Cyprus will join the EU, with EU rules and regulations suspended in the occupied northern part. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a country. The Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized national entity. The EU will admit Cyprus as a member, but recognize that the northern part of the island is subject to an illegal occupation.
"The ultimate decision must come from the people," the ambassador says. "After the president's return from New York, a meeting of the National Council showed near unanimity. On the popular level, the feelings are more mixed. Very few people are against [unification], but there are concerns regarding the terms of the final settlement."
The National Council is made up of the leaders of major political parties in parliament.
The Annan Plan calls for a federation with two highly autonomous Greek and Turkish entities and a weak central government that would oversee the country's defense, foreign affairs and national economic policy. Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash has been pushing for two separate states, loosely associated. Kofi Annan, with the support of the United States and European Union, has insisted that the negotiations must be kept focused on his plan.
After returning from New York, Denktash angered the Greek Cypriot side by calling for renegotiation of Cyprus's European Union membership and re-ratification of its EU membership. The Turkish Cypriot leader's nine-page list of proposed amendments to the Annan Plan includes several concerns regarding Cyprus' EU accession on May 1 and asks for a reduction in the number of Greek Cypriots allowed back into Turkish Cypriot controlled territory.
Under the Annan Plan, 21 percent of the Greek Cypriot refugees would be allowed to return to their homes over a 15-year period. Denktash wants this figure reduced to twelve percent, and he wants to reduce the returnees' political rights.
Further, he demands that troops from Turkey be kept permanently stationed on the island, even if Turkey eventually joins the EU.
The political games and the back and forth of the negotiations have left many refugees disillusioned.
Sometimes desperate citizens have taken action on their own to seek justice on Cyprus. In 1989, a refugee from Kyrenia in northern Cyprus, Titina Loizidou, brought a case against Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that Turkey had violated Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights. According to Article 1, "every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions," and under Article 8, "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life." Seven years later the court ruled in her favor, pronouncing that Turkey had violated her property rights by denying her access to her land in Turkish-occupied Kyrenia.
However, while some Greek Cypriots would regain control of their property under the Annan Plan, it is not certain that Ms. Loizidou would be one of them. These details have yet to be worked out.
"The more refugees that can return to their homes the better. If Famagusta and Morphou are included in the land that is repatriated, that takes care of 70-80 percent of the refugees," Ambassador Evriviades says.
"The devil is in the details," he continues. "We're looking at the details. We have to live with this solution. The solution must allow enough flexibility for the future."
It's not just the Greek Cypriots that saw their properties end up on the wrong side of the dividing line. Turkish Cypriots with land claims on the south side have seen the value of their properties skyrocket.
The Greek Cypriot side is by far the more prosperous and financially the Turkish side has more to gain from unification. The ambassador says the Greek side has made many compromises to reach a solution, because a solution is critical to the island's future and international forces are converging to encourage that end.
"The EU is the catalyst of the talks; it is the reason it's happening," the ambassador says. "Without the EU we would never have come this far. Everybody wants to join the EU. Cyprus wants to join the EU. Turkey wants in as well. The EU provides a win-win situation for everybody. The EU will lessen the shock [of unification]."
European Union membership would make a huge difference for the northern part of the island. The EU has pledged an initial 300 million euros for the development of northern part alone.
"The EU has a great role in this," Ambassador Evriviades says. "It's very important for the EU to be there in an advisory capacity, but it is not actually participating in the talks."
The greatest gains for the Greek Cypriot side might be on the human and mental levels.
It's been 30 years, but Cypriots from both sides are still met with confused expressions abroad. What Cyprus issue? For the quarter million Greek Cypriots who have spent the last 30 years in exile, it is a very real indeed.
The people are tired of the division. They want to be able to travel freely. They want to return to their land. Since the ceasefire line opened in May of last year two million people have passed through the dividing line in both directions, without a single incident of violence.
"We want to demilitarize. We don't want a situation of opposing armies. Defense expenses are draining the economy, but more importantly, it is a very different mentality to live in a divided country," the ambassador says.
If the current negotiations are not successful, Cyprus, as an EU member, would become responsible for monitoring the dividing line. There could also be a further drain of Turkish Cypriots from the northern side.
"The more time that passes, we're worried that more Turkish Cypriots are going to leave," the ambassador explains. "From an initial 120,000 Turkish Cypriots, there are now 70-80,000 left. Turkey sent 80-110,000 illegal settlers."
United, Cyprus could play a very important role in the region. The UN used Cyprus as a logistical base for Iraq, and a united Cyprus would bring greater stability to the Eastern Mediterranean region. It would also be more valuable as a regional base for international companies wanting to do business in the Middle East region.
"A united Cyprus means better relations between Greece and Turkey, and better relations between Greece and Turkey means greater cohesion in NATO and the Balkans. It might also usher Turkey into the EU. Cyprus is the lynchpin," the ambassador says.
"Cyprus can also inspire others to find creative ways to solve old conflicts," he concludes. "We have to succeed. There is no Plan B."
Biography of Ambassador Euripides L. Evriviades
His Excellency Euripides L. Evriviades arrived in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2003, to assume his new post as the Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the United States. Ambassador Evriviades also serve as non-resident Ambassador to Brazil, as well as High Commissioner of Cyprus to Canada, Guyana, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Barbados.
Until his appointment to the United States, Mr. Evriviades served as the Ambassador of Cyprus to The Netherlands from August 2000 to October 2003. Prior to his posting in The Hague, he served as the Ambassador to Israel from November 1997 until July 2000. Earlier in his career, Mr. Evriviades held senior positions at Cypriot embassies in Tripoli, Libya; Moscow, Russia; and Bonn, Germany. Mr. Evriviades joined the diplomatic service in 1976 serving initially at the Cyprus Consulate General in New York as Vice-Consul (1976-78) and later as Consul (1978-1982). From 1980-1982 he was also accredited as First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations. From 1976 through 1980, he served as a member of the Cyprus Delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 4th and 10th sessions, held in New York and Geneva, respectively. He has published a number of articles on the subject as well as on the Cyprus issue.
Ambassador Evriviades holds a master's degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1984), which he attended as a Fulbright Scholar. He was graduated (cum laude, 1976) with a bachelor of science degree in Business Administration from the University of New Hampshire. He was born in Larnaca, Cyprus on August 6, 1954 and is married to Anastasia Iacovidou-Evriviades. He has an avid interest in the arts, especially music, as well as in antiquities and cartography. He is particularly proud of his collection of antique maps of Cyprus.
On October 13, 2003, Mr. Evriviades was honored as the "Ambassador of the Year" by the Stichting Vrienden van Saur ("Friends of Saur") Foundation, a Dutch philanthropic and cultural society. Other decorations include the Great Commander of the Order of Orthodox Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, presented to him in Jerusalem in February 2000, and the Order of Merit (First Class) of the Federal Republic of Germany, awarded to him in March 1989.