Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Brendan O'Malley


  By way of introduction: I am international editor of The Times Educational Supplement; co-author with Ian Craig of The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish invasion (IB Tauris, 1999), which was shortlisted for the 1999 Orwell prize for political writing and was a Guardian book of the year; a member of the non-partisan peace group, Tracemed, and a committee member of Friends of Cyprus; a member of the research cluster on Eastern Mediterranean and Eurasian studies at Kingston University, and have given numerous lectures at international conferences on the Cyprus problem. I have regularly met with leading Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot political figures, education experts and peace campaigners.

  I would like to set out why the British government needs to change tack on its public stance since the referendums on the Annan plan and support constructive proposals for breaking the current logjam, some of which I shall set out below. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these proposals further with the committee.


  1.  In the aftermath of the referendum the international community accused Greek Cypriots of negotiating in bad faith and voting against a solution, and said the prospects of peace had been put back for a considerable time. Representatives of the British Foreign Office said the Greek Cypriots should be punished for voting the wrong way. These berations were both inaccurate and profoundly unhelpful.

  2.  Greek-Cypriot opposition to certain parts of the Annan proposals was widespread and well-known long before the arbitration process at the end of the Annan negotiations and the UK government could have exerted more influence to ensure that they were addressed in a way that maximized the chances of a Yes vote in the referendums in both parts of Cyprus. By contrast the criticism of the popular vote in the south and the assertion that no more will be done for a very long time sends a worrying signal that the UK government believes Turkey has done enough for the time-being to prevent its continuing occupation of northern Cyprus becoming an obstacle to achieving a date for the opening of accession talks with the EU. In fact there is much more that Turkey can do to increase confidence over time in its commitment to implementing the plan and the UK should play its part in persuading the Turkish government to face that challenge.

  3.  The international community has so far failed to acknowledge that the overwhelming Greek-Cypriot vote against the Annan plan reflected deep-seated concerns that must be addressed if a settlement is to be agreed and prove lasting. Those concerns were compounded by the unnecessarily short time allowed for the referendum campaigns or even for the publication of details of the final Annan plan before the vote. Those concerns included legitimate fears that implementation of the whole plan would not be guaranteed and that even if implemented it would not be able to function. They also included a strong psychological factor which would need to be addressed to win over the electorate in any second vote among Greek Cypriots: that the plan reinforces Turkey's right to intervene in Cyprus, raising fears Turkish forces might be used to repeat the current occupation at some point in the future.

  4.  If a drift towards partition is to be avoided, a policy of inertia must be replaced by urgent action to build on the momentum created by the two very positive outcomes of the Annan process, namely Turkey's agreement to withdraw all but a token number of troops from Cyprus and support the creation of a United Cyprus Republic, and the democratic endorsement of this policy by the majority of Turkish Cypriots. If no action is taken, the danger is that Turkish Cypriot support will fall away making agreement still more difficult to achieve. It is essential, however, that momentum is gained by creating pathways to consensus on Cyprus rather than by political steps that may inadvertently or otherwise entrench separation.

  5.  The British government should therefore encourage the exploration of alternative proposals to guarantee the implementation of the proposed Annan Plan and the security of all people in a United Cyprus Republic.

  6.  It should also consider lending encouragement and support to the development of island-wide initiatives to foster co-operation and trust between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and generate a consensus on how the Annan proposals can be modified in the interests of all who live on the island.

  7.  I would like to make two suggestions as to how this co-operation could be developed. Both of them would help to create the conditions in which Greek-Cypriot demands on functionality, implementation, security and European norms and values would be understood by all who live on the island, so that an agreement acceptable to everyone can be reached without losing sight of fundamental Turkish Cypriot concerns over political equality and security.


  8.  The first suggestion comprises a cross-community initiative to improve education in ways that will prepare future generations for life in the increasingly multi-ethnic, interconnected world of the EU and enhance the prospects of lasting peace in the proposed United Cyprus Republic. It can borrow from successful ideas implemented in Northern Ireland and could be encouraged by the facilitation of joint study visits to the province by influential Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot education officials, teacher trainers, teacher unions leaders to see how they work in the classroom:

    —  Revamp history teaching methods and textbooks to offer inquiry-based learning methods and multiple perspectives that will enable pupils to act as mini-historians, weighing up the relative objectivity of evidence, tackling inflammatory texts and seeking to understand the causes of the emotions behind them, and drawing their own conclusions. These methods help develop skills of judgment and analysis which are increasingly important in an age where children are bombarded with information of varying degrees of quality;

    —  Add education for mutual understanding to the compulsory curriculum. This involves learning how to handle relations and arguments with other people and how to empathise with other people's points of view; it can include anti-racism, including countering stereotyping, the development of tolerance and understanding of people from other cultures, faiths and identities. These life skills are important for children to learn in any society, but have added significance in a country suffering from the legacy of conflict and likely to become increasingly multiracial in future as a member of the EU;

    —  Add common cultural heritage to the compulsory curriculum so that children learn, experience and come to value the heritage of all the people on the island eg all pupils could study the contribution of the Ancient Greeks and the Ottomans to the world; learn the common and different dance, theatre, music, folklore of people on Cyprus; learn about Cypriots' common identity as islanders, Eastern Mediterraneans and Europeans. This offers positive and enjoyable ways to value the culture of all people on Cyprus and consider their future place in the world as EU citizens—and can be linked in to common European cultural schemes;

    —  Cross-community contact schemes involving Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children working together on joint curriculum projects in each other's school one day a week. This provides a valuable way to develop friendships and common interests with each other that can have a lasting impact on relations in society. Schools from north and south can also link electronically as part of wider EU Comenius schemes linking four or five schools from different countries on joint language work;

    —  Bicommunal schools: ultimately, increasing the number of schools where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots learn together will offer more deep-rooted integration, though language and political barriers would have to be overcome.


  9.  The second suggestion is for Cypriots to create a grass-roots constitutional convention, borrowing from the experience of the Constitutional Convention in Scotland and similar bodies in other places, to find an island-wide consensus on how the functionality of the Annan Proposals can be improved in the interests of all Cypriots. This would build on the successful work of the technical committees during the Annan process and would address a fundamental problem that the negotiation process so far has divided Cypriots in ways that encourage each community to struggle to secure its own interests rather those of everyone on the island as a whole. A convention would allow Cypriots to look at the problem afresh from an island-wide view without the interference of outside powers. Based on consensus and operating at an advisory level, below political parties, it could encourage co-operation, fresh thinking and mutual political understanding. Its recommendations would be easier for parties to adopt on both sides if grass-roots island-wide consensus can be demonstrated. It would give Cypriots a sense of ownership of solutions that emerge and would offer a vehicle for mobilizing public opinion in favour of any changes.


  10.  The Annan process has been going on for so long now that its modus operandi has been taken for granted, without recognition that there is an important place for a supplementary channel by which Cypriots can co-operate and devise ways to break the logjam based on the interests of all the people on the island rather than by looking to secure the interests of simply their own community. The increased contact between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots after the Green Line was opened and with the help of the recent lifting of restrictions makes the absence of grass-roots cross-community participation in the discussion and development of a final settlement an anachronism. It also raises questions about the timescales envisaged in the Annan Plan. A constitutional convention will have more chance of succeeding, as will any future settlement, if the communities are actively co-operating in their joint interests in other areas such as education, with the important spin-off that the future citizens of the country will be better prepared for living together.

  11.  There is a strong argument that the EU has so far failed to take enough responsibility for helping to solve the problem it has now inherited and over which it can exercise critical leverage, and that the UN abrogated some of its responsibility when it allowed the skewed arbitration of the Annan proposals. Either party could help restore or build confidence by playing a role in facilitating constructive cross-community initiatives.

  12.  As an influential member of both the EU and the United Nations, the UK government should accept the responsibility that goes with having a direct military interest in and sovereign territory on Cyprus and encourage both international bodies to redouble their efforts to help Cypriots find an island-wide consensus on a solution. It should also be exerting its influence on Turkey to do more to address Greek-Cypriot fears which led to a No vote by demonstrating its commitment to implementing the Annan Plan in full and respecting in perpetuity the territorial integrity, constitutional arrangements and sovereignty of the proposed United Cyprus Republic.

Brendan O'Malley

12 September 2004

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