Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Constantis A Candounas

  I have read in the Cyprus press that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons will look into the Cyprus problem and to that effect it would welcome any reports and evidence from Cyprus that could be of assistance. Should this be the case, I set out below my own views and experiences on this issue.

  I have always tried to follow developments on the Cyprus issue closely, and have done so particularly since the arrival of the De Soto team in Cyprus. Since then and throughout this period I was able to maintain close contact with a member of that team, who had extensive responsibility for the drafting of the successive versions of the Annan plan. I have supported the efforts of the De Soto team from the beginning up until the very end at the time of the referenda.

  In order for someone to understand what has happened in Cyprus during the last two years, it is I believe imperative that one should also examine closely the various polls/gallops carried out in Cyprus from the time of Annan plan I, until the carrying out of the actual referenda (on the basis of Annan plan V). One will then have the chance to observe that

    —  the majority of the Greek Cypriots were ready to accept Annan plan I, and as time went by this readiness diminished to reach a disappointing 26% on 24 April 2004 at the actual referendum itself (actually the day that details about Annan plan IV were disclosed by the media, support for the plan within the Greek Cypriot Community reached an all time low, an impressive 0%). It is interesting to note that this decline in the willingness of the Greek Cypriots to accept the plan was steady, and it diminished with the progress of the talks.

    —  the majority of the Turkish Cypriots were not willing to accept Annan plan I. Even as late as December 2003, when elections were actually held among the Turkish Cypriot community, the outcome was a split down the middle between the forces supporting the plan as it then stood and those who opposed it. It was a 50-50 split and Mr Talat in the end had to co-operate with Mr Serdar Denktashh.

  It is also interesting to note that the Greek Cypriots were already convinced to vote "NO" much before the President's address to the people in early April. To suggest that Greek Cypriots voted "No" because of the President's urging them to do so, is either a rather simplistic approach to the matter, and would involve a refusal to deal with the real issues involved, including the UN's handling of the whole affair.

  Greek Cypriots eventually did not support the plan because of the following reasons:

  1.  the impact that the behaviour of Mr Rauf Denktashh throughout the negotiations, but especially in February and March 2004, had on them;

  2.  the plan itself, especially changes effected in the provisions relating to property and security matters, as well as the behaviour of the De Soto team in Cyprus and the UN in general; and

  3.  events during the 10 day period prior to the referenda.

  1.   the impact the behaviour of Mr R Denktashh throughout the negotiations, but especially in February and March 2004, had on the Greek Cypriots;

  Since the beginning of the talks in Nicosia on February 19th, 2004, and contrary to a public statements embargo imposed by the UN on the two sides, the Turkish Cypriot leader made daily public statements. I set out here below a few, randomly chosen:

    —  on February 25th Mr Denktashh complained to Mr Papadopoulos about comments the latter had made in the press inviting Turkish Cypriots to take part in European Parliamentary elections;

    —  as was also reported on Thursday, February 26, 2004, by Jean Christou in the Cyprus Mail, Mr Denktashh had said that he wanted a new Cyprus application to the European Union or a postponement of its accession so the EU and all its members could re-ratify the Treaty for the new state.

    —  as was also reported on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 in the Cyprus Mail, Mr Denktashh made an issue out of the fact that the red stripe representing the Turkish component of the new state had been placed at the bottom of the proposed new Cyprus flag that had been approved the previous week by one of the technical committees involved in the negotiations. Mr Denktashh said the flag was "not the flag of Turkish Cypriot people"". He said the "Turkish red colour is at the bottom while Greek blue colour is above it"".

  Mr Denktashh also claimed that

    —  the Turkish Lira should be adopted as the new currency so as not to negatively affect the standard of living of the Turkish Cypriots,

    —  the Turkish army should remain in Cyprus permanently and indefinitely, and

    —  that no settler should be made to leave Cyprus.

  It is clear that these statements had no other possible purpose than to alienate Greek Cypriots and induce them to reject the plan. I repeatedly expressed my concerns about this to the member of the UN team I maintained contact with, who brushed my fears aside, also adding that "no one is taking these statements seriously and Mr Denktashh knows it. In the negotiations he is a completely different man he is very constructive. He has never put forward these demands during the negotiations". To my question "why then do you think he is making these daily statements on television?" I received no answer. But the question still remains, why did Mr Denktashh come out with these daily statements? Did he believe that it was likely that Mr Papadopoulos would accept to go through with a new application for Cyprus to join the EU, or accept the Turkish Lira as the new Cyprus currency? Or is it conceivable that he expected that these publicly made demands would somehow find their way to a new modified version of the plan?

  The answer I believe is clearly a negative one. Perhaps it should be recalled here that the plan provided for a one year transitional co-presidency between Mr Denktashh and Mr Papadopoulos in a transitional period after the republic of Cyprus had ceased to exist. When Mr Denktashh was making these statements he was addressing neither his people, nor the other negotiators nor the International Community. He was addressing the Greek Cypriots. Mr Denktashh's statements revealed an attitude that would inevitably result in an unworkable situation and a total collapse of any new state of affairs that may have resulted from the negotiations and referenda, if he were to be a co-president, whoever the other co-president might be.

  And this was where the tides begun to turn. It was at this point that public opinion within the Greek Cypriot community begun to turn.

  2.   the plan itself, especially changes effected on the provisions relating to property and security matters, as well as the behaviour of the De-Soto team in Cyprus and the UN in general

  In trying to understand the "No" vote of the Greek Cypriots it is also important to try and understand what Greek Cypriots expect from a solution. Legitimising the north or "bringing the Turkish Cypriots out of isolation is not the Greek Cypriots" top priority. Among other things and of course including creating peaceful conditions, Greek Cypriots look forward to;

    (i)  the return of some land under Greek Cypriot administration,

    (ii)  having their properties returned,

    (iii)  the right to settle freely and safely anywhere in their country, just like anywhere else in Europe and of course last but not least

    (iv)  a solution with which they can feel safe.

  As I mentioned above, it is reflected in the early gallops at the time of Annan plan I, that Greek Cypriots were ready to accept the proposed plan as it then stood. There was noone who could claim that it was an ideal or even fair plan, at any stretch of the imagination, it was however something that Greek Cypriots believed at the time that they could live with. As time went by, the changes effected were perceived to be so one sided and unfair that they rendered the plan in the feelings and understanding of most Greek Cypriots as totally unfair and undoubtedly unworkable.

  2.1  The properties issue

  Much as it is difficult for Greek Cypriots to accept the fact that a Turkish Cypriot, a settler or even a complete foreigner will have priority rights over their own properties, they were ready to accept Annan plan I which more or less provided that, (leaving aside land that would be exchanged with land in the south, and also land that has been improved and would thus not be returned but compensated) their land would either be returned to some extent (to reach a total of a 10% maximum) or the owner would also have the option to lease it at current value to a Turkish Cypriot for a period of 20 years and then, at the end of the 20 years, would have it back. Though the 20 years period was perceived as a very long one, it gave people a prospect; at the end of this period their properties would be reinstated.

  Annan plan V took this prospect away. Turkish Cypriots, settlers and foreigners would still have priority claims over Greek Cypriots' properties provided these were either improved or could be exchanged with land in the south. As far as the rest of the land was concerned theoretically people would be allowed to have a third of that reinstated.

    (a)  People who only had a house would get their house back provided,

      —  they had built the house themselves. What if they had bought the house, or what if the house had been built by their parents? The answer was no. Or

      —  they had lived in the house for at least 10 years. So anyone born after 1964 would not qualify. Given the economic growth in Cyprus from Independence in 1960 until 1974, one can hardly find many people that did not move to a better house between 1964 and 1974.

    So in reality very few, if any, would qualify to get their houses back.

    (b)  Land

        Agricultural land would be reinstated provided that the one third entitlement would amount to at least five donums, which means that the original property must have been at least 15 donums. This immediately disqualified most people as most agricultural holdings in Cyprus were small ones with many if not most holdings nowhere near the 15 donums requirement. The same applied to irrigated land, though the one third entitlement here was two donums.

  In effect the new provisions took away any and all prospects from most people of regaining their land.

  2.2  The right to settle freely and safely in the Turkish component state.

  This, after security, was perhaps the factor that determined most what Greek Cypriots eventually voted for. Going home. Everybody wants to go home. But the idea is to go home under conditions of safety and be in a position to enjoy basic human rights.

  Greek Cypriots did not have to look far to see what life would be like living in the Turkish component state. There are Greek Cypriots who now live in the north, forgotten by God and everyone else, people who have been living there since before 1974. It is an accepted fact that things have changed. We should not look into the past to see what the future may be like. There is the present time, there is today.

  These people, the enclaved Greek Cypriots, living in the occupied area, are not allowed to build a house on their own land. They are not allowed to build an extension even. Should one of their children get married they all have to live together. They are not allowed to start a business, they are not allowed to open a restaurant or develop their land outside their village. This is a right only reserved for the settlers. They do not cultivate their land as one day they would go to their fields and there would be nothing there. And there is no-one to complain to.

  After all these years the secondary school will start operating again. It has just been announced that a quarter of the books were not approved by the authorities in the north. Including books on music and art .

  This is what is happening today, not what happened many years back. It is what is happening today.

  A few months ago an attempt was made to take a theatre production to Rizokarpaso village for the benefit of the enclaved Greek Cypriot people living there. A permit was finally granted and just before the actual performance the people were told that they could not watch it. Only their children could. And it was just a theatre production of Pinocchio.

  When the gates were opened and people were allowed to cross to the north

    —  a young man was arrested in possession of "antiquities". He was put in prison for three days. It was finally proved that the items were not antiquities;

    —  a young man went fishing. He was arrested and put away for two days;

    —  a young boy had a car accident. He was put away and was not released until after the full amount to repair the Turkish Cypriot's car was fully paid. No trial, no investigation, no one will ever really know how blame should have been attributed.

  These are all incidents of the present. Not of many years back. And the obvious question is why should any one of us expect to be treated any differently should we decide to return home? This is what is happening today. They are not recollections from a distant past that should be well forgotten. It is what many Greek Cypriots, again rightly or wrongly is inconsequential here, believe they would have had to face if Annan plan V was actually implemented.

  2.3  The behaviour of the De-Soto team in Cyprus and the UN in general

  Just before the referenda Mr Didier Pfirter, a member of the De-Soto team, gave an interview and said that should the outcome of the referendum in one of the communities not be a positive one, then it would be repeated in a few months. As a result, and even though it was later denied by the UN that this would happen, many people who would have reluctantly voted "Yes" in the end voted "No" in the belief that they could make their decision later, probably with an improved plan.

  At the time when Greek Cypriots believed that at least some of the settlers would have to go, the same Mr Pfirter was reported to have told an audience in Istanbul that no settler would be forced to leave the island.

  But what actually played a vital role in determining the final outcome was the fact that the UN, even though it had invited the two sides to come to the February—March negotiations with constructive proposals that

    —  on the one hand would be within the spirit of the plan, and

    —  on the other were of a kind that could be acceptable to the other side,

  accepted on the negotiating table Mr Denktashh's proposals, all of which changed the balance of the Plan in substantial ways, and could certainly not be expected to be acceptable to the Greek-Cypriot community.

  The fact that the UN allowed this to happen, together with the fact that no comment was ever made by the UN (in an effort to discourage Mr Denktashh from making his daily inflammatory public statements), left Greek Cypriots with a feeling of uncertainty, insecurity but most of all mistrust.

  Halfway through the talks, I was asked by the member of the De Soto team I maintained contact with, whether I could help him arrange a meeting with the president of the Democratic Rally, Mr Nikos Anastasiades. I was told that the De-Soto team was frustrated and in despair with Mr Papadopoulos's destructive techniques and general attitude displayed at the negotiations and he wanted to report this to Mr Anastasiades. At the time I felt as if one student was reporting another's mischief to their headmaster, so I responded by saying `What nonsense, if this is the case why don't you make a public statement to expose him. Why doesn't De-Soto show him his teeth. The people will not have this.' The response I received was the following: "De-Soto is afraid of him, he is like a rabbit in front of a snake. Denktashh he can handle. Papadopoulos he cannot." Of course if that was the case then the UN had obviously sent the wrong people here. I have no personal access to Mr Anastasiades but through a friend the meeting was arranged. I have no knowledge of what was said at this meeting other than what I have stated above.

  Just before flying off to Burgenshtok Mr De-Soto stated on television that in summary he could say that the Turkish Cypriots wanted increased bizonality while the Greek Cypriots were predominantly concerned with issues of functionality. This sounded very weird but again my UN contact assured us that the one would not be traded in for the other. In the end this is exactly what happened. Greek Cypriots felt betrayed and abandoned. Somehow they found no consolation for the losses suffered on property and safety issues, from the fact that the number of the members of the Presidential Council was increased from six to nine. Nor from the fact that the co-presidency period was decreased from a year to a month.

  2.4  The safety factor

  With the original plan people felt that it was an established fact that Turkish troops have no place in Cyprus. Yes there would be a transitional phasing out period, but the fact remained that it was an established fact that eventually they would have to go. Upon Turkey's accession to the European Union the last troops would have to leave the island.

  Annan plan V provided for a 19 year phasing out period, a period considered by practically every single Greek Cypriot as excessive, and then provided for the permanent presence of a force of 650 men. They would only go if and when this was agreed so by both communities. Rightly or wrongly, in the eyes of Greek Cypriots this was legitimising the presence of the invading forces.

  To my question why such a clause, that would obviously provoke the negative reaction of Greek Cypriots, was included, I got the reply that it was to satisfy a psychological need, the fears of the Turkish Cypriots. The UN team must have felt at the time that Greek Cypriots had no fears relating to the presence of the Turkish army.

  Much later, in his report to the Security Council, Mr Annan made a point that the Security Council must address the issue of security of Greek Cypriots. The De-Soto team was in Cyprus for years.

  Why had this issue not been addressed in the plan it self?

  3.   events during the 10 day period prior to the referenda.

  The Referenda were carried out on April 24th. Whatever chances, admittedly very remote, of Greek Cypriots voting `Yes' were dispersed by events of the 10 days prior to the referenda. The streets in the north of Cyprus were inundated with `Grey Wolves' from Turkey as well as north Cyprus. Key junctions like the roundabout at the entrance of Kyrenia were taken over, cars were intercepted and damaged, drivers and passengers were attacked, peoples' homes were broken into and people were sent to the hospital. At the same time planes of the Turkish air-force were daily violating Greek airspace. This was what Greek Cypriots were watching on their TV screens day in day out, for days up until the referenda. To have expected that under these conditions your average Greek Cypriot would have voted `Yes' at the referendum only suggests that one is not really in touch with reality on the island.

  What about our fears? Are we not allowed to be afraid?

  There are not many Greek Cypriot refugees, that even today do not feel tears in their eyes and butterflies in their stomach at the thought of some village or a humble house somewhere in the north. To suggest that Greek Cypriots have made too much money to want a solution is an insult that commands no response. But for us, just like with the Turkish Cypriots, I am sure, this is a matter of survival. Most of the Greek Cypriots that voted `No', did so because they felt this was the only way to survive.

  On Tuesday, 13 August 1974, early evening, my family, which then consisted of my sister, my two parents and myself, got in my mother's car, and drove away. Not for a moment did we believe that never again would we return home; that we would not return to Famagusta. At the time I was eight.

  I have spent the next thirty refugee years of my life in the south of Cyprus. I am a practicing lawyer, occasionally I write and I live in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. I am now thirty-eight.

  For as long as I can remember I wanted to return to the areas occupied by Turkey in the north of Cyprus and of course my home town of Famagusta. As from April 23, 2003, Greek Cypriots are allowed to cross the dividing line into the occupied north of the island, always subject to their producing their passports at the checkpoint. Mine must have been the second or third car that crossed into what had hitherto been our neverland. And suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I was, at the age of 37, driving my own car, in the occupied areas of my country, to the place I had been forced to abandon 29 years earlier. I was driving home. I needed no map, I stopped to make no inquiry. And it felt then that I was driving the road that led to peace and reunification.

  Time has since passed. I am not at all sure how close we are now to a solution. The impressions of that first day have to some extent been changed. I have since made it my life's purpose to meet and get to know my fellow countrymen. To know them and to understand them. Events vaguely known by all of us, little, if at all, understood by most, with the exception perhaps of the ones that experienced them. I have opened my house and my life in a way I hitherto considered impossible. It is a painful journey. A deep dive in peoples' emotions, longings, expectations, disappointments, fear and lack of trust, the lost wasted years, personal ambitions, the endless missed opportunities, the unbearable grief, the hope for a place in the world and of course Europe.

  We want a solution. We all want to go home.

  It is interesting to read an article of a leading Turkish Cypriot journalist, Mr Sener Levent, published just before the Referenda in Politis newspaper on Thursday, 1 April 2004. I set out here below only a short passage that I believe is highly topical.

    ". . . Why should I rejoice, since it is obvious from now, that this plan is sure to be rejected, that has been prepared and presented to us with the sole purpose not to be disagreeable to Ankara and Denktashh? What is the use of a single `Yes' other than the prolongation for many more years of the status quo? Was it perhaps their true aim to force the Greek Cypriots to say `No' after which to let Turkey be, and put the dying TRNC on a life support machine? Is it really possible for Greek Cypriots to say `Yes' to this plan? Would Greek Cypriots accept to have the road to the European Courts closed, to keep a Turkish army on the island for ever and for all those that were brought to the island from abroad to become citizens of the state? These things are not accepted by many Turkish Cypriots even ….'

  This is how Greek Cypriots came to vote for `No'. I personally voted for `Yes'. A few days before the referenda my UN contact came to my office. I expressed the view that after saying `No' Mr Papadopoulos would have to run after the UN to get things rolling again, only to be told that `he can run until his feet are bleeding, we are not coming back'. So with all this in mind I made my free choice of saying `Yes' to the plan.

And the question is, what now?

  It appears that the International Community wants to reward the Turkish Cypriots for saying `Yes' to the plan. It also appears that this reward will take the form of "bringing the Turkish Cypriots out of isolation".

  There is no doubt that many Turkish Cypriots, perhaps the majority, want a solution. Some want to reunify with Greek Cypriots, others want to enjoy the E.U. benefits others want to end their isolation and dependency on Turkey. The 76% however is misleading. I have spoken to a great number of Turkish Cypriots, `No' people, that weeks before the referenda switched to `Yes'. `You will vote `No', we will vote `Yes' and then they will have to recognize us'; from Soukrout Atamen, their representative to what would have been the new Central Bank, to men in the streets. The issue now is whether the International Community will continue to help in seeking a solution . I have no doubt in my mind that should Mr Talat get what he is asking for now, it will be the end of the Cyprus question. For good. Turkish Cypriots will no longer have an incentive to work or vote even for a solution.

  But even if our new partners in Europe do decide to proceed with these measures, they should also consider whether they should give them away for free. Both sides should be encouraged or even pushed to work towards a solution.

  Nothing has changed in Cyprus:

    —  the Turkish army is still there;

    —  we are only allowed to visit our homes, but only from a distance and can only go in if the current user, be it a settler or a foreigner, will allow it;

    —  Famagusta, a ghost city, held hostage and even though it is there empty and uninhabited its' citizens are not allowed to go back, a gesture that could show the other side's good faith and can provide an arena for real cooperation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots;

    —  the enclaved people are deprived this very day of basic human rights, at the same time when Mr Talat wants to open a window for his own people to the world;

    —  the north is a safe haven for all sorts of fugitives from justice in the U.K. and else where;

    —  Mr Talat wants trade, but only one sided; we are allowed to buy but we are not allowed to sell.

  Is this the message that Europe wants to give to the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots? That things come for free? That because Greek Cypriots have said `No' to the Annan plan they can now legitimately keep it all?

  During the summer a bi-communal event took place in Morphou in the occupied north. Both ex presidents of the Republic, Mr Clerides and Mr Vassiliou attempted to cross via the check point at Ledra Palace. There, waiting for them, was Mr Erk, mayor of north Nicosia, perhaps the most popular and prominent politician in the north after Mr Talat himself. They were refused entry by the Turkish army and the Turkish Cypriot politicians could do nothing about it.

  A few weeks later Mr Talat invited another Greek Cypriot politician and he went to the checkpoint personally to make sure he would be allowed to pass. He was. The policeman in charge however is now undergoing an investigation within the army. The fact that he was ordered to let the guest cross by no other than Mr Talat himself was no defense.

  Back in May it was announced by Mr Talat that European Citizens, including Greek Cypriots, would be allowed to cross by showing only their I.D. cards. The Turkish army did not share the same opinion. When I tried to cross I was turned back. This was sorted out only a few days later after a big fuss was made on the island.

  The point I am trying to make here is that much as we are ready to become partners with the Turkish Cypriots, we are not ready to become partners either with Turkey or the Turkish army. And the fact remains that the Turkish army is all powerful in the north; and Turkish Cypriots, even today are completely and helplessly at its mercy.

  The Annan plan, as it stands today, and its provisions about the presence of the Turkish army in Cyprus after a solution is reached, cannot inspire Greek Cypriots any confidence that any new state of affairs will have any chance to survive. The events of the last few months have only enhanced this conviction.

  Thanking you in advance for taking the time to read this, please note that I remain at your disposal for providing any clarification that may be required or giving oral evidence even, in person, should this be considered at all necessary.

Constantis A Candounas


26 September 2004

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