Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by O­zdem Sanberk

  1.  I would like to thank the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for its invitation to submit evidence on the situation in Cyprus. I should make it clear however, that I am offering my opinions only in the capacity of a former diplomat who is now a private individual from Turkey. I am not a member of any official body and I am, of course, not a Turkish Cypriot, and speak only as an observer.

  2.  Considerable progress has been made in some respects, both in Cyprus and in Turkish-Greek relations, in the last two or three years. I strongly support this development. I do not wish to engage in polemics. However my evidence necessarily involves re-stating some of the fundamentals of the Cyprus problem as they are seen from a Turkish and Turkish Cypriot perspective.


  3.  The essence of the Cyprus situation is that two separate and distinct people national communities exist on the island and that the Turkish Cypriots wish to administer themselves and to avoid the fate which overtook many other Turkish or Muslim communities in post-Ottoman southern Europe. The embargo and isolation which was imposed on the Turkish Cypriots from 1964 onwards, and the denial of their national rights, is strikingly different from the treatment of all other national communities in Europe and particularly the Balkans in recent years. To many people in the Near and Middle East, it would appear prima facie that their story would have had a very different outcome had they been a Christian population, in which case an economic blockade and siege tactics would probably never have been employed against them.

  4.  During the negotiations for the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, the Turkish Cypriots were not given the right to participate on a separate basis, even though they have been self-governing for three decades, and the Greek political leadership on the island was allowed by the EU to negotiate on behalf of people whom it did not rule, who rejected its authority, and who were actively unwilling to be represented by it. A glance at the annual progress reports for Cyprus during its transition to EU rule shows that they were much less exacting than the comparable reports for other candidates. In particular, the Union ruled at the outset that the Greek Cypriot government satisfied the basic criteria for political stability even though the south Cyprus government did not control more than a third of the territory it claimed and its authority had been firmly rejected for three decades by a substantial proportion of the people it claimed to rule.

  5.  It would appear to be, as a member of the outgoing European Commission said last spring, that conditions were deliberately made easy for Cyprus on the understanding that the Greek Cypriots would agree to the reunion of the island on the basis of the Annan plan. Ironically, the Commission, after permitting the Greek Cypriots to speak for the Turkish Cypriot, itself ended by having its own voice on the island stifled when Commissioner Verheugen was not allowed to present his views on Greek Cypriot television.

  6.  Nonetheless between 2002 and 2004, there was genuine progress in Cyprus.

    —  The Annan Plan identified a viable framework for a political settlement.

    —  There was greater movement between the two sides of the island and a relaxation of the previously very strict separation between the two nationalities on the island.

  7.  These trends reflected greater realism about the existence, aspirations, and rights of the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots responded in the referendum on the Annan Plan by taking what were for them significant risks over security. Opinion among the Turkish Cypriots was divided but the outcome of the referendum indicated a clear willingness to reach an agreed international settlement brokered by the United Nations and backed by the European Union. 8.  Unfortunately Greek Cypriots rejected the Anan plan by three to one.


8.   The implications of the Annan Plan's rejection for Northern Cyprus

  The Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus have lived under siege conditions for over three decades. Since April this year, however, things have been different. The Turkish Cypriots are still continuing to live under siege conditions. Ending these would seem just and logical. But it hits the snag of a Greek Cypriot veto. So far the EU does not seem to have found a way to overcome this problem.

  If the EU claims the territory on which the Turkish Cypriots live and if it says it has negotiated with their representatives, and if they have voted for arrangements for a settlement sponsored by the EU and the UN, then I do not see how it can deny them the rights and blessings that come from membership.

  One likely outcome would be that it will try to broke a deal whereby the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey give some concessions in exchange. Or, if Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots do not make concessions, this will be used as an excuse to continue the present situation. This should not be acceptable. It was clearly understood in April that one side had cooperated with the EU and had its cooperation endorsed at the referendum. The other side had not cooperated and had even obstructed the ability of the EU Commission to put its case.

  The Annan Plan and its aftermath should clearly be seen as a turning point in policy, away from blockade and siege tactics that have not worked to a relaxed and evolutionary policy in which events unfold on the ground, with the free consent of both peoples, in the direction of a workable settlement and a durable partnership within the EU.

  9.  Despite this, the Greek Cypriots proceeded to full membership status within the European Union, while the Turkish Cypriots continue to exist under an international blockade, with restrictions on international trade, air links with the rest of the world, and non-recognition of their government and officials. In the aftermath of the referendum they were promised financial cooperation from the European Union which has to date not materialised.

  10.  It is clear that the European Union now has to contend with the difficulties of admitting a country whose divisions have been a major source of regional instability. But for the improved climate in Greek-Turkish relations and the spirit of partnership which is growing between Greece and Turkey, these difficulties would have been much more acute.


11.   What are the implications for the EU of admitting a divided country?

    —  Remember that the EU admitted Cyprus because it feared the much larger eastwards expansion would be vetoed if it did not.

    —  The obvious implication is that the EU will be drawn into the dispute, both inside that country and in the region around it.

    —  Unnecessary diplomatic, political, and legal disputes with a friendly allied country of considerable importance to the EU.

    —  A possible revival of regional instability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    —  With a divided member, the EU will almost certainly face continual practical, legal and administrative problems regarding the denial of flow of persons and goods into and out of territory the EU claims as part of it but which it does not control.

    —  It will face Political and ethical problems with a substantial proportion of the population suffering discrimination and rejecting the recognized government.

    —  There could be Potential exacerbation of Christian-Muslim tensions inside and outside the EU since the Cyprus problem in some ways resembles the conflict in Bosnia.

  Some of these have been experienced in the past with the case of East Germany. However there was no active conflict between the two Germanys and they moved from de facto to de iure recognition of each other. This principle of denial and non-recognition has led further into morally unhealthy areas of denying normal freedoms and human rights to the Turkish Cypriots, such as the right to trade or travel from their own territory or to receive international assistance or attend international meetings in their own name. These are the sorts of penalties normally invoked not on a nationality but on criminal rebels. It is wholly against all recent European precedents. Nothing similar was seen when the constituent countries of former Yugoslavia broke away. It is, frankly, the result of allowing British and European policy to be propelled by one of the parties in the dispute.

  While this was the case, the dispute became more and more intractable. When the Annan Plan restored a reassure of realism and recognition to policy over Cyprus, the situation immediately became more manageable. If both sides had known that they would not have entered the EU unless there was a settlement, there would probably have been one and on a fair and realistic basis. The EU fell into a trap which it had constructed for itself.

  The EU, after seeing that the Turkish Cypriots accepted a settlement which it urged on them, cannot now reasonably revert to treating them as if they were political offenders deserving punishment.

12.   The implications for the EU's relationship with Turkey?

    —  First the difference in scale between Turkey and Southern Cyprus has to be noted. Major EU interests are jeopardised by the possibility of EU involvement in an unresolved Cyprus dispute.

    —  Turkey is a secular state. The Turkish Cypriots are also secular in their institutions. But there is no doubt that they have suffered because of their Ottoman Muslim cultural heritage. The Cyprus dispute is especially unacceptable at a time when Christians and Muslims are trying to overcome their differences and work together.

    —  Turkey's EU membership faces an unnecessary complication. Integration between Turkey and the EU offers enormous political, economic, and strategic advantages, but the scale of the operation means that it will be a real challenge for both sides as well. It is important that this challenge is faced in a spirit of constructive and cooperative partnership. The Cyprus dispute, basically an ethno-nationalist disagreement which has nothing to do with the EU unless the Union is defined in terms of political Christianity, could potentially upset the whole spirit of partnership and trust needed on both sides at this time.

  13.  The European Union has few instruments at it disposal for dealing with a dispute of this kind when an individual member does not wish to conform to the views of the Commission or other states on a political matter. The moment when it might have found it easiest to act was last spring in the aftermath of the referendum. There is now surely a significant possibility that the isolation and siege of the Turkish Cypriots will continue indefinitely and that the government of the south of the island will impose unrealistic and unjust terms for ending the deadlock.

  14.  The Greek Cypriot government is now also attempting to use its status within the EU to impose conditions on Turkey where recognition and other rights are concerned. This situation was easily foreseeable before the accession of the Greek Cypriots to the EU. Leaving to one side the question of Turkey's own accession, these developments could endanger EU relations with Turkey—a country where it has strategic and economic interests of an altogether different scale.

  15.  Memories are short and political attitudes can change in a year or two. Despite the events of the spring of 2004, it is entirely possible that EU policy-making will, under pressure from the Greek Cypriot government, drift back to where it was before the publication of the Anan Plan, ie formal isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, denial of the realities on the island, and confrontation with Turkey.

  16.  It would appear that broadly speaking the EU has a limited range of options on Cyprus.

    —  A "fudge" which allows the present situation to continue despite the wishes of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot nationalities.

    —  Reversion to full legal endorsement of Greek Cypriot claims against the Turkish Cypriot nation aspirations, and perhaps regarding the Turkish Cypriots as essentially rebels against the EU.

    —  Constructive engagement aimed at reshaping the balance on the island and enabling the Turkish Cypriots to enjoy the rights which have in theory been conferred upon them by EU accession and opening up an expanding agreement between the two nationalities in Cyprus.

  17.  For the EU, as for the international community, the Cyprus dispute seems to be a small and secondary issue and there is little disposition to "grasp the nettle" and take an active stand on it or devote large amounts of political attention to it.


  18.  Yet it is a problem which must be solved. Without a resolution for the problem:

    —  There is the possibility that the EU's relations with Turkey will become embroiled in the dispute.

    —  Just as the Cyprus dispute poisoned previously good relations between Turkey and Greece after 1954, disputes on the island could halt the trend to normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations.

    —  It is surely morally unacceptable in twenty first century Europe for a national community to be denied prosperity and recognition in the way that the Turkish Cypriots have been, especially when it is born in mind that its people have known the active fear of bloodshed within the lifetime of most of its adults.

  19.  The way forward on Cyprus is to untie the bonds which have been placed on the Turkish Cypriots and then allow the two nationalities to work together and cooperate within the framework of their shared EU membership. In the short term this means giving the Turkish Cypriots the same legal and practical rights as everyone else enjoys.

    —  International access by air and sea.

    —  Rights to travel and to trade freely.

    —  The right to a voice on a range of occasions, formal and informal, where Turkish Cypriots can reasonably expect to be present.

    —  A proportionate share of financial assistance and cooperation on infrastructural project.


20.   Should the UK continue to back the Annan Plan?

  The Annan Plan very nearly worked. It remains the best definition of a settlement that exists. It should continue until the two nationalities in Cyprus reach a genuine agreement on something better. Changing it just to suit one side would be the starting signal for a fresh political conflict between the two Cypriot nationalities.

  The Annan plan was the outcome of agreements and understandings between all the parties involved and took into account all their legitimate concerns and expectations to the extent that it was possible to do so. As far as the Turkish Cypriots were concerned, it perhaps underestimated their desire for security but took, broadly speaking, a fair account of their other aspirations. That is why, by a decisive majority, they decided to overcome their reservations and give it their support.

  If the Annan Plan is abandoned, either by a single party like the EU, or by several parties, the question arises what—if anything—will replace it?

    —  If nothing replaces it, then there will presumably be no negotiated settlement and what we shall see is a deepening division of the island.

    —  If another plan were to replace it, then we have to ask in what ways it would be different from the Annan Plan?

  The answer presumably is that it would have to be in some way more attractive to the Greek Cypriots. The indications are that they rejected the Annan Plan in 2004 basically because they did not accept its model of realistic co-equality between the two self-governing nationalities on the island. The two most likely ways in which it would differ would either be (a) that the new plan would introduce an element of greater subordination of the Turkish Cypriots to the south or (b) that there would be substantial concessions on land or related matters. These would almost certainly not be acceptable. The Annan Plan contained a very delicate balance on these complex matters. It is the best way forward. If the Annan Plan is discarded, then we shall almost certainly see a deepening rupture between the two sides on the island and the Turkish Cypriots will remain outside the EU and forced to seek recognition wherever they can.

21.   Should the British government seek to alter its relationship with the northern part of the island, and if so how?

    —  A very simple first step would be to stop pretending that there is no Turkish Cypriot state, Turkish Cypriot government, and officials no officials or citizens. This does violence not just to their rights but to commonsense.

    —  Progress has to be made to allow the Turkish Cypriots to trade freely and travel freely. There can be no moral justification for Britain or any other country denying them these rights.

  22.  What role the United Kingdom should play in the continuing process of negotiations between the two communities on the island?

  Because of its historical role as the former colonial power and its expertise, and its presence on the island in the Sovereign bases, and most of all as a Guarantor Power in the island, Britain will continue to play a major role in the international diplomacy over Cyprus. It is to be hoped that its role in the future will be more impartial than it has been in the past.

  Much depends on whether or not, full note is taken of the existence and aspirations of both sides and their ability to determine their own future. In Turkey and Turkish Cyprus, we naturally believe that this role will be more effective if Britain takes due note of the existence of both nationalities in Cyprus not just one.

  We also note that there is a large and vigorous British community in Northern Cyprus which plays an active part in Turkish Cypriot life and we believe that that it should act as a bridge between Cyprus and Britain.

  Britain can help facilitate events at several levels,

    —  At the level of policy-making in the EU and the UN.

    —  In intercommunal relations and the developments of further links between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in London.

    —  In fostering cross-border contacts in different fields inside Cyprus—this might be done within an EU umbrella, for instance by having working contacts between professional groups, media groups, administrators, and politicians from both sides.

    —  In monitoring developments to make sure that a blockade-type situation does not continue on the island. British officials are well placed to detect obvious injustices, irregularities, and discrimination do not take place by drawing attention to them.

  23.  The European Union also needs to support and encourage international forums in which Turkish and Greek Cypriots at all levels of society can begin a genuine dialogue on a basis of equality, with the long term aim of getting to know each other and understand each other's position on key issues. The policy of blockading and besieging the Turkish Cypriots strikes directly at the basis of creating a common understanding on which a future partnership can be based.


  24.  The comments made in this paper have referred generally to the European Union, but the United Kingdom has always played the key role in diplomacy surrounding Cyprus.

  In recent years, I personally believe that Lord Hannay, as Britain's Special Envoy on Cyprus, built up deep respect for himself and his country, during his work on Cyprus. He recognized the fundamental realities of the situation and prepared the way for the Annan Plan and a realistic and just settlement in the island. I hope that his example will offer guidance for British policy-makers as they consider Cyprus in the future.

  25.  The events of last spring have shown that a negotiated settlement is possible but have raised questions about the ability of Britain and its EU partners to sustain the political effort needed to achieve one. In view of the high cost of the dispute between the two nationalities in Cyprus over the last half century, it is essential that impetus towards normalisation be resumed, synchronised with Turkey's own EU accession process. Otherwise the Cyprus situation will, sooner or later, create fresh difficulties which, because of the new EU dimension to the dispute, may be more serious than those of the past.

O­zdem Sanberk

October 2004

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