Antifon cartoons


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chritofias talks to Foreign Policy on September 30, 2010

An Island Divided 

Cyprus's president talks to Foreign Policy about why Turkey is blocking a resolution to his nation's reunification.


Republic of Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias has spent his entire life trying to rid his country of foreign forces. As a child in the 1950s, he worked in his father's coffee shop, which served as the informal meeting house for the local resistance to British rule. He went on to sell newspapers for the organ of the Progressive Party of Working People, Cyprus's communist party, and climbed the ranks of the organization until he was catapulted into the presidency in 2008.

After Turkey invaded the island in 1974, in response to a coup backed by the junta ruling Greece at the time, Christofias found himself expelled from his home in the northern part of the country. "I assure you it's very painful to leave the place where you're born and grow up," he toldForeign Policy's David Kenner. "And suddenly be forced to leave the place with a shirt and shorts and with a baby in our hands."

Since the 1974 invasion, the island has been divided between the Republic of Cyprus, which is home to 800,000 people and a member of the European Union, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Turkey. Over the past 36 years, despite dozens of negotiating sessions between both sides and committed international diplomacy by the Western powers and the United Nations, the conflict remains frozen in place.

In April, Dervis Eroglu, a nationalist politician who supports the north's independence, was electedpresident of northern Cyprus -- another blow to the negotiations process. But to Christofias, Turkish intransigence is still the primary reason for the lack of progress in reunification talks. "Turkey must understand that Cyprus is an independent state," he said, calling on United States to use its leverage "to convince Turkey that it is time to behave like a modern state and not like an invader and occupier."

Foreign Policy: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has adopted what he refers to as a "zero problems with neighbors" policy, and his government has been involved in high-profile diplomatic efforts regarding Israel, Iran, and Syria. What about Turkey's policy toward Cyprus?

Dimitris Christofias: I find many contradictions in Turkish foreign policy. I understand that [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and [Turkish President Abdullah] Gul follow a vision to make Turkey a modern country, yes? This is why they fight against the privileges of the military establishment and the judiciary as well. At the same time, they are trying to become a superpower in the region, influencing Arab countries by using religion. And they want to become a member of the European Union. This is a contradiction!

Meanwhile, they continue the occupation of a country [Cyprus] that is a full member of the European Union. They have to decide what they want: If they want a really modern Turkey, which respects the values and the principles of the European Union, they have to take into account that Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

Cyprus is supporting the full accession of Turkey into the European Union, under the precondition that they have to recognize the Republic of Cyprus. I hope that Turkey will make clear what they really want -- to be an Islamic country, to embrace the Islamic countries and the Islamic peoples of the region, or to be a modern country.

FP: Turkey's policy of preventing vessels from the Republic of Cyprus from trading in Turkish ports is one of the most significant obstacles to its bid for EU membership. With this ban still in place, and many suggesting that Turkey has lost enthusiasm for joining the EU in recent years, would you say that there has been backsliding in Turkey's Cyprus policy in recent years?

DC: This is why I spoke about contradictions. Nobody could say that the Turkish leadership's path is a straight line. It's up and down. So this is why I said they have to make clear what they want.

There are some powerful countries, members of the European Union, which refuse to accept Turkey as a full member. This is not done as a favor to us, of course. If [Turkey's leadership] knew for sure that they would become a member of the European Union, maybe they would soften [their policy] toward Cyprus.

We have a smaller number of people, with weak military possibilities. So our vision is a peaceful one. The one who has the military strength of course, sometimes -- not sometimes, usually -- is tough and intransigent. I hope that the United States would influence their strategic ally in order to convince them that the way to solve their problems is not the military.

I remember a statement by President Barack Obama that the United States must do its utmost to be respected by other peoples and governments, instead of inspire fear in them. This is a very important and very progressive position, and I highly respect it. When the United States -- the superpower of the world -- aims to follow such a correct policy, I wonder why not Turkey.

FP: Was there any fallout to your relationship with Israel from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid that killed nine Turkish citizens in May?

DC: The relationship between Israel and Cyprus were, and still are, good relations, friendly relations. The nonaligned policy [of Cyprus in international affairs] covers Israel as well. We've recognized Israel since 1960. And we recognize the right of Israel to exist. And, of course, we also recognize and support the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

We are in close contact with the Israeli government in order to promote our relations without, of course, denying our principles for the Palestinians.

FP: After the incident in May, has your policy changed at all toward these flotillas?

DC: We issued an order that it is prohibited, the flotillas, to use the ports of Cyprus. On the other hand, we made a proposal to the Israelis and Palestinians that we are ready to give assistance to the people of Gaza, through a very strict control of the content of the cargo sent [there]. And we are in close contact now with Israel and the Palestinians in order to promote this proposal and to implement the practice.

The Israeli government until now is examining [the proposal] -- they didn't reject it, fortunately. The Palestinians agreed to this and we are waiting for the implementation of this initiative.

All Time Popular Posts

Last 7 Days Popular Posts


Turkey's Kurds & Cyprus' tCypriots

As either unitary state or federation solutions are discussed as replacements to Cyprus' 1960 and Turkey's 1923 unworkable constitutions, should we abide by "if a right is a right too many for Turkey's Kurdish community (circa 23% of population) then that right is a right too many for Cyprus' tCypriot community too (circa 15%), and vice versa." Is the adoption of this fair logic the catalyst to securing just solutions for both UN countries.