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Occasional Cypriot News Contributions Directory

From: Panayiotis Zaphiris <>



It is a pleasure to be addressing such a select and knowledgeable audience. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you on Cyprus, its long-standing problem, current political and economic realities and the prospects for a peaceful solution.

The problem of Cyprus may not rank, in the minds of many, among the major global issues or command the media attention which some other regional issues have received lately; it nonetheless remains a test-case of the effectiveness of the United Nations and of the application of the basic rules of international law. It is also a tragic anachronism in to-day's post-cold war world.

It is now more than twenty years nearly twenty in fact since the brutal invasion and occupation of a large part of Cyprus by the Turkish armed forces in 1974, with all its disastrous consequences in terms of human suffering and its deplorable implications for international legal order and for peace in our volatile region.

It is the nature and extent of these consequences, together with the wider issues of principle involved, that render the Cyprus problem one of international concern which needs to be urgently and earnestly addressed, regardless of how many years have elapsed.

Last week's confrontation between Greece and Turkey over a rock island in the Aegean serves as a reminder of this need.

If in 1974 the international community had taken effective steps not to allow the victimization of small Cyprus through its forcible division and the deliberate massive "ethnic cleansing", there is good reason to think that we would not be witnessing similar deplorable actions in former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. And if U.N. resolutions in support of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus had been respected and enforced, we might not have had Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and other recent instances of lawless international behaviour.

The "Economist" in its latest issue, referring to these two situations stressed in one of the main editorials. If principles are to be involved on those occasions where the seizure is resisted in Kuwait or in the Falklands then they should not be forgotten on the other occasions.

Bad precedents, when tolerated and condoned, tend to be repeated.

The Cyprus problem is, I stress, a solvable problem, much more than other seemingly more intractable problems (such as the conflict in the Middle East and German reunification), which have been solved or are on their way to a solution. With good will and determination from all sides it can and should be solved, to the benefit of all parties concerned, including Turkey's.

I will not take time with a knowledgeable audience such as you, to go into the history of the problem. Let me just say that, in its basic dimensions, it is simple and should be of universal concern. Although it has its constitutional and other aspects, the Cyprus problem in its essence is an international problem of aggression, invasion, occupation, and of massive violation of human rights. It involves the illegal invasion and occupation of a small country by a far larger and militarily much stronger neighbor, bent on imposing by force its arbitrary prescription of a partitionist political solution; it involves attempted secession in violation of international treaties; it involves the systematic destruction of the cultural heritage of an ancient land with thousands of years of history and civilization; it involves "ethnic cleansing" on a massive scale with the forced displacement of practically all of the Greek Cypriot inhabitants of the area currently under Turkish occupation (constituting eighty percent of the inhabitants of that area and more than a third of Cyprus' total population) and the importation of a large number of Anatolian colonists aimed at altering the historic demographic composition of the island; and it involves the tragedy of missing persons that raises humanitarian issues of major significance.

Turkey's illegal actions in Cyprus have received universal disapproval from the United Nations and from virtually all other international forums. Turkey's invasion of Cyprus, which was carried out through the use of American-supplied arms in violation of American law and bilateral United States - Turkish agreements, raised the "rule of law" issue and resulted in the arms embargo against Turkey by decision of the United States Congress.

On numerous occasions, the United Nations Security Council called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Cyprus, the voluntary return of refugees to their homes, the cessation of all interference in the internal affairs of Cyprus, and respect for its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity. Turkey has chosen to ignore the decisions of the international community and has done so with impunity.

Now, more than twenty years later, the situation on the ground is no different; in fact it deteriorated through the massive infusion of the Anatolian settlers and the systematic destruction of the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

This is a very sad commentary on the state of international legal order.

Despite Turkey's failure to comply with the U.N. resolutions, the Cyprus Government showed its goodwill, sense of pragmatism and genuine wish for a peaceful solution by entering into negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot side, in the conviction that there is much more that unites all Cypriots than the differences that divided us.

The Cyprus Government and the Greek Cypriot side made a number of significant concessions, including the acceptance of biregional, federal solution when no geographical basis for such a solution existed prior to 1974, in the hope that the Turkish side would respond with reasonable proposals and thus reach a solution. Basically, what we have asked for is the establishment of a viable and genuine federation based on democratic principles, as in the case of all other federal states (such as the United States) and with special provisions to meet the particular circumstances of Cyprus. We continue to maintain this position.

The demand from the other side has been all along the establishment of, in effect, two separate states with separate armies, separate treaty-making capacity, separate economies. In short, while paying lip service to a federal system, the Turkish objective has always been a partitionist solution through the legitimization of the results of the internationally condemned invasion.

This is in direct defiance of United Nations resolutions, including the recent Security Council Resolution on Cyprus 939 of 1994 which, in operative paragraph 2, defines very clearly the basis of a solution of the Cyprus problem. It reaffirms:

"the position that a Cyprus settlement must be based on a State of Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded, and comprising two politically equal communities as described in the relevant Security Council resolutions, in a bi-communal and bizonal federation, and that such a settlement must exclude union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession."
It is this Turkish intransigence that has consistently frustrated all efforts to reach a negotiated settlement on Cyprus. In his May 1994 report to the Security Council, the U.N. Secretary General concluded what many observers have been saying for a long time, that is, and I quote: "The Security Council finds itself faced with an already familiar scenario: the absence of agreement due essentially to a lack of political will on the Turkish Cypriot side."

No progress towards a negotiated settlement can be expected unless the Turkish side finds the necessary political will. And the necessary political resolve will not be found unless the factors that sustain Turkish intransigence are removed. Primary among these is the continuing presence and overwhelming military strength of the Turkish occupation troops on the island (more than 35,000), an alarming fact which made the United Nations Secretary General describe the occupied area of Cyprus in his June 1994 and repeated in his last Dec. 1995 Report, and I quote as "one of the most highly militarized areas in the world in terms of the ratio between numbers of troops and civilian population".

The answer to this lies in the proposal of the President of Cyprus, Mr. Glafcos Clerides, for the complete demilitarization of the Republic of Cyprus, which he formally submitted to the U.N. in December 1993, and recently reaffirmed. This comprehensive plan provides, among other things, for the disbanding of the Cypriot National Guard and handing over all of its arms and military equipment to a substantially strengthened U.N. Peacekeeping Force, using the money saved from defence spending to fully finance this Force and reserving the remainder of the savings (several hundred million dollars) for development projects to benefit both communities. This offer is of course conditional on the parallel withdrawal of the Turkish troops and settlers from Cyprus, as also called for in the U.N. resolutions, and the disbanding of Turkish Cypriot armed units.

It is a significant and constructive proposal with far-reaching implications in terms of meeting the perceived Turkish security concerns, as indeed the much more real security concerns of the Republic of Cyprus, and its acceptance would substantially enhance prospects for a peaceful resolution of the situation. The Turkish side has so far not accepted this proposal, but the proposal has received considerable bipartisan support here in the United States, as well as internationally by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

As recently as last September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed with an overwhelming majority a Concurrent Resolution (H.CON.RES.42) in support of the demilitarization of Cyprus and, in addition, for the just and peaceful solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of U.N. resolutions, including in particular key Sec. Council Resolution 939 of 1994 which, as I indicated, provides for the fundamentals of a solution (single personality, single citizenship, biregional federation of two communities). This is a very significant development which sends a clear and strong signal to all concerned. A similar resolution is pending before the Senate, having been unanimously adopted by the Foreign Relations Committee, as recently as last December.

I would like now to spend a little time on some other aspects of the Cyprus situation, beside the political problem, particularly since this falls within the terms of my brief for this talk. There is room not only for anxiety, frustration and disappointment but also for much pride and satisfaction in what this young and small state, despite all the setbacks, has managed through the native skills, resilience and energies of its people to achieve.

Since independence in 1960, the economy of Cyprus has been transformed from that of a colonial backwater, with low per capita income and high emigration, to a bustling, vibrant free market economy with results for everyone to see. Now, 21 years after the invasion which caused the destruction of about 70% of Cyprus' productive economic base, per capita income is at a very satisfactory level of over 13,000 U.S.$, GDP growth was 4.6% last year, inflation is low at 2.6%, unemployment is negligible at 2.4%, foreign exchange reserves are healthy and our standard of living and quality of life compare favorably with that of several. According to the Human Development Index, devised by the UNDP, which takes into account the level of standard of living as well as other socio-economic factors such as literacy, educational attainment and life-expectancy, Cyprus ranks third among the developing countries and 26th in the world, on a par or above that of several other European countries. In fact, according to a recent report by The World Bank, Cyprus ranks third, behind only France and Italy, among all Mediterranean countries in per capita GDP. Equally impressive is the fact that Cyprus is the only country, along with Luxembourg, that fulfills the Maastrict Treaty criteria for joining the European Economic and Monetary Union, with a budget deficit limited to 1.3% of GDP, national debt to 54% of GDP and inflation at 2.6%.

Tourism is booming with over 2 million visitors last year and a substantial number of offshore companies are currently based in Cyprus and doing business elsewhere in the region. Cyprus ranks fourth in the world as a maritime nation and third in telecommunication facilities, while it is one of the top countries in the world in the ratio of university graduates to population. I am pleased to say that Cyprus is first among foreign countries in the ratio of students studying in the United States to country population. And the long-awaited establishment of a Cyprus University three years ago filled a much-needed vacuum and augurs well for the future.

We have a flourishing cultural life and we are, of course, intensely proud of our long history, culture and tradition; some claim, correctly, that the Cypriot dialect of today is the most closely linked in vocabulary and syntax to Homeric Greek.

Overall, we enjoy a democratic system of government, a free enterprise economic system and have an outstanding record in the observance of international standards of human rights. We have a sound civil service, independent judiciary and freedom of speech and of the press.

Yes, indeed, there is a silver lining in the heavy clouds above us.

These encouraging achievements, made in circumstances of the continued dismemberment of the island and constant anxiety over its political future, have been reflected in the respect and esteem which Cyprus has attracted internationally, giving it a standing of influence in the community of nations out of proportion to its size and resources.

A small state with a huge national problem on its hands, Cyprus must inevitably pursue an open and principled policy on the international stage, cultivating relations of co-operation and friendship with all countries and avoiding identification with conflicting interests.

Naturally, due to reasons of geography, history an culture, Cyprus's European orientation has been a central plank of our foreign policy. We are firmly committed to a policy of acceding to the European Union for political as well as economic reasons and we are convinced this accession will bring about increased security and prosperity for all Cypriots in a variety of ways. Towards that end, we welcome the March 6 1995 decision of the European Union to set a firm date for the start of Cyprus accession talks (six months after the conclusion of the E.U.'s Inter-Governmental Conference scheduled to begin later this year) and to engage in a structured pre-accession dialogue with Cyprus. We also believe that this will give the Turkish side the necessary impetus to reconsider their options and, hopefully, adopt a more reasonable attitude. We are convinced that the prospect of entry to the European Union can act as a catalyst which can enhance the efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem. And our entry into the E.U. would provide the best safeguard for the viability of a solution, affording increased security and prosperity for all Cypriots, as well as a framework for positive cooperation between the two communities.

Beyond Europe, Cyprus also attaches the greatest importance to its relations with the United States. We have always demonstrated our dedication to the same democratic ideals which inspire this country and which indeed are the foundation of our own free democratic system. Our affinity and friendship with the United States, and our concern to contribute what assistance we can to the cause of humanitarianism and peace, was demonstrated during the recent years of upheaval and terrorism in Lebanon and during the Gulf War, and through close cooperation in combating terrorism and drug trafficking and in other ways, such as the strict application of United Nations sanctions. These positions have been appreciated at the highest level of the United States Government with frequent references to the excellent relations between the United States and Cyprus.

As regards efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem, we have particularly looked for support from the United States as a superpower - although this is disputed - indeed the only superpower now - and as a country with vital interests and influence in the region and which is in a unique position to assist. While not oblivious of the importance attached to the bilateral U.S. - Turkish relationship by U.S. policymakers and business interests, we feel that the role of the United States can be considerable in bringing the weight of its diplomacy to bear towards a fair solution of the Cyprus problem, since such a solution would not only be the right thing but also to the interest of the United States and indeed of Turkey itself.

The United States voted in favour of the key U.N. resolutions on Cyprus, recognizes only the Republic of Cyprus and opposes the recognition of the illegal secessionist entity in the occupied area. Successive Administrations have followed with close interest the efforts of the Secretary-General and supported them in their various stages. In Congress, there exists much sympathy and support for our position and this has been manifested in a variety of ways, such a earmarking humanitarian economic aid to Cyprus and linking a portion of the aid to Turkey with her behaviour on Cyprus. In the last session of Congress, a significant bill on the humanitarian issue of the Missing persons in Cyprus was passed by both Houses and was signed into law by the President and, as I said, the significant Resolution on demilitarization was recently adopted.

We sincerely appreciate President Clinton's repeated expressions of interest for progress on the Cyprus problem. The appointment last year of Mr. Richard Beattie, an eminent New York lawyer, as Special Presidential Emissary for Cyprus, reflects the President's commitment and the continuing engagement of Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke and State Department Special Cyprus Coordinator James Williams, as well as other [competent] State Department officials, indicate an increased U.S. interest and involvement. Dick Holbrooke's involvement has been instrumental in raising the profile of the issue and underlying the significance of the U.S. role, by both extending support to Cyprus's European quest and stressing the imperative of a solution to the Cyprus problem before an improvement in the Greco-Turkish relation can be attained (it is the "Ghordian knot", as he termed it - a problem I had been expressing for years). Although he is expected to leave his post very shortly, he has confirmed recently and on a number of occasions, that 1996 will be the year of the "big push" on Cyprus and that the Administration remains committed to making this a reality [to undertake a major effort] at an opportune moment. We certainly welcome this and we would look for additional manifestations of U.S. interest and support through the maintenance of more active engagement at an appropriately high political level, the exercise of influence on Ankara to withdraw its troops and moderate its position, support in the U.N. Security Council for effective measures to implement its own resolutions and support for the significant and far-reaching proposal of President Clerides for the demilitarization of Cyprus, as also provided in the recent House Resolution. We have also actively sought American support for the early admission of Cyprus to the European Union and very much welcome the assurances of such support.

Two points are clear in this context. The one is that active American support for a just Cyprus solution falls under the category of "bipartisan foreign policy", a cause which both Democrats and Republicans can support. The other is that a breakthrough with determining input by the Administration will clearly constitute "a foreign policy success", both for the Administration and for the United States, and build on other recent successes (2nd Israeli-PLO agreement, framework agreement on Bosnia, Haiti, Northern Ireland).

Having said all this what are the prospects for Cyprus? At the risk of oversimplifying, let me summarize some main points:

  • One. The Cyprus problem is essentially an international problem which needs to be attended to on its own merits and as a potential threat to peace in the region; it is a solvable problem which can and must be solved.
  • Two. The parameters for its solution are provided for in the relevant U.N. resolutions and high level agreements and the U.N. Secretary-General's good offices offers a mutually acceptable procedure.
  • Three. The primary reason for its non-solution so far has been Turkish intransigence and lack of political will, sustained by overwhelming military force. The key to a solution is in Ankara which needs to be persuaded that a compromise solution is to its own long term best interest (Ciller - current political situation in Turkey).
  • Four. The demilitarization proposal, still on the table, provides the answer to the security concerns of all parties involved and merits general support.
  • Five. The accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union would ensure political and economic benefits for all Cypriots and further enhance their security. It can also be a catalyst for progress in the talks for a solution to the Cyprus problem, particularly in solving human rights issues in accordance with the European norms.
  • Six. The recent Security Council resolution 939 (July 1994) reaffirms the right common basis for a solution and the Turkish side must be pressed by the Council to accept it.
  • Seven. The United States can play a major role in the search for a solution, within the U.N. framework, and is in a unique position to persuade Turkey to moderate its intransigence.
  • Eight. A just, viable compromise solution would be to the benefit of all parties directly concerned, including Turkey, to the benefit of the United States and for peace and stability in the region.
  • Nine. A reunited and peaceful Cyprus, free of foreign troops, can be a bridge of peace, instead of a bone of contention, in the region and play the role Switzerland and Austria have played in central Europe.
It may be frustrating to see what seemed to be much more intractable problems, such as that of the division of Germany, apartheid in South Africa, the conflict in the Middle East and recently Northern Ireland and even Bosnia to have been solved or to be on their way to a solution, a fact for which we rejoice, while ours is nowhere near to a solution. But it is a consoling thought that a few years ago hardly any had foreseen that Germany would have been reunified by agreement or that apartheid would have been peacefully dismantled or that significant progress would have been made in the Middle East and Northern Ireland. Indeed who would have guessed, a few short years ago, that the Soviet Union would no longer exist and that democracy would be the norm in Eastern Europe? So, frustrating though it may be, we must persevere, stay the course, redouble our efforts in the conviction that our cause is right and that justice will at the end prevail. Politics is the art of the possible. If what is possible today is not acceptable, we have no option but to continue to strive in order to make possible tomorrow what is not possible today.

Let me conclude on a personal note:

In October 1990, I was fortunate enough to be present at the historic ceremony in Berlin to mark German reunification. In September 1993, I was on the White House South Lawn for the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian joint declaration of principles and, in July 1994, I was present at the Joint Session of Congress when King Hussein and the late Prime Minister Rabin declared that the state of war no longer existed between Jordan and Israel, a prelude to the signing of a Peace Treaty between the two states. I like to believe that one day in the not too distant future a similarly auspicious event will take place marking the just solution to the Cyprus problem.

Thank you for your patience and attention.

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