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INTERVIEW: Turkish Cypriot leader says he doesn’t see EU as honest broker

In an interview with TASS, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who is president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognized only by Turkey, shared his vision of a possible solution to the problem of the divided island, told about attitudes to the Russian-speaking community, and provided comment on the Russian embassy’s decision to begin offering consular services in Northern Cyprus.

- Mr. President, when President of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides came to power, he outlined a number of initiatives to resolve the Cyprus problem. His central point was the more active involvement of the EU in solving the problem of the divided island. You spoke out against the participation of the European Union. What are your key objections? 

- In 2004, the EU has violated its own membership criteria and international law to unlawfully admit the Greek Cypriot side as a member on behalf of the whole island without the consent of the inherently equal Turkish Cypriot Side. The Greek Cypriot side’s membership is against all the international agreements concerning the island. The EU’s unlawful and unilateral admittance of the Greek Cypriot side is also clashing with the founding principles of the EU. In this way, the EU not only became a side but also has become part of the problem. Therefore, the EU cannot be an honest broker or an impartial actor in the Cyrus issue. Any eventual settlement process has to be conducted under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General.

- Mr. Tatar, in his public speeches Nikos Christodoulides has spoken about some incentives that the EU could offer Turkey to change its position on the Cyprus issue. Do you know what kind of incentives he is talking about? And what do you think about such an approach?

- Cyprus is a national issue for both us and our motherland Turkey. Cyprus issue will never be any part of a bargaining deal and we will never give up on our inherent rights. We have a perfect dialogue and coordination with Turkey and such an approach will not bear any results.

- Mr. Tatar, you have said a number of times that the negotiation process can be resumed only if the equal sovereignty and equal international status of the TRNC are guaranteed. Is there anything that can change this position and are there any other formulas for solving the problem?

- We are not talking about the resumption of talks. We are talking about a new and formal negotiation process based on sovereign equality and equal international status of both sides. We are not asking for something new. We are asking for the re-affirmation of our inherent rights that have been usurped by the Greek Cypriot side.

The 1960 partnership Republic of Cyprus was established by the  Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot peoples as its two co-founders. What the Greek Cypriots Side calls the “Republic of Cyprus” today is not the 1960 partnership Republic, it is an hijacked body turned into an illegitimate Greek Cypriot state.  That State, which was destroyed by the Greek Cypriot side in December 1963, lasted for 3 years only. What exists today in the international arena instead is a hijacked state, composed of Greek Cypriots only whose authority ends at the crossing points to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Each side knows where its sovereignty, authority, and jurisdiction start and end. The Greek Cypriot Side has no authority or jurisdiction over the Turkish Cypriot People, TRNC, or the buffer zone. The Turkish Cypriot People are as sovereign as the Greek Cypriot People, and the Turkish Cypriot State is at least as sovereign as that of the Greek Cypriots’. TRNC, with its own fully functioning, democratically-elected Government, Parliament, and Judiciary, possesses all the attributes of a modern State. The international community’s persistent denial to recognize these factual realities on the ground is unacceptable and unsustainable. In violation of international law, the Greek Cypriot leadership continues to act as if it has the capacity to represent the Island as a whole. This illusion is the creator of the Cyprus issue and the guardian of its existence. Therefore, the proposal I have submitted during the informal 5+UN meeting held in Geneva in April 2021 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General is the realistic basis that would pave the way for a just and sustainable settlement on the island. This will help the restoration of the political equilibrium between the two equal Sides and contribute to the preparation of the conditions needed for solving the sixty-year-old dispute on our Island.

- Mr. Tatar, could the recent incident in the buffer zone in Pyla affect the prospects for resuming negotiations between the two communities? If such a local conflict caused such a sharp reaction, then how will you negotiate on more complex issues?

- First of all it should be kept in mind that there are two distinct identities, peoples and states on the island of Cyprus. The improvement project for the Pile-Yiğitler Road, which has been in existence from pre-1974 times to the present, holds great importance in addressing various humanitarian needs like travel healthcare, schools, trade, and other essential services of the Turkish population living in Pile. It will also contribute to economic development by significantly easing transportation to other regions in the TRNC. Turkish Cypriots in Pile, which is the only mixed village in the buffer zone where both Turkish and Greek Cypriots reside, pass through customs checks at British military bases located within the village to access the rest of TRNC. On the other hand, Greek Cypriots residing in Pile can freely travel to and from Southern Cyprus without any border or customs control. Moreover, the UN allowed the construction of the two main roads which were built by the Greek Cypriot side passes through the buffer zone. Therefore, Yiğitler-Pile Road project has been developed entirely based on humanitarian reasons and needs. It serves as a lifeline for the Turkish citizens living in Pile, a community facing socio-economic pressures and decreasing population day by day. Nevertheless, despite these facts, the road project has been obstructed by the UNFICYP soldiers. In consequence, we are working on a mutually acceptable solution and I am hoping that we will sort it out soon.

- Mr. President, do I understand correctly that the issue of a possible trilateral meeting with President Christodoulides and UN Secretary-General Guterres in New York is no longer relevant?

- As I have mentioned above the formal negotiation process can only start only if the sovereign equality and equal international status of the Turkish Cypriot side is reaffirmed. We do not think that meetings for the sake of meetings are necessary.

- Mr. Tatar, you have a fairly large Russian community living in the north of Cyprus. How would you describe their contribution to the development of the island?

- As you mentioned there is a significant Russian community living in TRNC and also there are many inter-marriages between Russians and Turkish Cypriots. As far as I observed these people have successfully adapted to the social life in TRNC and many have already learned and are learning the Turkish language and culture. Therefore, it is very normal that they are becoming part of the TRNC and contributing to the development of the island in every aspect of life.

- Mr. Tatar, the Russian Embassy has started providing consular services for the Russian citizens in Northern Cyprus. What would be your reaction to that?

- It is estimated that there are thousands of Russian citizens and Russian-speaking community in the TRNC and naturally these people need consular services. Therefore, looking from the humanitarian consideration, this decision is long overdue. Countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Australia have also providing consular services over many years at TRNC. Thus, this was a necessary and beneficial step for the Russian citizens living in TRNC.

- Mr. Tatar, the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU sanctions against Russia and closed its airspace to Russian airplanes because of the special military operation in Ukraine. Do you see the potential to attract Russian tourists to the TRNC, who are used to going on vacation to Cyprus, but are no longer able to fly direct flights? Are the logistics being worked out, given that you have recently opened a modernized Ercan airport, capable of serving up to 10 million passengers a year?

- First of all, let me express the speedy resolution of the crisis between the Russian Federation and Ukraine that would end the human suffering caused by unfortunate crisis. The TRNC has not been able to fulfill its economic potential because of the obstructionist policies of the Greek Cypriot leadership. Our economy is mainly based on higher education, local production, and of course tourism. We will welcome tourists from all over the world and our tourism sector is ready to accommodate tourists from all around the world with our very good quality resorts. We are already welcoming almost a million tourists from all around the world. Our tourism infrastructure is ready for more and as you mentioned modernized Ercan airport capable of serving up to 10 million passengers a year. In this respect, Russian tourists are already visiting our beautiful country like many others coming from all around the world.

- Mr. Tatar, Speaking at the World Conference of Cyprus' Diaspora in Nicosia US Ambassador Julie Fisher has expressed her concerns about Russians buying property in TRNC. Do you have any problem with that? Is it ok for the Russian citizens to buy property in TRNC if they want to live or spend some time in the North? 

- Like all the other countries in the world, we run our state with laws and regulations defined in our constitution and other relevant laws. This is also valid for immovable properties. In this respect, whoever meets the relevant criteria can purchase immovable property. There is no discrimination or hidden articles in this specific section of the legislation.

- Mr. President, do you think that the international recognition of the TRNC is a matter of time, and how would you envision things in the North of the island, let`s say, in 10 years from now?

- As I have stated earlier, the only realistic formula for the solution to the Cyprus issue is on the basis of reaffirmation of Turkish Cypriot's sovereign equality and equal international status. No one can expect us to sit and wait for another 50 years for Greek Cypriots to come to the terms of an agreement. My people are still under inhuman isolation and embargoes that do not belong to this age. Unfortunately, this policy is stubbornly pursued by the Greek Cypriot leadership but also supported by the international community including the Russian Federation. This injustice must come to an end. I always believe in diplomacy and dialogue, but this does not mean that I will leave my people to continue living without status and deprived of their inherent rights. We want a just and sustainable solution for the Cyprus issue, but I will not leave the future of my state to the mercy of the Greek Cypriot leadership. Time is not static, we are living in a dynamic world. TRNC’s future is bright and we are getting recognition every single day. We are now an observer of the Organization of Turkic States. Our institutions are also one by one joined by the relevant bodies of the organization. In his historical speech address at the 77th session of the General Assembly, his excellency President of Turkey Erdoğan called the international community to officially recognize the TRNC and to end inhuman isolation. These landmark developments will positively contribute to the future of my state and stability in the region. I believe the ones currently acting to preserve the status quo will understand the factual realities on the ground real soon.