The Cyprus problem, scrapies and water

The sec­ond semes­ter of 2008 was marked by major inter­na­tion­al events, includ­ing the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis, the con­flict in Geor­gia and the elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma to the US Pres­i­den­cy. Need­less to say, all these devel­op­ments pre­oc­cu­pied the Cypri­ot peo­ple who had, in addi­tion, a num­ber of fur­ther con­cerns and expec­ta­tions in mind.

Undoubt­ed­ly the most cru­cial issue for the cit­i­zens of the Repub­lic of Cyprus, and the one most­ly debat­ed on the island, was the resump­tion of the direct nego­ti­a­tions between Cypri­ot Pres­i­dent, Demetris Christofias, and Turk­ish Cypri­ot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, aim­ing at a com­pre­hen­sive solu­tion of the Cyprus prob­lem. Talks resumed on 3 Sep­tem­ber 2008 and since then, the two com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers meet on a reg­u­lar basis to dis­cuss issues to reach com­mon­ly accept­ed terms which will lead to the reuni­fi­ca­tion of Cyprus. Cur­rent­ly, Christofias and Talat are dis­cussing the thorny prop­er­ty chap­ter but, although both sides try to be tight-lipped, their posi­tions appear far apart. News reports revealed that the Greek-Cypri­ot pro­pos­als on prop­er­ty are based on the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights deci­sions and the Unit­ed Nation resolutions.[1] The same sources say that UN experts have exchanged views with the two sides on the gov­er­nance issue, but stopped short of sub­mit­ting pro­pos­als as this would change the UN’s man­date in the present process. Com­men­ta­tors on the issue also sug­gest that it will not take long ‑as the two sides are so far apart – that this issue would be put aside and the two nego­tia­tors will move to the next chap­ters – like­ly to be the econ­o­my and the Euro­pean Union. Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Markos Kypri­anou, stat­ed on the prop­er­ties issue that Cyprus will remain stead­fast on the prin­ci­ple of the return of prop­er­ty, adding that this basic human right does not clash with the con­cepts of bi-zon­al­i­ty and bi-communality.[2] Ear­li­er, in the year, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Kypri­anou com­ment­ed that the set­tle­ment of the Cyprus prob­lem can be achieved in 2009 if the Turk­ish Cypri­ot side adopts a more con­struc­tive stance at the nego­ti­at­ing table.[3] He empha­sised that the con­clu­sion of the direct talks depends on whether the posi­tions expressed are with­in the agreed framework.

Con­cern­ing the posi­tions expressed by the two com­mu­ni­ties in these nego­ti­a­tions, Pres­i­dent Christofias recog­nised that cer­tain real­i­ties have been estab­lished on the ground in the past 34 years.[4] Speak­ing with regards to the prop­er­ty issue, he stressed that the gov­ern­ment sup­ports the rights of legal own­ers, and not­ed that the basic dif­fer­ence between the two sides is that the Turk­ish Cypri­ot side focus­es more on the exchange of prop­er­ties and com­pen­sa­tions and not their return. The posi­tion of the gov­ern­ment, he said, is that the mat­ter can be solved using four basic prin­ci­ples: the right of own­ers to use their prop­er­ty; their right to lease it; their right to com­pen­sa­tion; and their right to exchange it for prop­er­ties in the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled areas. On the issue of gov­er­nance, after a solu­tion to the island’s prob­lem, accord­ing to Christofias, the two sides hold diver­gent posi­tions. The Greek Cypri­ot side sup­ports the elec­tion of a pres­i­dent and vice-pres­i­dent from a com­mon bal­lot for both com­mu­ni­ties, with the six year pres­i­den­cy term rotat­ing at four years for the Greek Cypri­ot mem­ber and two years for the Turk­ish Cypri­ot mem­ber. Also, the gov­ern­ment pro­pos­es a 70 per­cent to 30 per­cent dis­tri­b­u­tion in the cab­i­net. On the oth­er hand, he said, the Turk­ish Cypri­ot side pro­pos­es the elec­tion of two co-pres­i­dents, elect­ed by a sen­ate, and the insti­tu­tion of a pres­i­den­tial coun­cil with a ratio of four to three mem­bers for each com­mu­ni­ty. On leg­isla­tive issues there is more con­ver­gence, accord­ing to Christofias. The gov­ern­ment pro­pos­es equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in a sen­ate and pro­por­tion­al in a house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives. How­ev­er, he admit­ted there are still great dif­fer­ences on the issue of dis­pute-resolv­ing mech­a­nisms. The basis of the solu­tion, Christofias said, is a bi-zon­al, bi-com­mu­nal fed­er­a­tion, as it was clear­ly agreed upon; and yet, Turkey now views it quite dif­fer­ent­ly. He stressed that the exis­tence of guar­an­tor pow­ers is unac­cept­able and insult­ing to the polit­i­cal matu­ri­ty of the peo­ple of Cyprus. Christofias also took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reit­er­ate his oppo­si­tion to Cyprus’ appli­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship in the Part­ner­ship for Peace. Final­ly, he warned Turkey that its EU acces­sion is impos­si­ble as long as it keeps the occu­pa­tion troops in Cyprus.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, the Cypri­ot peo­ple were shocked by the state­ments made by Turk­ish actor, Atti­la Olgaç, dur­ing a TV pro­gramme in Turkey. Olgaç revealed that he had exe­cut­ed 10 Greek Cypri­ot pris­on­ers of war, dur­ing the Turk­ish inva­sion of 1974, includ­ing a 19-year-old man at point blank. The Cypri­ot gov­ern­ment and pub­lic opin­ion were deeply affect­ed by the rev­e­la­tions of such exe­cu­tions. As the gov­ern­ment spokesman not­ed, the rev­e­la­tion reaf­firmed the atroc­i­ties con­duct­ed by the Turk­ish army in 1974 and the bla­tant vio­la­tion of the Gene­va Con­ven­tions by Turkey.[5]

The Cypri­ot author­i­ties were imme­di­ate­ly mobilised to fur­ther scru­ti­nise the issue, and the government’s legal ser­vices inves­ti­gat­ed pos­si­ble legal action. 24 hours after the Turk­ish actor’s admis­sion, he retract­ed his ear­li­er state­ments on the exe­cu­tions by say­ing that he had con­fused real­i­ty with one of his scripts and that he want­ed to gauge the public’s reac­tion, even though he had con­firmed the con­tent of his inter­view to the dai­ly news­pa­per “Radikal” short­ly after it was broad­cast­ed. All Cypri­ot media gave exten­sive cov­er­age to the actor’s con­tra­dic­tions and to the dis­tress caused to rel­a­tives of miss­ing per­sons and those killed dur­ing the war. There is wide­spread spec­u­la­tion that Olgaç changed his state­ment fol­low­ing pres­sure by the Turk­ish army and the ’deep state’. As announced, the gov­ern­ment intends to report the tes­ti­mo­ny of the Turk­ish actor to the Coun­cil of Europe com­mit­tee of per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives, as well as to the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights.[6] In addi­tion, in asso­ci­a­tion with the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the gov­ern­ment will also inform all EU mem­ber states and bod­ies, refer­ring specif­i­cal­ly to the Euro­pean Parliament.

On this issue, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion remind­ed Turkey of its oblig­a­tion to secure prop­er inves­ti­ga­tions into the fate of all Greek Cypri­ots miss­ing since the 1974 events. Enlarge­ment Com­mis­sion­er Olli Rehn’s spokesper­son, Kriszti­na Nagy, com­ment­ed that an inves­ti­ga­tion should be launched into estab­lish­ing what had real­ly happened.[7] If, accord­ing to the Enlarge­ment Com­mis­sion­er, the state­ments are con­firmed, the Turk­ish actor’s actions would con­sti­tute a vio­la­tion of the Gene­va Con­ven­tions. Nagy reit­er­at­ed Olli Rehn’s state­ments that the Olgaç rev­e­la­tions are a trag­ic and shame­ful sto­ry. The Com­mis­sion assured that it recog­nis­es the urgency of solv­ing the miss­ing per­sons issue and to this end it is releas­ing 1.5 mil­lion Euro in sup­port of the work of the miss­ing per­sons inves­tiga­tive committee.

The issue of ani­mal health is also of high salience in Cyprus. In Novem­ber 2008 the pub­li­ca­tion of an opin­ion by the “French Food Safe­ty Agency”, which sug­gest­ed that milk from goats and sheep con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with scrapies should not be con­sumed by humans because of poten­tial health risk, alarmed the Cypri­ot author­i­ties. Cyprus is con­cerned that an export embar­go might be imposed and about 130,000 ani­mals could be culled, seri­ous­ly affect­ing farm­ing and there­by the econ­o­my of the island. In Feb­ru­ary 2009, dai­ly news­pa­per “Poli­tis”, revealed the main pro­vi­sions of the nation­al plan on scrapies pre­pared by the vet­eri­nary ser­vices accord­ing to which 250 ani­mals will be culled per day over the next 18 months.[8] The plan needs the Cabinet’s approval in order to be imple­ment­ed by 1 March.

Anoth­er major issue most­ly debat­ed dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2008 was Cyprus’ severe water short­age, com­mon­ly regard­ed as the country’s “sec­ond nation­al prob­lem”. The water sit­u­a­tion remained crit­i­cal despite a cer­tain increase in reserves com­pared to 2008. By ear­ly March, the Cypri­ot dams’ capac­i­ty had reached 25 per­cent. Intense debates on the government’s han­dling of the prob­lem were held among mem­bers of the oppo­si­tion par­ties and the gov­ern­ment. The oppo­si­tion most­ly advo­cat­ed that the gov­ern­ment should have pre­pared an emer­gency action-plan to com­bat water scarci­ty and pro­mote the cre­ation of more desali­na­tion units capa­ble of pro­duc­ing more quan­ti­ties of water in order to avoid water cuts all over the island. Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Nat­ur­al Resources and Envi­ron­ment, Michalis Polinikis, how­ev­er, has been reas­sur­ing the pub­lic of the government’s com­mit­ment to con­tin­ue the imple­men­ta­tion of the long-term desali­na­tion pro­gramme so as to dis­en­gage Cyprus’ water needs from the caprices of the weather.

Final­ly, in the ear­ly days of Feb­ru­ary 2009, it was announced in Wash­ing­ton that two Amer­i­can offi­cials and among the clos­est aids to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma –Sen­a­tor of Illi­nois Richard Durbin and the Illi­nois State Trea­sur­er, Greek-Amer­i­can Alex­is Gian­nou­lias – were to vis­it soon the tri­an­gle of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey for inves­tiga­tive talks. Need­less to say, Cypri­ot elites and pub­lic opin­ion were elat­ed at the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Pres­i­dent Obama’s prob­a­ble involve­ment in send­ing such a del­e­ga­tion at this time may well imply seri­ous inter­est in the ‘fair res­o­lu­tion’ of the triangle’s prob­lems on a win-win basis.



[1] Cyprus Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion: Main evening news bul­letin, 4 Feb­ru­ary 2009.
[2] Markos Kypri­anou, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs: State­ments, Nicosia, 4 Feb­ru­ary 2009 (as report­ed by all Cypri­ot Media).
[3] Markos Kypri­anou, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs: State­ments, Nicosia, 9 Jan­u­ary 2009 (as report­ed by all Cypri­ot Media).
[4] Demetris Christofias, Pres­i­dent: State­ments to for­eign cor­re­spon­dents in Cyprus, Nicosia, 5 Feb­ru­ary 2009 (as report­ed by the Cyprus News Agency).
[5] Ste­fanos Stafanou, spokesper­son of the gov­ern­ment: State­ments, Nicosia, 25 Jan­u­ary 2009 (as report­ed by the Cyprus News Agency).
[6] Ste­fanos Stafanou, spokesper­son of the gov­ern­ment: State­ments, Nicosia, 27 Jan­u­ary 2009 (as report­ed by the Cyprus News Agency).
[7] Kristz­i­na Nagy, spokesper­son of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er for Enlarge­ment: State­ments, Brus­sels, 28 Jan­u­ary 2009 (As report­ed by all Cypri­ot Media).
[8] POLITIS (news­pa­per), 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009.