There are many troubled countries in the world in which we see racism, cultural and religious differences as the main source of conflict. Among the many areas of the world which are in conflict there are the 9,251 square kilometres of the island of Cyprus.
We have experienced innumerable painful events since 1963: we have lost our loved ones, and for years we were not able to return to our homes, schools, villages and cities. The inhabitants of this island, a population of under a million, have failed to put aside their religious, linguistic and racial differences and live in peace. Despite the passing of many years, disagreements, differences in views and racial discrimination continue.
I would like to provide you with a summary of events from the past.
The Cyprus Republic, which gained its independence in 1960, was a partnership administered jointly by two communities. The Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots had 70% representation while Muslim Turkish Cypriots had the remaining 30% representation in the government. The Partnership Republic only lasted for three years. When inter-communal fighting broke out in December 1963, Turkish Cypriots were broken off from the Republic through force of arms. A United Nations Peacekeeping Force has been stationed on the island since 1964. No doubt this situation has been a burden on the United Nation’s budget.
The island of Aphrodite has experienced more grief than love… The fighting became worse, leading finally to the events of 1974.
Rather than blaming anyone for these events, I would like to point out that it is both communities which have spent the last forty-five years suffering from this conflict and the consequent division. Particularly after 1974, there was no proper bi-communal contact until 2003. The younger generations were deprived of the opportunity to get to know each other, to go to school together and to share positive experiences together.
The opening of the crossing points on 23 April 2003 and the start of reciprocal visits was an important opportunity to repair and develop bi-communal relations. It has been almost five years since then, but relations have not improved to the extent we had hoped. Those who benefit from the division and who have made a pastime from fanning religious, linguistic and racial discrimination continue to play a central role in the island’s affairs.
Some politicians claim that religious, linguistic and racial differences are not what lie at the heart of the Cyprus problem. They claim that the Cyprus problem is the outcome of the policies of ENOSIS (Union with Greece) or TAKSIM (Partition and Union with Turkey) upheld by the two motherland countries. But neither ENOSIS nor TAKSIM was achieved at the end of the bloody conflict on the island in which many innocents lost their lives and thousands of people were forced to flee their homes.
Meanwhile, an incident which occurred last year is helpful in demonstrating how religious, linguistic and racial factors are still being exploited to maintain the conflict on the island.
The English School in South Nicosia is a mixed school. There were no Turkish Cypriots studying at the school between 1974 and 2003 because the borders had been closed. With the opening of the crossing points, a small contingent of Turkish Cypriots enrolled at the school. Until last year, there had been no serious incidents recorded between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot pupils studying there. However, last year a group of extremist Greek Cypriot youths from outside the school entered the grounds with sticks and chains and attacked Turkish Cypriot students. What happened was completely unacceptable.
The attack was claimed to be provoked by a press report concerning a symbol, a Christian cross. According to the claim, the Turkish Cypriots studying at the school had requested that Greek Cypriot students should not be allowed to wear crosses to school. And so the school administration had circulated a notice prohibiting students from wearing such symbols.
The inhabitants of this island, a population of under a million, have failed to put aside their religious, linguistic and racial differences and live in peace
In reality, no such request had been made. Had the false claim not been reported by the press, the Greek Cypriot youths would never have found the courage to stage such an attack. As a result, we came to understand that the attack was provoked by exploitation of religious differences.
But surely the duty of EU member Cyprus is to ensure that such people who intentionally mislead others with discriminatory and chauvinist behaviour are removed from centre stage. Instead of inciting people to fight each other, we could create a stable future by choosing to establish a dialogue to encourage understanding.
We could choose to learn and uphold the values of love and tolerance on the island of Aphrodite by showing respect for religious, linguistic and racial differences as well as allowing others the right to live decently.
It was with these thoughts that on 17 December 2004, I, together with my Greek Cypriot colleague Alekos Konstantinides, started publishing Cyprus Dialogue newspaper.
The weekly Cyprus Dialogue, published in three languages (English, Greek and Turkish), aims to improve communication and dialogue between the two communities in Cyprus and to contribute towards finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. It is not an easy task to keep a newspaper running without any foreign or domestic affiliation or financial support, but with only revenues from sales and advertisements. With this in mind, we are strenuously working towards improving ourselves. At all the crossing points especially, we have newspaper stands and it has become a habit for people to pick up a free copy. Thus they become informed about developments on both sides of the divide.
In this day and age, it is extremely important and necessary to replace conflict, terrorism and all illegal activities with dialogue. Publications which encourage dialogue play an important role in bringing this about.
I believe that cultural differences and other problems experienced in Cyprus can set an important example for other European and Mediterranean countries which are working to improve their internal relations.