Full Speech of Prof. Dr. Ahmet Sözen:
“…I hope that my presentation on Cyprus contributes to other plebiscite in Colombia – even if there is slightest means, I would be very happy. I will start with a very short background information on the Cyprus issue and then I will talk about the campaign on both sides of the UN divided Cyprus as well as the consequences of the votes on two referendums in Cyprus.
The Cyprus conflict has first come to the UN agenda in mid 1950s when it was clear that the British colony would end. What’s going to happen in Cyprus, so it came as a debate on self-determination of Cyprus of rather the two communities living in Cyprus – the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriot’s.
In 1960 Cyprus got independence – or some politics say semi-independence from UK. The Republic of Cyprus was established by international treaties. There were three guarantor powers of this Republic of Cyprus: UK, as the former colonial master; Turkey and Greece, also known as the motherlands of respective communities. Some call this 1960 Republic of Cyprus a “Functional Federation”, some call it a “Consociational Democracy” whereas the functions of the state were shared between the two communities.
However, due Turkish Cypriots to various reasons, I am not getting into that, in 1963 there was a constitutional crisis and a subsequent eruption of ethnic violence in Cyprus. In 1964, the UN peacekeeping force came to Cyprus, stationed in Cyprus and they are still in Cyprus. So it is one of the oldest missions of the UN. In 1974, another important era, there was a Greek coup and a subsequent Turkish military intervention. The island got divided into two parts: North and South. And, since then the two sides have been trying to unify the country, to solve the Cyprus problem based on a federal state that would be bi-communal with regarding to the constitutional aspects and it would be bi-zonal with regarding to the territorial aspects.
After long years of what we call inter-communal negotiations between the two communities, by the way it started when the rivals born back in 1968 in Beirut and then the negotiations were transferred to Nicosia. The idea was come to come up with a mutually agreed solution between the two communities. One of the latest, important turning point, was back in 2004 – when the two sides managed with the help of the UN. At the end the UN played the role of filling up the remaining gaps between the two sides. Here in Burgenstock, in Switzerland, the two sides agreed on a comprehensive solution plan with the help of the UN. And, that solution plan was put to simultaneous separate referenda in Cyprus in 2004. Exactly, about one month after it was finalized herein Burgenstock. But, it was the fifth version of the plan because the previous versions of the plan came out about a year and half before. So, people had the chance to read the different versions of the plan.
Now, in 2004, in the campaign, while the plan was supported by the two thirds of the Turkish Cypriots (65% YES), it was rejected by a predominant three forth majority of the Greek Cypriots (76% NO). Hence, the peace plan became ‘null and void’…”
“Ahmet, just to understand this, for the non-Cyprus experts, we are talking actually about two different sought of referendums, in the two sides, plus two different YES or NO campaigns…”
“There was two separate simultaneous referenda’s, taking place at the same time, one at the northern part of the Cyprus and the one at the southern part of the Cyprus, for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. During the campaign of both each community on both sides of the UN divide, was further divided by these YES or NO camps. There was a very strong and widespread NO camp and a weak YES camp in Greek Cypriot community – simply because the majority of main parties were supporting NO vote, only one major party called DISY which is a liberal conservative party, partly supported it. Although DISY openly supported it, some of its followers did not vote YES during the referenda. That’s why they had %24 because DISY is a party that has one third of the votes in the Greek Cypriot side. The leader of the Greek Cypriots, the President Tassos Papadopoulos himself was an element supporter of NO.
In the Turkish Cypriot community, there was a strong NO but at the same time a very strong YES campaign. Most of the left wing parties and progressive civil society organizations supported YES camp, supported the solution. While the right wing parties were voted against it. And this campaign, NO side, was also headed by the strong Turkish Cypriot Leader Mr. Rauf Denktash. So there was symmetry here, both leaders at that time were against the plan. But I have to make a point here, there is a very significant difference in terms of the political structure of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots on the island. In the Greek Cypriot community, the political space is occupied predominantly by the political parties. So we do not have a strong civil society independent from the political parties. Even the unions are pretty much linked with the political parties.
Whereas, in the Turkish Cypriot’s community, there was a very vibrant civil society independent from the traditional political parties. For example, the teachers unions, both elementary schools and secondary schools teachers unions, and they are in thousands and very strong. They are completely independent from the political parties and they formed some of the most important elements of the YES campaign. In fact, in early 2000’s, there was a movement in Turkish Cypriots community called “This Country is Our’s” which was formed by several dozen NGO’s and political parties who were claiming that “we have to rule our land independent from being dominated by Greek Cypriot neighbors as well as being influenced by Turkey’s involvement. So, there was this very active platform for that.
When you look at, in terms of demographics of the voters, among the 65% Turkish Cypriots who voted YES, 80+% of them were young (below 45). So there was a very strong support from Turkish Cypriot young generation. Whereas, the picture just was the opposite in the Greek Cypriot community. Among those 24% who voted YES, majority was older people who had the experience of living together with the Turkish Cypriot’s in the past. Whereas, the majority of Greek Cypriot’s younger generation voted NO.
Now, it is also revealed in our island-wide polls show that I have been conducting with my Greek Cypriot research fellow since 2008-2009 that the more educated people are in the Turkish Cypriot’s community, the more they tend to vote YES. Again, the picture is opposite in the Greek Cypriot side, where the more time people spend in schools, the more they tend to vote NO. I think that this tells us a lot about the nature of the education (Very ethno-nationalistic education)…
During the campaign, the whole thing was presented by the Greek Cypriot leadership and Turkish Cypriot leadership, by Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos and Mr. Denktash were presented to the public in a give and take way –meaning that whatever we are going to is whatever we are going to lose, whatever they are going to lose is whatever we are going to win. It’s a classical Cold-war mentality. Whereas, in the YES camp (both in the Greek Cypriots and in the Turkish Cypriots) the peace plan which was called Annan Plan taking its name from the Kofi Annan was presented as a “win-win” situation – the case which both sides win.
The NO camp on both sides tried to appeal to the “FEARS” of the people, focusing mostly on the PAST and presenting the past as a troubled dis-functional period (full of constitutional crisis and ethnic violence etc.)!
Whereas in the YES camp on both sides, the campaigners tried to appeal to the HOPES of people, and it was more future oriented. They were saying “we are not denying past, we have to learn from our mistakes in the past but we have to look forward to future”.
But of course, what was missing that we now debate nowadays in the negotiations is this “joint communication strategy” between the two sides. This never took place. In fact the leaders who were negotiated later became the champions of the NO campaign.
When we look at the consequences, we need to understand that the referenda in Cyprus were not for democratic principles. The referendum in Cyprus was designed by the UN in order to bypass the intransigent Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Because the UN had that belief at that time that he was the only obstacle in front of the plan that the Turkish Cypriots were more progressive and the only way to bypass him was to install a referendum into the process. ın fact it was proved at the end that he was not the only one; but the Greek Cypriot leader was the other element against the plan.
But what happened was that the principle of separate simultaneous referenda remained as we speak today. That is now a principle that when the two leaders who are negotiating will come up with the plan it will be putted to simultaneous referenda – meaning that the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots have to approve it.
The referenda in 2004, in my opinion, meant separate exercise of the right of self-determination – not in the classical sense of “right to statehood”, but the right to participate into the governance of the future common state by each respective community.
So, what were the consequences of the voting in the referenda in Cyprus? For some people, the Annan plan’s weakness was that it failed to indicate the consequences for the three scenarios of 4 possible scenarios of the referenda. What are the possible scenarios of this plan was YES-YES, YES-NO, NO-YES and NO-NO. So, we know that if there is YES- YES, what would happen, the establishment of a federal Cyprus which would be a EU member. But what about in cases of YES-NO or, NO-YES, or NO-NO?
Well, the plan itself stated that in case the plan was not supported by both sides, then it would be “Null and void” … What does that mean? I usually describe this in a sarcastic way by likening this to the case in the Movie “Mission Impossible” – remember, after the agent reads the original message, the message “destroys itself” -, so, the Annan Plan “destroyed itself” by becoming “null and void”… but, of course, the result of the vote had some political consequences…
But, of course there are some of the political consequences.
What happen was the Turkish Cypriot received some sympathy in the international community and hence, some of the restrictions and isolations on the Turkish Cypriot community were a bit lifted. What I called – Turkish Cypriot side was a bit more Taiwanized. The clear rejection of the peace plan by the Greek Cypriot’s led to the fall of the image in the international community that it was the Turkish Cypriot side which was intransigent. Greek Cypriot side was initially lost some respect and credit in the international community, which they slowly restored back etc… But, you know what happened, since then we lost twelve years plus. The real consequence of the rejection of the UN plan was to lose at least 12 years and counting. (During 2004-2008 there were almost no meaningful negotiations between the two sides!)
And, you know what happens: you think that the status-quo remains but it does not. During this 12 plus years past, life has not stopped on both sides of the UN divide in Cyprus. New realities, such as people building on the disputed properties, changing demographics of the island, dying away of a generation who had the experience of living together, and so forth. Hence, new layers (of problems and potential clashes) have been added on the Cyprus conflict – just like a snow ball rolling down and getting bigger in an avalanche… Hence, solving the Cyprus problem became much more difficult… Whereas, the solution of it could have benefited both sides immensely…”
“What would like to give Colombia on its way?”
“Don’t lose time! That’s number one. I will start with an anecdote back in 1992 when something 24 years ago, I was very young person. I was part of this expert group that the UN was trying to implement confidence building measures in Cyprus. Something like opening a joint airport between the two sides of Cyprus, opening up a free zone… I saw how that exercise was politicized by both sides and flash down to the toilet. And, I could not help to think that if we could manage to do those things at that time we would be talking in a different Cyprus today. But, even if we manage to establish, come up with a comprehensive solution plan, that’s the beginning of the big journey… because the peace comes later. It’s the people who make peace. The leaders make the deal but it’s the people where we should start from… the education and socialization to establish the seeds of peace.
I once wrote in one of the academic articles that if we manage to establish the federation in Cyprus, I called it ‘Belgianization’ of Cyprus. And, a lot of people said “of professor, you got it wrong, Belgian is not a good federation model”. And, I said to them “don’t insult with my interpretation whether being Belgian or not; but remember in Belgian, several years ago there was elections and more than 400 days they couldn’t establish the government. And, I asked the question what happened to Belgian. I think the answer is very tilly: Nothing! And, isn’t this great? Because, the alternative what we got through in the past was due to our differences we killed one another and we hurt one another. So, the extreme alternative of ‘Belgianization’ is what I again invented the term ‘Syrianization’. And, I prefer ‘Belgianization’ to ‘Syrianization’. At least we know that it would be difficult to run a federation. But nonetheless whenever we have difficulty, we will accept our difficulties and move on. So, don’t lose time and start implementing as soon as possible…”