By George Christou
THIRTY-NINE years after the Turkish invasion, the question of whether Greek Cypriot refugees from Kyrenia will return to their homes under the terms of a settlement remains a subject of fierce political debate.
The latest Kyrenia flare up started 10 days ago, after comments by DISY parliamentary spokesman Nicos Tornaritis on CyBC television.
“I am not going to fool Kyrenians; I have no such intention. No, unfortunately, they will not go back to their homes … regardless of whether Cyprus is partitioned or not,” Tornaritis said.
In a political culture in which telling people what they want to hear has always been the norm, these were very strong words that no mainstream politician has dared to utter publicly. And the response was predictably swift.
The day after his television comments, Tornaritis was involved in an ill-tempered exchange on Radio Proto, with the hard-line presenter Lazaros Mavros criticising Tornaritis’ ‘defeatist’ views.
The angry deputy responded by asking Mavros if there was any way – whether through strategy or alliance – to successfully liberate Kyrenia and place it under Greek Cypriot administration that had been missed by previous presidents.
Tornaritis dismissed talk about the liberation of Kyrenia as “patriotic pipe-dreams” that was reminiscent of comments he had recently heard on a Greek radio station about Greeks returning to Constantinople.
But two days after Tornaritis’ blunt comments, President Nicos Anastasiades and Tornaritis’ former DISY leader, was speaking at the opening of an exhibition by the Kyrenia Municipality at the State Fair grounds.
He opted for more diplomatic rhetoric.
“In the conscience of Cypriot Hellenism, for 39 years, Kyrenia had been synonymous with the struggle for liberation and re-unification of our country,” he said.
It was everyone’s duty, the president told Kyrenians, to continue “our struggle for a just, workable and viable solution that restores the basic freedoms and the human rights of all Cypriots, including the exercise of the right of return.”
The phrase “right of return” has become the politically accepted term to describe the status of refugees under a settlement and is a carefully worded distinction from the days of Spyros Kyprianou’s presidency of the 70s and 80s.
Then, the most oft-repeated demand of all politicians was to insist on the blanket “return of all refugees to their homes and the land of their fathers”.
The latter remains the view of Mavros and his fellow travellers and is part of “an industry of lies that has been working for decades” according to Michalis Papapetrou, a former government spokesman and former deputy, who does not mince his words.
“It was felt that this (the demand for the return of all refugees to their homes) was necessary to keep people’s morale high, but it was political fraud,” he told the Sunday Mail this week.
Veteran newspaper columnist, Alecos Constantinides, agreed. Any talk about the return of the refugees, he said, “is just hot air that nobody believes”.
Meanwhile the Radio Proto presenter, as champion of Kyrenia’s liberation, invited several Kyrenians on his show this week to criticise Tornaritis’ assessment of their future.
Mavros also criticised Tornaritis in his newspaper column, expressing his frustration about the deputy’s failure to read a book by a retired National Guard general that proposed a “national strategy of resistance and assertion”.
Mavros lamented that it was “yet another confirmation of how unread, unqualified and inadequate most of the select demagogues of the political party establishment actually are.”
The conclusion was that if they read the right literature, they would not dismiss the idea of Kyrenia’s liberation so readily.
In the end, Tornaritis appeared to give in to the political pressure, or perhaps he was advised by his party leadership to modify his views.
On Tuesday he issued a brief statement, in which he said: “What I had declared on television shows about Kyrenia, and I repeat today is that, unfortunately, the town cannot be returned under Greek Cypriot administration.”
But he then also resorted to the political safety zone by voicing his support for the ‘right of return’ for refugees.
“At the same time, I have repeated many times that the right of return of ALL Kyrenians to their homes cannot be written off,” he said.
This was not exactly what he said on television the week before, but he obviously decided it would be easier to tow the official line, rather than remain a target of those who continue to claim that all refugees will return to their homes in Kyrenia.