THE flight from Istanbul to Trabzon was only available from Turkish airlines also flying to and from the illegal ‘Ercan’ airport near Tymbou in the Turkish-occupied north, Education Minister Costas Kadis said on Wednesday.
He was responding to a public outcry sparked a day earlier by a Foreign Ministry letter inquiring about the Education ministry’s decision to fly Cypriot students to the Trabzon World School Games, held between July 11 and 18, with Pegasus, a privately-owned Turkish airline that also flies to and from the illegal airport.
Additionally, Kadis told state broadcaster CyBC on Wednesday, the only other option would have been a 15-hour drive.
“The two airlines flying to this particular destination are essentially those offering flights to the illegal airport,” Kadis said, referring to Pegasus and the state-owned Turkish Airlines.
“How would they have gotten there? Should they have travelled by car for 15 hours?”
But despite the lack of options, Kadis’ order for an administrative probe, given on receipt of the Foreign ministry’s letter, remains in force.
Meanwhile, Education ministry permanent undersecretary Egli Pantelaki backed Kadis’ argument and claimed that the Foreign ministry had been aware of the arrangements made, but expressed no reservations.
“We received three tenders for this trip – two from Turkish Airlines, and the third from Pegasus,” she told CyBC.
“The trip was organised by the two ministries’ bureaucrats, and information was shared orally. The Foreign ministry was aware of this situation. They knew [the students] were going to Turkey. We were never advised to avoid using these companies. I don’t know what this belated reaction serves to achieve, and especially the fact that it was leaked to the media.”
Opposition parties blasted the government over the issue for the second day in a row.
“This unacceptable, damaging, and inexplicable decision by the Education Ministry was made after the Foreign Ministry had prepared measures calling for administrative sanctions against companies and passengers using the illegal airport at occupied Tymbou,” DIKO said in a statement.
“We call on the government to try to achieve a rudimentary level of coordination among its ranks, at least so that further decisions that hurt the Republic of Cyprus and its economy can be averted.”
The Citizens’ Alliance youth charter issued a statement criticising the government and correcting the party’s misinformed claims from a day earlier, which it blamed on erroneous press reports.
“With sadness we saw that some media, especially print media, misleadingly suggested that the Greek-Cypriot students flew from the illegal Tymbou airport, resulting in us expressing our dismay over the Education Ministry’s actions, which was based on incorrect press reports,” the Alliance said.
“Nonetheless, we consider the Education Ministry’s stance problematic, to say the least, and we hope that due responsibility will be assigned once the probe ordered by the minister has been concluded.”
In a statement, nationalist ELAM lambasted the government’s decision to even allow the students to attend the event in Turkey.
“The best message would have been to send a letter to all the participating countries, informing them of what Turkey has done, and continues to do, to our country,” the party said.