Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Cyprus’ silent minorities

By Alper Ali Riza

WE NOW know for sure that the two protagonist communities in Cyprus distrust each other so much they are neither willing nor able to work together except, perhaps, under the umbrella of superstructure such as that of the European Union.

As the negotiators go off on their summer holidays to lick their wounds and recharge their batteries, it is a good time to stand back, skip a couple of generations, and imagine the shape of things to come.

At the heart of the problem lies the status of the Turkish Cypriot community. They claim political equality. Their argument runs something like this. The British acquired sovereignty over Cyprus from the Republic of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. When Cyprus became independent in 1960 the British handed over the sovereignty thus acquired to the Republic of Cyprus.

In international law, the Republic of Cyprus has one indivisible personality but under the treaties of establishment and guarantee, Cyprus’ sovereignty was to be shared jointly between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. This was done primarily to ensure it was not handed over to Greece, and secondarily to preclude partition.

The Greek Cypriot community’s case since 1963 has been that the Turkish Cypriots should only have been accorded the status of a minority with no veto powers and without a share in the sovereignty of the republic or power sharing privileges. The argument continues to this day, albeit the Greek Cypriot community has had exclusive control of the sovereignty and control of the government of the republic since 1963.

Although Turkey’s intervention in 1974 prevented union with Greece it did not enable the Turkish Cypriots to regain a share of the sovereignty or any power sharing in the government of Cyprus. It did, however, result in huge demographic changes. The whole Turkish Cypriot community moved to north Cyprus, the whole of the Greek Cypriot community in the north moved to the south and a large number of Turkish nationals settled among the Turkish Cypriots.

What happened at Crans-Montana is that the Greek Cypriot community was not prepared to exchange sovereignty for land under terms that appeared to serve the geopolitical interests of Turkey. The current thinking is that the Turkish Cypriots are a minority community and neither they nor Turkey should be stakeholders in the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus under any new constitutional arrangements.

The Turkish side vociferously rejects this as unhistorical and although they claim to have an alternative approach to the problem they will not abandon their quest for a share of the sovereignty of the republic, not least because of the gas – curse if you ask me – that lies beneath the deep blue sea between Cyprus and Egypt.

But spare a thought for our long suffering silent minorities. Not just the Latin, Maronite and Armenian communities, but more recent arrivals and others, including people like myself, who do not neatly fit into the prevailing ethnic divide. I have not been particularly reticent myself, but the communities of which I speak are not vociferous in public affairs. When you feel you do not belong you normally keep your head below the parapet. Nevertheless, I know that many people from Cyprus’ silent minorities do not rejoice in the failure of the talks or the resurgence of nationalism and fear it will all end in tears.

Traditionally silent minorities keep their own counsel for the sake of a quiet life but that needs to change. Minority communities are of the essence of the European Union –  actively encouraged and legally protected. I do not know the last time a census was conducted in Cyprus but I reckon huge demographic changes have taken place not just as a result of the 1974 war, but owing also to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Cyprus’ accession to the EU.

Minorities and children of mixed ethnicity are a significant section of the population nowadays. Most of my Cypriot friends and acquaintances married non-Cypriot nationals and their children are of mixed ethnicity. All of them are entitled to Cypriot citizenship and thanks to EU laws on gender equality, this applies to the children of women as well as men. This is just anecdotal but I think the whole of Cyprus is on the verge of a demographic blossom.  Sooner or later this new generation with full citizenship rights will acquire political muscle. As I know only too well, it will be the political muscle of a generation brought up in households in which in the nature of things there was always room for more than one view.

In time, the education system will reflect this and the new generation will be like the young people one comes across in west Europe: pro equality, pro peace, pro the environment and against all forms of discrimination. The sort of world imagined by John Lennon: ‘imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.’

Freedom of movement of persons is one of the pillars on which the EU is based and the protection of minority communities is its handmaiden. The European Project is for an ever-closer union and the evolution of mixed and minority communities will be the inevitable future in all member states. It will dilute the passion for the nation state that plunged Europe into darkness last century and it will bring back internationalism. How I love to hear those old Soviet choirs sing the Internationale!

The EU was intended to knock out nationalism and substitute it with a passion for civilised values. For equality and human rights and a loathing for all forms of discrimination. Most young people in Europe, including Britain, feel and think along these lines.

The people in some of the newer members states of the EU have been slower to adapt to this passion for civilised values but this was to be expected and they will soon catch up. As for Cyprus, membership of the EU will lay the foundations for a new generation of Cypriots imbued with civilised values that will sort out the mess left behind by the backward inward-looking generation of yesterday’s men that still holds sway.

My dream is that with time as Europe moves to an ever-closer union the two protagonist communities will get closer in the broad sweep of European integration.

To quote from Imagine one more time ‘You may say I am a dreamer but I am not the only one.’

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