Cyprus: row erupts as passports of Turkish Cypriot officials rescinded
A war of words has erupted on Cyprus as the divided island’s two ethnic communities exchange barbs over the decision by the Greek Cypriot government to rescind the passports of senior Turkish Cypriot officials.
Ersin Tatar, who heads the Turkish-controlled north and is among those affected, described the policy as “an assault” on attempts to find a solution to the country’s partition. Previously he had called the move “racist” and “anachronistic”.
“The Turkish Cypriot people do not owe any allegiance to the Greek Cypriot administration and some Turkish Cypriots are using this travel document out of necessity, without prejudice to their inherent sovereign equality rights,” he told the Guardian. “The exploitation of this issue by the Greek Cypriot side is an affront … and an assault on the efforts to find a settlement.”
Tatar, who was born in 1960 when the former British colony attained independence, has long held a Cyprus passport although he has been vocal in his refusal to recognise the republic as a legitimate state.
Following decades of failed reunification attempts, the self-avowed nationalist has upped the ante, pushing for a two-state solution to the Mediterranean island’s partition.
Cyprus has been split since 1974 when an Athens-backed coup aimed at union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade. Barbed wire and trenches run through the heart of Nicosia, the only EU capital to remain divided.
Last month, with Ankara’s backing, Tatar announced his self-declared administration would move ahead with plans to open part of the sealed-off city of Varosha, abandoned by Greek Cypriots as Turkish troops advanced but a key component of peace talks since. Turkey, which openly championed the hardliner’s election – to the consternation of moderates who support a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation – is the only country to acknowledge the breakaway territory.
The Greek Cypriot government, which is internationally recognised, announced the contentious decision on Monday, arguing that the actions of the targeted Turkish Cypriots subverted the country’s integrity.
“With their acts and deeds they undermine the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus,” its spokesperson, Marios Pelekanos, said adding that authorities would revoke, fail to renew or refuse to issue passports of 14 individuals who participated in the “pseudo state’s cabinet” or were involved in efforts to reopen Varosha.
The president, Nicos Anastasiades, has rejected charges of discrimination saying the Republic of Cyprus had issued 97,000 passports and more than 110,000 identity cards to Turkish Cypriots “in respect of [their] rights” and confirming their Cypriot citizenship.
In a written statement, the Greek Cypriot leader made clear the policy would affect only “a limited number” of people: “Mr Tatar claims the decision is racist and that it supposedly constitutes a violation of human rights since [it] discriminates between citizens. In response I would like to remind Mr Tatar that he himself, in public statements, has said: ‘We are a different race. We speak Turkish, our religion is Islam, our homeland is Turkey,’ the president noted. “The revocation of passports strictly concerns a limited number of individuals who undermine the independence, sovereignty and status of the Republic of Cyprus with their actions and not, of course, all of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots.”
But Anastasiades also faces mounting criticism from Greek Cypriots. The leftist main opposition Akel party described the measure as a populist move by a government still reeling from revelations of making billions of euros through a citizenship scheme that, prior to being dismantled, had sold thousands of passports to people bent on acquiring EU nationality, including Russian oligarchs and corrupt politicians.
“Instead of the president concentrating on restarting negotiations, he indulges in a game of statements and impressions with the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar,” the party’s spokesperson said Thursday. “The only thing that Mr Anastasiades is achieving is the reinforcement of the deadlock of the Cyprus problem which is butter on the bread of the dichotomous policy of Turkey.”
In a tweet, the former Cypriot foreign minister and longtime diplomat Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis denounced the policy as “shortsighted and impulsive” saying: “They are removing the only element of proof that officials of the Turkey-subordinate regime do recognise the Republic of Cyprus.”
Talks aimed at reconciliation collapsed in July 2017, with an attempt to find common ground to relaunch the process proving futile earlier this year. Pro-reunification groups described the controversial decision as a tit-for-tat move aimed at pleasing nationalists, which would eventually hurt all Cypriots.
“The deteriorating status quo in Cyprus is only deepening the divide but also dragging us into uncharted waters of uncertainty and instability,” said UniteCyprusNow.
“While the Turkish Cypriot leader and the coalition supported by Turkey are clearly violating UN security council resolutions by attempting to open the fenced city of Varosha … the decision to revoke the Republic of Cyprus passports provides ammunition to the advocates of separation in Cyprus and sets up a dangerous precedent for the future.”