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This interview with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on his return from New York, where he met with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on 16 October, appeared in the Turkish Cypriot daily Yeni Düzen on 23 October, 2007.
Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.
Talat: Our package of confidence raising measures was in fact one part of the negotiations that were not actually discussed there. The proposals will be evaluated. Our talks were planned for half an hour; they lasted 40-45 minutes. Within that time it was only possible to put across our general position; had we also tried to get across our proposals for confidence raising measures, this would in any case have taken up all our time. The General Secretary’s basic aim is to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Anyhow, we are aiming in all that we do, both the confidence raising measures and the 8 July Agreement, towards a comprehensive settlement, to prepare for this. It was thus more appropriate for us to convey our views concerning a comprehensive settlement to the General Secretary. It is common knowledge anyhow that we are ready for talks at any time, and that we believe that there is no need for a preparatory period, but since the Greek Cypriot side is very firm and persistent on a preparatory period, we say “OK” to this. However, in the belief that this should not be a drawn-out process, we want certain time limits. We explained this to the General Secretary. What was most noticeable was the comment by the General Secretary in his speech, “You made a proposal on 5 September within the scope of the 8 July Agreement.” This was also a reply to the Greek Cypriot side’s allegation that, “Talat has broken the 8 July Agreement, he is altering it.” So, we made a proposal within the scope of the 8 July Agreement and this proposal was read correctly by the General Secretary; at least we saw that. This for the most part formed the framework for our discussion.
I also touched on the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation; that it was necessary to lift this; that Annan had brought this matter onto the agenda but the report he compiled was not discussed in the Security Council. We wished for the report to be discussed, but stressed that, even if it remained undiscussed, the UN should do what was required of it. I did most of the talking and got this across and finally we submitted the proposal for confidence building measures. With that the meeting ended. The general Secretary made absolutely no reference to the Greek Cypriot side having submitted a proposal. He only mentioned Ledra Street. He said that we should do all we can to ensure that the Ledra Street gate opens. We said, “In any case, we are ready; we have done everything; there is only one thing to be done; that is for the Greek Cypriot side to remove the wall and the whole affair will be finished.” They have demolished the wall, but have put up a glass fibre wall in its place.
They say let the soldiers be removed from the area. Checks will be performed not by soldiers, but by the police. However, nobody can prevent soldiers from performing their duties within the areas to which they have been assigned. This is a question of security. Moreover, we live in a period in which there is a great deal of human smuggling. We cannot do without military security in that area. This is not a matter of concern for anybody, either. There are military units close to one another along virtually the whole length of the border in Nicosia and our proposals for deconfrontation cover all of these. The positioning of soldiers within that area can and should be dealt with as part of a process of deconfrontation.
We are contributing towards a settlement
Question: Since the UN is going to evaluate the package of proposals, you did not wish to make them public. However, the press has published its own version of these proposals. First of all, can you confirm whether the press’s version of the package is the same as the one that you submitted? The President of the Greek Cypriot Administration, Papadopoulos, has said, “If our proposals concerning the Cyprus problem are not important, then Talat’s proposals with reference to confidence raising measures are even less important.” What makes your proposals important?
Talat: The Turkish Cypriot side should make a decisive contribution towards the earliest possible settlement of the Cyprus problem. To this end, I submitted at the face-to-face talks I had with Papadopoulos on 5 September our proposals aimed at implementing the 8 July process in a decisive manner and ensuring that it achieves results. For working parties to be set up under five headings and comprehensive negotiations towards a settlement to commence following a preparatory period of 2 – 2½ months … This proposal of ours is still on the table. The world has shown great interest in it and Papadopoulos has yet to reply.
The press’s version of the proposals which we submitted at the talks we held with the General Secretary concerns the Confidence Raising Measures alone. Not only has a great deal of effort been devoted to confidence raising measures over many years, but the UN General Secretary referred to a wish to cooperate on this matter in his letter in which he consented to our request for a meeting. We thus updated the proposals that we had previously submitted, asked ourselves whether there were any new things that we could do in this regard, and submitted the package that we drew up to the General Secretary in New York. There are a great many features which distinguish our proposals from the things that Papadopoulos has called “proposals”. If you place these two proposal packages side by side you will easily see this difference. In order even for me to understand Papadopoulos’ proposals, I would have to engage in lengthy talks about their substance. Whereas anybody with the slightest interest in the matter can easily understand our proposals. It is clear what we are saying and what we want.
Our proposals, whether they be our proposals concerning the 8 July process or what we envisage with reference to the package of confidence raising measures, are such that they can be immediately implemented. They were carefully drawn up to avoid creating fresh debate over questions of status. We did not make proposals just for their own sake. This is precisely what distinguishes our proposals from Papadopoulos’ proposals, and what makes them important.
Ban’s manner resembles that of an old-fashioned husband addressing his wife.
Question: At the conclusion of the meeting, Ban said that he would not take a step in the direction of negotiations unless he received a commitment from both sides. If you made a clear and unambiguous statement to this effect there, why did the General Secretary refrain from saying that the side which failed to make a commitment was the South?
Talat: For diplomatic reasons. I don’t know. I also made my commitment in writing. So there is no problem with respect to me. To my mind, it is clear who the General Secretary is addressing. He is referring to the Greek Cypriot side. Why doesn’t he say so openly? His manner resembles that of an old-fashioned husband addressing his wife. I concur with you. When I have made a commitment, why does the General Secretary continue to say, “I won’t act until both sides make a commitment?” It’s like I said: the message isn’t for me.
“There is no need to talk to the parties”
Question: While you were in New York, criticism came from certain political parties on the grounds that you did not share the proposals with them. Why did you prefer not to share these proposals with the political parties, or fail to consider doing so?
Talat: For one thing, these proposals had to be secret. Secondly, we have discussed things, although perhaps not at this step, with our political parties at every phase. We engaged in consultation at every phase. What we were going to take to the General Secretary were not totally new things. They were points that we had previously sought consultation over and discussed. There was thus no such need at that stage. But, of course, we immediately informed our political parties about the talks at a parliamentary level. Our notes from the talks and all of our documents are accessible in parliament to all of our political parties. Those who wish to do so are accessing them there, in any case. There is another aspect to this. At times when major changes are not being considered, there may be no compelling need to constantly consult the political parties. This is one such time. Fundamental change, fundamental political change, is not being considered. Consequently, we consulted with the government, since this is the responsible political authority, since this is the executive, and consulted with the relevant ministries and the prime minister’s office, and produced the final version.
Do we need to cry because there was no settlement?
Question: You have recently complained that the community is a gloomy community. However, there was pessimism in the statements you made before the talks; you said that too much should not be expected of these talks. Don’t you think that that leaders require to motivate the community and lift its spirits?
Talat: What does that have to do with having no expectations?
Question: You said that you were pessimistic about a settlement…
Talat: It may have had to do with a settlement, but the comment I made did not apply solely to a settlement. This is because a settlement will only come about with the willingness of both sides. If one side does not wish for it, there will be no settlement. So, should we sit down and cry because there is no settlement? What shall we do? We will look at what we can do under the conditions thrown up by the lack of a settlement, if there is to be none, we are looking at this. We are striving for a settlement, but if this is not to be, we are considering the things that we can do under circumstances where there is no settlement, and we are trying to do them. This is what we are currently experiencing. The Greek Cypriot side does not need a settlement. I explained this to the General Secretary. There is a need for international concern which will create the need for a settlement. I have repeatedly said that this may be the lifting of the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation. Until now, no other thought, no other proposal, has emerged. There could be marginal proposals. For example, it could be said that, “There is no conflict in Cyprus, and for this reason the UN or the world shows no interest, and is thus in no hurry to push for a solution. Look, there were scores of conflicts in Bosnia. They had to broker an agreement or impose an agreement to stop the bloodshed. That doesn’t apply to Cyprus.” True. You know that UN soldiers virtually come here on holiday but enter a war zone when go to other countries. Thus, neither the UN, nor the international community, nor the large states see any great urgency when looking at Cyprus. In this regard, the settling of the Cyprus problem only acquires urgency when it is combined with other factors. What do we mean here? Turkey’s EU process. If tomorrow the important countries or the majority of countries wish for Turkey’s EU process to proceed, they will show greater interest in settling the Cyprus problem. Note that foreigners have other, indirect, reasons for taking an interest in settling the Cyprus problem.
Basically, I was trying to express with the term “gloomy” that I used with reference to the community a view, not that this was how I wished it to be, but that in the past it was correct for people to think of nothing but a settlement 24 hours a day, to think of nothing but the Cyprus problem, but not today. This is because we were melting away thanks to the Cyprus problem, our people were emigrating. Today there is no emigration. Our people were once excessively pessimistic and right to be pessimistic. They were totally isolated from the world. It is not the same today. Yes, isolation continues, we cannot engage in direct trade and we cannot put on direct flights, but today a ferry service is operated to another country. The Greek Cypriot side is up in arms, but not even the EU supports them. The European Court of Human Rights is on the verge of approving the Immovable Property Commission, one of the components of property legislation in the north of Cyprus, as an internal legal remedy. Think of where we have come from Loizidou. This is why I say that our people should not spend all their time thinking about the Cyprus problem. Of course, we should be ready to solve the Cyprus problem, that is another matter, but there should finally be a realisation that it is not the Turkish Cypriots who are currently to blame. The people are thus not reproaching the Turkish Cypriot administration or leadership, and since they have no grounds for reproach they should attend to their business. In other words, the people have done what they can; they have got rid of the old administration which opposed a solution and in its place have put in an administration which wants a settlement of the Cyprus problem. There was no settlement, and since the administration was not to blame the people should now turn their eyes to the road ahead and should opt for the maximum degree of improvement to their lives that current circumstances permit.
Question: Maybe the reason the people are gloomy is that they feel, “We did what we had to do, but still nothing has changed.”
Talat: OK, then let’s attend to our business. We are not going to come begging at anyone’s door. There are certain marginal views; we encounter suggestions along the lines of, “Beg of Papadopopulos, ask, give the green light for some kind of Osmosis”, but these are very much minority views. If we think of the majority of the community, nobody wants us to go and beg at Papadopoulos’ door.
Question: The European Commission, in response to the Greek Cypriot side’s application with reference to the sailings to Latakia, has announcesd that the ports are not illegal under international law. Citizens ask, “If these ports are not illegal, where does this leave isolation; why are we still unable to engage in direct trade?”
Talat: This is what I ask, too. Actually, we are conducting direct trade; what we are looking for is for a provision that will have the force of a health certificate for products leaving the north of Cyprus that require a health certificate; to create an authority in the north or for the EU to do this itself. The Direct Trade Regulations are needed to do this, but the approval of the Greek Cypriot administration is sought and awaited in order for them to be adopted. This is where the problem is, it stems from the requirement for Greek Cypriot approval for such provisions. In my opinion, there is no need for this under EU legislation, but they say, “There is nothing we can do if a member country opposes a matter which concerns it” and try to convince us of this. We send products that do not require a health certificate from these ports of ours and, as such, what Olli Rehn said is true; this port is not closed. Our difficulties do not stem from the port being closed, or as they say from its being “illegal”. There is a problem with certificates and, apart from this, we cannot take advantage of preferential tarrifs. This is the root of the difficulties, the lack of legislation applying to the north. So, this embargo, this isolation, continues. The commission’s legal office is of the opinion that there is no need for the Greek Cypriot side’s approval in order to pass the Direct Trade Regulations. It could happen by weighted majority vote. The EU could today, if it so wished, pass the regulations by means of weighted majority vote, and put an end to this matter.
“If we get slapped, are we to turn the other cheek?”
Question: Statements by you and the Spokesman blaming the South are criticised …
Talat: Who should we blame? Ourselves?
Question: This attracts a lot of criticism and it is said that this attitude of the Turkish side is not correct …
Talat: OK, who should we criticise? Who is responsible for the lack of a solution, then? Let those who criticise say who is responsible for the lack of a solution. If I say, “Let us sit down for full-scale negotiations following a 2½ month preparatory period and solve the Cyprus problem” and the reply is, “No, I don’t want a time limit”, who is to blame? Should we not point out who is to blame? We are pointing out who is to blame. This is the context for criticism of the Greek Cypriot side. I am waiting for a counter proposal. If we get slapped, should we turn the other cheek? Let any of God’s creatures tell me this. Let those who make such allegations take a statement made by the Spokesman or a comment made by me and make alterations to it such that they may say, “You should have put it this way, not that way.” Nobody is doing that. So this is empty talk. We are not accusing the Greek Cypriot side, we are describing the true state of affairs, pointing out the true state of affairs, and we are obliged to do so. For it should not be forgotten that we are addressing not only the Turkish Cypriots, but the world and we are obliged to tell the world who is to blame.
I will make you a promise. If the institutions or press on our side that we are referring to criticise the announcements made by the Greek Cypriot side, we will remain silent. We will no longer be needed. But is this their duty? No, I am not saying this. This is why we are needed. We will pass comment, make statements, we have no other choice. If we don’t do this, what shall we do? We strove for a settlement, it didn’t happen. We continue to strive for one, it isn’t happening. We are obliged to say this; what else can we do? In short, those who criticise us for criticising the Greek Cypriot side should explain what we need to do. If they spit in our face shall we simply put this down to experience? What shall we do?