Saturday, 9 June 2012

Famagusta: From tragedy to opportunity

Four speakers, each analysing a different issue relating to the Turkish occupied Town of Famagusta, were in agreement that the Town must be returned to the Republic of Cyprus, at a Seminar entitled “Famagusta: From tragedy to opportunity” held in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, Westminster, on Wednesday May 17th.

The Seminar co-sponsored by the Famagusta Association of Great Britain and Lobby for Cyprus, was hosted by the Right Honourable David Burrowes, MP. The speakers included Dr Klearchos Kyriakides who is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Hertfordshire University, Professor Andreas Theophanous, Chair of Political Economy at Nicosia University, Mark Stevens CBE, Human Rights Lawyer and Mr Alexis Galanos, Mayor of Famagusta.

Like more than 37 per cent of the north of the island of Cyprus, Famagusta has been under Turkish occupation since the Turkish invasion of 1974.  However, unlike the rest of the occupied area which is inhabited by more than 160,000 Anatolian settlers who have been purposefully imported to change the demographics of the occupied region, Famagusta has remained a ghost town, fenced off and visibly decaying with the passage of time.

Although pointing out the human element in the situation of Famagusta, it is to the British government’s own interests that the Town be returned to the Republic, Dr Kyriakides said.  “The United Kingdom is under various legal and moral duties in relation to Famagusta,” adding: “Furthermore, the United Kingdom has a strategic interest in the welfare of the town.  Famagusta contains two unused British retained sites and a port which Royal Navy ships have a treaty right to enter.  Besides which, Famagusta is situated less than six miles away from Ayios Nikolaos, an integral part of a British Overseas Territory and a discreet element in the UK-US ‘special relationship’.” 

In addition, Dr Kyriakides added, “For many years, Ayios Nikolaos has contained a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) station, together with an associated civil infrastructure in support of British military as well as civil-service personnel and members of their families.  This infrastructure includes an OFSTED-inspected primary school, a community centre, a library and shops.”

The economic benefit not only to the town, itself, but also the entire island was the basic theme of the presentation by Dr Theophanous.  He made his point by saying, “The return of the fenced-off city of Famagusta to its inhabitants will lead to an economic boom due to the overall process of reconstruction and the wealth effect that this will entail.  These developments will influence economic activity throughout Cyprus and will lead to multi-dimensional benefits for both communities, but also the EU and the region.”

He added: “This arrangement may be part of a set of confidence building measures, so much in need at the moment, in view of the stalling intercommunal negotiations, and a litmus test that Turkey is ready for a Cyprus settlement.”

Mr Mark Stevens in his opening remarks stressed the “ineffectiveness of the law in getting redress for the displaced citizens of Famagusta. We share an innate sense of injustice that has befallen the occupants of the Town.” He next added, “inward investment and regeneration funds from elsewhere in the world will not come until there is a legal settlement. Turkey must realise that there is only one lawful sovereign body and that is the Republic of Cyprus. Any subversion of this would be in breach of International Law and UN resolutions. Turkey appears to have no incentive at the moment to reach a settlement, because its EU accession talks have reached a stalemate, the EU is economically weak at the moment and the UN is otherwise engaged in more pressing international matters.”

Mr Alexis Galanos in turn made reference to UN resolution 550, which is the only one that “states quite clearly that Famagusta is under Turkish occupation. Successive UN Secretary Generals have failed to act on their mandate regarding Famagusta and work for its return to its lawful inhabitants.” He then analysed the current political situation in the region, and Turkey’s aspirations saying “we must increase the cost of the continued occupation of the north of Cyprus for Turkey. We must build bridges with other countries in the region, including Israel and further afield such as the United States. Unfortunately, Britain’s stance with special interests on the island can at best be classed as benign neglect.” He ended by saying that “Famagusta is the key to test Turkey’s good will and a bridge to an overall Cyprus settlement.”

There followed a question and answer session moderated by the Chair Mr David Burrowes MP, during which he declared his support for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem. Closing the meeting, he read out a letter which was sent to the Prime Minister Mr David Cameron, on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group, in which he is reminded of both the UN and EU resolutions on Famagusta and of the UK’s responsibility as a guarantor power