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In this interview published in North Cyprus's best-selling daily Kżbrżs on 11 January 2006, president of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat (recognised as community leader but not president by the Greek Cypriots) discusses developments concerning the Cyprus problem and new property laws. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

An Interview with Mehmet Ali Talat

By Dilek «etereis.

Question: The new property law has passed through parliament. A commission was to be set up and regulations were to be prepared. What is the state of play?

Answer: The European Court of Human Rights judgment envisages a three month period for a domestic legal remedy to be made available. We have in fact introduced the law within this three month period. We have nothing to worry about. We are in the process of introducing the other components of the law. That is to say, we need to prepare the regulations and set up a commission. We have yet to set up a commission; we are working on matters concerning foreigners. We have started work. The Supreme Council of Judicature will select the commission members. I will nominate twice the number of candidates as there are available posts. The Supreme Council of Judicature will appoint the members. So even though I get to nominate all the members, I have to put up double the final number. So, since the Supreme Council of Judicature makes the selection, that is all the influence I have. There will be 5-7 members. I have not reached a final decision as to whether this should be five or seven. The person who nominates the candidates is authorised to set this number. This is not strictly regulated by the law; it states this should be between five and seven. After the appointments and regulations have been taken care of, the regulations then have to be approved by the commission. After this, the commission can start operating. Funding has also been made available; applications will be received and these will be examined. First we need to take care of the appointments and the regulations. We have three months to do this, in fact we plan to do this earlier, before the three months are up. Then we will put it into operation, because we must be seen to have put it into operation. This will take a period of three months. Of course you will realise that it wonít be easy for the commission to reach decisions within three months. But I cannot comment on that side of things; this is a matter over which I have no influence.

Question: The ECHR has imposed a time limit; a decision has to be reached within three months.

Answer: I donít know if it will be possible to reach a decision in three months. There will be a lengthy procedure involving lodging applications, examining applications, and requesting documents. The ECHR will examine the situation and monitor all of this. It will monitor the situation and state whether or not there is an effective domestic remedy. We thus need to do all that is required of us and carry out the necessary preparations. This is where we are at the moment.

Question: At the moment, we are also mounting a legal counter attack.

Answer: We are supporting this.

Question: Isnít this a new component?

Answer: This is a new component of our fight. Up until now we have not put up a fight; we have been on the defensive. Our citizens, our citizens who are the victims of injustice have decided to fight by a variety of legal means, some of them at their own expense, some of them supported by the Human Rights Foundation.

The first applications have now been made to the European Court of Human Rights and of course there will be more of these. To an extent it just needed someone to make the first move. This first move has acted like a catalyst. I would say that this kind of fight and such applications advance in very many different directions. So rather than this being a process organised by the government or the presidentís office, it is the Human Rights Foundationís most basic initiative, and apart from this an individual initiative. Sometimes we get questions, a number of citizens ask if they file an action will this harm our fight, our cause. We say, ĎNo, carry on as you see fit.í This is the kind of advice we give; we take an interest. It appears that this legal fight in many cases is in our favour, and will produce results in our favour. I mean it may lead to our people being able to apply for compensation.

Question: So in effect the Cyprus problem is moving from being a political problem to a legal problem? So does this mean that the Cyprus problem is changing track?

Answer: Thatís the way it looks, but we are not abandoning a political solution. There is no change of track, either. Look, this what happened. It was actually the Greek side that stirred this all up. As you know, it started with Loizidou and the impression was created in the south that supposedly no Turks had property in the south, supposedly only Greeks had property in the north. The Loizidou judgment was passed. The incorrect policies at that time made this possible. Then came other property cases and we then looked and saw that the Greek side had incorporated this into its own domestic law. Like the Hurma trial. They then applied under a mechanism permitting judgments in one EU country to be enforced in another. So a full-scale legal fight was begun against us. They even went as far as considering arresting Turks crossing to the south. Of course, we mounted a defence before that. I am talking about the Turkish Cypriots. When the Turkish Cypriots mounted a defence, they were caught in a position from which they thought there was no advance or from which such action may have been to their detriment. Note that from that day, suits filed in South Cyprus aimed at the north have come to a standstill. At one time we also thought that a large number of cases would come. If we had not mounted a legal resistance they probably would have come. I mean, if for instance we had not gone there and mounted a defence, advanced the claim that they had no judicial authority and instead waited for a ruling in our absence, probably certain measures would have been introduced and this process would have moved forward. However, this was halted. Now we have come to the repulsion phase. You see the Turkish Cypriots were made very angry by this. As I said this approach that one the one hand denies the existence of Turkish Cypriot property in the south, and on the other exploits every opportunity to attack the Turkish Cypriots, has undoubtedly angered the Turkish Cypriots. This has spurred Turkish Cypriots into filing suits of their own. They have suffered in silence, and this has built up a well of resentment. This resentment now manifests itself in the suits being filed by Turkish Cypriots. We will see this fight in the days to come. Will we now solve the Cyprus problem or these problems by legal means? This is impossible. This attack and counter-attack will show that the Cyprus problem cannot be solved by legal means. The Cyprus problem will be solved by political means. It will be solved by means of negotiations. This will become apparent. When this becomes apparent, I believe that everything will fall in place and things will come back on track.

Question: As you know, legal fights take a long time. With this being the case, hopes of a settlement for the Cyprus problem will also have to be postponed until a later date.

Answer: Well, this is what I would say. For one thing, the Greek Cypriot administration is not aiming towards a solution. They have made this very clear. There is no point in debating this further.

Question: This is your diagnosis?

Answer: Am I wrong? There may be another opinion, but to the best of my knowledge among Turkish Cypriots even holders of the most extreme pro-solution political views believe one hundred percent that Papadopoulos does not want a solution. Or various colleagues who wish to criticise us say we know that Papadopoulos does not want a solution so letís do something else to make him want a solution. I mean, this diagnosis has been made. Itís clear. Papadopoulos does not want a solution. The Greek Cypriot government does not want a solution. The government as a whole does not want a solution. Both Papadopoulos and the government hold this position. Thus, as they do not want a solution, we must win the support of the international factor. For this reason we have fought for the lifting of our isolation, we are fighting for this and will continue to do so. For this reason we are answering with a legal fight. What is our goal? To show the Greek Cypriot side that it also needs a solution to the Cyprus problem. So our greatest dream of an immediate solution, thanks unfortunately to the lack of will on the Greek Cypriot side, is not in sight. I wish it were.

What a wonderful holiday message that would be! Negotiations have started, such and such a question will be solved by such a time. But before they even start they say we donít want a timetable. We donít want arbitration. We do not want a referendum on the text of the agreement. What on earth does all this mean? If you donít want a timetable and want the right to drag your feet otherwise you wonít take it to a referendum, then this means there will be no solution. The General Secretary has made a proposal. Submit a revised version of the Annan plan with the changes you want. This is not happening.

Question: But from time to time the changes desired by the Greek Cypriot side are reflected in the Greek Cypriot press.

Answer: Well look, thousands of things have been said. Each of them has been conveyed orally somewhere in piecemeal fashion. This is not what the General Secretary asked for. He wants to see a final and clear-cut version. Along the lines of change article such and such like this. He wants clear proposals. The Greek Cypriot side has not offered such proposals, either orally or in writing. The proposals that it has made orally are about zones of concern, areas of concern. I mean, the Annan plan is a whole. Be it another plan, they do not say what they want. So what can we do, then, given that they do not want to negotiate; we propose sitting down and talking and they say no. In that case, what we need to do is improve and strengthen our domestic law and make sure that we donít weaken our hand in any potential negotiations.

Question: Our isolation was to be lifted but somehow nothing happens; our ports have not opened; direct flights have not started.

Answer: Where has economic development come from? The ports have not opened, direct flights havenít happened, we are not participating at sports events, but step by step we are beginning to meet with understanding. Foreign investors are beginning to show interest. What is the attraction? Turkish Cypriots support peace. That is evident. Turkish Cypriots support peace, they want a solution. Because they can see this, investors are starting to come, tourists are also starting to come. This is actually gradually weakening our isolation.

Question: You mean we are moving forward step by step.

Answer: Thatís the way it looks. Because international law, that process when all of a sudden Turkish Cypriots were embraced in what they called the honeymoon immediately after the referendum, did not produce a result, it stopped half way. Thatís why we are going through this kind of process. International law has opened its doors to us, this explains our efforts to come under international law

Question: You made an announcement concerning Varosha. You said lift our isolation and we will open Varosha. Can you comment on that?

Answer: My statement about Varosha was the offer I made last year at the negotiations held in May 2005 in Brussels. But this offer was rejected by the Greek Cypriot side. Since it was rejected, I donít think the offer has any meaning. My offer involves lifting our isolation, removing orders closing our ports, removing orders closing both our airports and sea ports, removing these irrevocably, and lifting restrictions affecting sport, culture and other areas. In return we will give up Varosha. This is our offer. This offer was rejected with the statement: ĎWe have no intention of committing suicide.í They equated this offer with suicide. That means they consider lifting their stranglehold on Turkish Cypriots to be suicide. We werenít asking for the world. Open our airports, open our sea ports, let our youth engage in sport, let our creative people participate in international events. They consider this to be suicide. Thatís this governmentís mentality.

Question: Well, it looks pretty impossible that at some future date we will be sitting down at the negotiating table with this Greek Cypriot government, then.

Answer: As I said, we will get there by lifting our isolation, ending the climate of force and compulsion, winning the support of the world. This can be done. It canít be done in three to five days, but it can be done.

Question: In other words, we face a long, uphill struggle.

Answer: Thatís right, unfortunately thatís right. Changing the mentality of the Greek Cypriot side is no easy task. I mean, we have returned to the aims of EOKA. In one sense this is so, thatís where we have returned, thatís how I see it. What was it about then? To seize control of the country, to seize total control. Put unification with Greece to one side, thatís another matter, I would say that aim has had its day, one of EOKAís aims was unification with Greece, but the aim of EOKA is to seize control of the country, to run the country, to run it single handed, to run it with its own majority, in other words for the Greek Cypriot administration to have sovereignty over every bit of the whole island. And this mentality has come back to life today. What other interpretation can be placed on the declaration of an EOKA year? The spirit of EOKA has returned, unfortunately it has returned, it is a sad development and I donít say this just so I can point the finger of blame, but that spirit has returned. This spirit has returned Ė why? This EOKA spirit has 76% support. This shows that it has returned, thatís what it means. We have to change this. We have a long road ahead of us. Lifting our isolation, etc., etc. and, of course, along with that we have to explain the realities to the Greek Cypriot people. I am surer than ever that the Greek Cypriots do not know the real situation. The true intentions of the Turkish Cypriots are misrepresented to them, by their own administration. A massive disinformation campaign is being orchestrated. There is a massive reign of terror, a regime that appears totalitarian. For example, you at Kżbrżs newspaper publish adverts for businesses in South Cyprus or even sometimes government adverts and announcements, but they will not publish a single advert on behalf of Turkish Cypriots. What does this mean? Is this anything other than totalitarianism, or something resembling it? This is why we have got to explain things to the Greek Cypriot people. I mean, we have changed the north of Cyprus, now itís time to turn to the south. We will do whatís necessary, with our civil society organisations, our press, we will get the message across.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton