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2002-01-20 11:47:04


Dear Members and friends of the Women's Foreign Policy Group,

It gives me great pleasure and I am deeply honored for the opportunity you have given me to speak today before such a distinguished audience. Since my arrival in Washington D.C. four months ago, I became familiar with the remarkable work of the Women's Foreign Policy Group and I felt from the very first moment as a part of it. The broad range of your activities as well as your noble task of promoting leadership, visibility and participation of women in international affairs, have always been very close to my heart.

Since the eighties when I was actively dealing with these issues at the United Nations and in World Conferences on Women, I have never missed the opportunity to join the efforts of all those who promote women's rights and women's equal participation in decision-making, both domestically and internationally.

I wish to assure you that you will always have my full support because your vision and efforts have always been and remain an integral part of my goal in life.

For the next fifteen minutes I shall elaborate on the broad theme, "Prospects for Conflict Resolution in Cyprus". I shall concentrate on the imperative need for international law and international legality to remain the focus of all efforts for the solution of the Cyprus problem. I firmly believe that if there is a deviation from this rule in the case of Cyprus, then a dangerous precedent will be set with unforeseen consequences.

I shall begin with the recognition by the international community, reiterated in Security Council resolutions, that the present status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable and see how this status quo was created and how and why it is sustained. The UN Secretary General was right when in 1993 he wrote in one report to the Security Council that "the status quo in Cyprus was created by the use of force and is sustained by military strength". I shall elaborate briefly on this statement.

Indeed, Turkey has forcibly divided Cyprus since 1974 by a massive invasion and subsequent occupation of 37 percent of its territory. A small defenseless island, of the size of Delaware, has been cut literally in two by the use of force and the military might of a powerful NATO country, with a standing army that far exceeds the population of the island.

This was only the beginning of the tragedy of Cyprus. The forcible division of the land was coupled with the forcible division of the people. 200,000 Greek Cypriots, who inhabited the occupied areas, were forcibly expelled from their homes and properties and became refugees in their own country.

The Turkish Cypriots were also forced by their leadership to leave their homes and settle in the areas occupied.

To realize the magnitude of the trauma and pain inflicted it should be noted that the displaced Greek Cypriots made up one third of the population of the island and eighty percent of the population of the occupied area. Translated into United States population terms, it would involve 90 million people becoming homeless overnight.

In a matter of a few hours these people were forcibly alienated from everything a person cherishes as his own. One's ancestral home, property, the social fabric of one's village or town, roots and cultural bonds with the past. Today, a quarter of a century after the expulsion, they are still denied their fundamental right to return. And this, despite repeated United Nations resolutions calling for the safeguarding of their rights and for their urgent return to their homes and properties.

For a quarter of a century Turkey maintains 35,000 troops in the occupied area, hundreds of tanks and other sophisticated weapons. Such a small area is so saturated by the Turkish military presence that the UN Secretary General has on many occasions characterized that area as one of the most densely militarized in the world in terms of the ratio of military personnel to inhabitants. And this despite repeated United Nations resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of all the Turkish occupation troops.

For a quarter of a century Turkey has been importing thousands of mainland settlers to the occupied area with the sole aim of changing the demographic structure of the country. Since 1974 over 100,000 settlers have been imported, while the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied area have continued to emigrate in the thousands, up to the point that now only 80,000 remain.

For a quarter of a century Turkey has been plundering the cultural heritage of that area, destroying a civilization that has lived on for more that 9000 years. Antiquities, icons, museums and libraries, churches and monasteries fell victim to a policy of cultural cleansing.

The purpose of such policies was to create two ethnically and culturally cleansed areas, one of which would be a homogeneous Turkish populated area that has never existed in the centuries old history of the island. I should clarify here that the present-day Turkish Cypriots, who made up 18 percent of the population of the island in 1974, are the descendents of the Moslem population that was transferred to Cyprus during the Ottoman rule from 1571 to 1878. The Turkish Cypriots lived for four centuries peacefully with the 80 percent majority Greek Cypriot population, harmoniously intermingled throughout the island.

For a quarter of a century these two communities remain forcibly separated. It is tragic to realize that Greek and Turkish Cypriot youth up to the age of 25 have never met people from the other community. And they share the same homeland. They should also share the same future, the same prospects for a better life in peace.

The Turkish policy of separation and division constantly puts barriers for any form of contacts. Women, professionals, trade unionists, artists, writers and other individuals and groups from both communities have tried so many times to get together and cooperate. But their efforts have failed so far or were tragically frustrated. On the few occasions they have been able to meet, the convergence of views and vision of a common future is startling. Quite simply it lays to rest the notion put forward by the Turkish side that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot live together.

To show the frustration but also the stupidity of the division I will quote the words of a Turkish Cypriot poet, Neshe Yashin, whom I met in Stockholm last year at a seminar on Creative Diversity. After describing the many times she attempted to cross the so-called green line and the Turkish army stopped her, she said:

" To make a confession here, actually I crossed the green line once secretly with the help of a smuggler. What I remember from this experience is a feeling of empowerment as if I have cheated and defeated the whole army responsible for these kind of disobedient acts of citizens.

Then I found a more safe way to do it. I flew from the city I live to the city I live (i.e. Nicosia) by changing three planes. My journey was from Nicosia to Istanbul Airport, then to Athens and Larnaca Airport and then back to Nicosia. What I am describing now is the crossing of a distance of 50 meters. The longest 50 meters of the world!"

The restrictions in free movement and contacts imposed by the Turkish army still persist, despite international and particularly American condemnation. The only possibility for people from the two communities to meet is if they travel abroad, be it in the United States, in Brussels, in Oslo. Anywhere else but in their own country. The good news is that now they can break the walls of separation through the Internet. Messages are sent without the artificial division being able to act as a barrier. They even publish a magazine now through the Internet. What a beautiful way to make a mockery of occupation and forced segregation.

I tried in these few minutes to show you the unacceptable and untenable nature of the status quo. I tried to show the senselessness of the division. Speaking to an audience from a country with such a diversity of ethnic, cultural and racial background that has succeeded to hold and prosper together in a free and whole America, I feel that my words in favor of unity and cooperation in diversity, in a free and whole Cyprus rather than a forcibly divided country, should be well received.

Cyprus cannot remain the only exception to the rule that it is only natural for people from different ethnic or racial or religious backgrounds to live together. It is only natural that they can coexist and cooperate in their common homeland. This is the case in the United States. This is the case in Europe and so many other parts of the world. It is unnatural and unachronistic to keep people forcibly divided because they happen to be of a different ethnic or religious background.

This has been the position of the international community so far as expressed in numerous United Nations resolutions. The World Organization has taken a principled position in favor of the rule of law and international legality in Cyprus. It has done so by calling for respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Cyprus; by calling for the withdrawal of the occupation troops, the return of the refugees, the restoration of the human rights to the people of Cyprus; by condemning the attempted secession of the occupied part and the purported creation of a separate state; by being firm in its position that a Cyprus settlement should be based on a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, on" a state of Cyprus with a single sovereignty, international personality and a single citizenship with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded".

Turkey has ignored throughout the years these resolutions. And she has ignored them with impunity. Such a defiant attitude, if remained unchecked, would tarnish the credibility of the United Nations, because no country has the right to claim special grounds for putting itself beyond the rules of international law. The response of the international community, both individually and collectively, should be firm and consistent on this issue, bearing a special obligation to demand strict compliance by all its members.

If Turkey, because of perceived strategic or other interests evades this rule, then this would set a very dangerous precedent that "might is right" or that compliance with international law could be circumvented. This cannot be tolerated without severe consequences for other similar cases now or in the future. Lawlessness and aggression will then be the rule and especially the fate of small countries will be put in jeopardy.

Since the framework for a solution in Cyprus already exists and has been endorsed by the international community, what is urgently needed and what would really constitute the only prospect for conflict resolution in Cyprus and peace building, is for the necessary influence to be exerted on Turkey to end the forcible division of the island and to cooperate for a solution that should bring an end to the suffering of its people, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike.

As we approach the dawn of a new millennium, we should send a loud and clear message to all those who can help bring about the necessary changes, that this shameful and anachronistic status quo in Cyprus should not be allowed to shatter our hopes and expectations for a new era, for a more just and humane world order in the new millennium. Other more intractable problems around the globe have seen their way to a solution or are heading in that direction. People who have long suffered from similar or more painful conflicts can now count on a better future for their children. The people of Cyprus deserve to have the same opportunity to see their children's future in peace, prosperity and security in a reunited, demilitarized country and a member of the European Union.

This is our dream and our vision for the new millennium, which I put today before you. A vision that fully subscribes to the self evident truths of your own Thomas Jefferson, that hold for America and the world, that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

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