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2002-01-27 02:28:00


Distinguished dignitaries, Dear Members of the South Dakota Education Association, Dear friends,

It gives me great pleasure and I am deeply honored for the opportunity you gave me to speak today before such a distinguished audience. I wish to thank the South Dakota Education Association for this invitation and particularly Dr. Kaul and all those who have worked for this visit and for the wonderful program that has been prepared.

I also want to inform you that I had a meeting yesterday with your Representative in the United States Congress, Congressman John Thune to express my pleasure for paying a visit to his state and I to brief him on the situation in Cyprus.

When I received the letter of Dr. Kaul on August 28, I had no hesitation to respond positively at once. The theme of your Conference, Cultural Harmony is an issue so close to my heart and a vision I strongly hold not only for my country, Cyprus, but also for all societies enriched with the blessing of cultural diversity.

The more I read about South Dakota, which is 25 times larger in size than Cyprus and with an equal number of population, the more I became attracted by the prospects and challenges of my visit.

I can honesty say, from the few hours that I have been here, that I have not been wrong in my decision. You have a beautiful state, you are remarkable people and I already feel at home.

Now about my talk today entitled: " Challenges of Multi-Culturalism in Cyprus in the Context of Ethnic Cleansing and an Unprovoked Aggression by Turkey"

The main message I want to convey through this talk is a strong belief in unity in diversity or, to put it otherwise, a strong belief in the possibility of people living together, working together, prospering together and building their future together, despite different ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious backgrounds.

Diversity can be viewed both as a blessing and a misfortune depending on how one wants to look at the phenomenon of societies which include within their boundaries diverse ethnic and other groups.

It is a blessing for those who believe, as I do, in co-existence, tolerance, togetherness, respect for each other's identity dignity and culture and Dialogue Among Civilizations. It is also a blessing for those who see the intermingling of different cultures and of inclusion as an enrichment of society, creating a mosaic of harmony, unity and cohesion.

It is a misfortune for those who believe in self-centered nationalism, exclusion and separatism. It is also a misfortune for those who believe in clashes of civilizations, racial superiority and racial segregation.

Before going into the substance of my speech permit me to say a few words about Cyprus, which is the island of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with an area of 3572 sq. m and a population of 750,000, of which 80% speak Greek and are Greek Orthodox by religion, 18% speak Turkish and are Moslem by religion and the remaining 2% are Armenians, Maronites and Latins. All these communities lived intermingled together in the same villages and towns for centuries.

Cyprus is an independent sovereign Republic with a Presidential system of Government. The capital is Nicosia with a population of 194,000 in the sector controlled by the government. Nicosia is the only divided capital in Europe as a result of the forcible division of the island and the people following the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the occupation of 37% of the island's territory.

The island has a history of 9000 years. The first Greeks arrived on the island at the end of the 12th and during the 11th century B.C. and brought to the island a flourishing culture and the Greek language. The island was fully Hellenized during the Geometric period and played an important role in the classical world because of its wealth in copper mines and forests.

From the 8th century BC onwards, Cyprus became the object for continuous contest among the powers that reigned at the time. The Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Persians conquered the island in succession. The island was freed by Alexander the Great, after his death it came under the domination of the Ptolemies of Egypt and in 58 BC it became part of the Roman Empire and remained so until 330 AD.

During the missionary journeys of Saints Paul and Barnabas Cyprus became the first country to be governed by a Christian when the Roman Proconsul converted to Christianity.

After the division of the Roman Empire, Cyprus came under Byzantium and remained from 330 to 1191 AD, when it was conquered by Richard the Lionheart of England. A year later King Richard sold the island to Guy de Lusignan, former King of Jerusalem, whose family originated from France and the island remained under Frankish rule until 1489 AD when the island was ceded to Venice. Venitian rule lasted until 1571 when the Ottoman Turks occupied Cyprus. The present day Turkish Cypriots are the descendents of the Ottomans who were brought to the island during the occupation. The Ottoman rule lasted until 1878 when the island was ceded to Britain. It became a Crown colony in 1925 and following an anti-colonial struggle it gained Independence in 1960.

The 1960 Constitution of Cyprus proved unworkable and when the then President of Cyprus proposed some amendments to facilitate the functioning of the state, the Turkish Cypriot community responded with a rebellion in December 1963 and withdrew from all organs of the government, acting on instructions of the Turkish government. The first intercommunal conflicts followed while Turkey threatened to invade. A UN Peacekeeping Force was created and was stationed in 1964. It still remains of the island.

Using as a pretext a criminal coup by the Greek junta against the President of Cyprus, Turkey invaded the island in July 1974 and occupied 37% of its territory forcibly expelling the Greek Cypriots who lived there, who constituted more than 80% of the population of that area and 1/3 of the total population of the island. Through the use of military force and aggression the island was divided and the people were separated based on ethnic and religious criteria.

Following this brief historical journey, I shall now continue with the premise that not all situations and conflicts are equal. Countries are different, history is different, and circumstances that lead to conflicts are different. The only factors, though, that remain constant in any conflict is first the human suffering that is universal in character and second the need for international law and international legality to remain the focus and basis of all efforts for the solution of conflicts.

People in conflict areas and especially women and children, suffer atrocities and violations of their basic human rights and freedoms, especially if policies of ethnic cleansing are employed as a weapon of war. Uprooting of people from their homes, indiscriminate killings of civilians, rapes, disappearances are some of these abhorrent methods that have been employed in Cyprus in 1974.

The particulars of other cases of ethnic cleansing are known to all of us because we have seen them in recent years and continue to see them on our TV screens. Thousands of people loaded in buses or on foot crossing the borders into neighboring countries in complete misery and pain. Destitute, homeless, dispossessed, hurt in their human dignity and honor, living in tents and temporary shelters in foreign lands.

For us in Cyprus, these pictures are all too familiar. 26 years ago, 200,000 Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes by the Turkish army during the two phases of the invasion in July and August 1974 that resulted in the occupation of 37 percent of the territory of Cyprus and the forcible division of the country and the people.

Many of them fled out of fear and horror following the brutal conduct of the Turkish troops, or as a result of the indiscriminate bombing by the Turkish airforce. Most of them were forcibly expelled, being driven in buses beyond the cease-fire line. Thousands of families were separated. Killings of civilians were committed on a large scale, several hundred persons disappeared (including four American citizens) and their fate has not yet been ascertained; women of all ages fell victims to rapes, committed by Turkish soldiers. All these atrocities were fully documented by the European Commission of Human Rights in its reports following the three interstate applications of the Government of Cyprus against the Government of Turkey in 1974, 1975 and 1977.

Turkey was found responsible by the European Commission and by the European Court of Human Rights, for violating numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, by not allowing the return of the Greek Cypriot refugees to their homes, by the separation of families, by deprivation of liberty, deprivation of life, ill-treatment, deprivation of possessions and discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin and religion.

A quarter of a century later, the refugees of Cyprus continue to be prevented by the Turkish army from returning to their homes, despite the adoption of numerous resolutions by the United Nations calling for their immediate return in conditions of safety.

A quarter of a century later, the island and the people remain forcibly divided on ethnic criteria. A small defenseless island, of the size of Connecticut, has been cut literally into 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.

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 they cherish as their own. Their ancestral homes, their properties, the social fabric of their villages or towns, their roots and cultural bonds with the past.

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 characterized that area as one of the most densely militarized in the world. 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, while the Turkish Cypriots are continuing to emigrate in the thousands, seeking to escape from the unacceptable conditions prevailing in the occupied area and better opportunities in foreign lands.

For a quarter of a century Turkey has pursued a policy of cultural cleansing by plundering the cultural heritage of that area, destroying a civilization that had lasted for more that 9000 years.

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.

For a quarter of a century the two communities, consisting of 82 percent Greek Cypriots and 18 percent Turkish Cypriots, that have lived peacefully together for four hundred years, 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, the same way that they should also share the same future, the same prospects for a better life in peace.

I tried in these few minutes to show you the unacceptable and untenable nature of the status quo in Cyprus. I tried to show the senselessness of the division. Speaking to an audience from a country with such 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.

As it is unnatural and unachronistic to keep people forcibly divided in other parts of the world, because they happen to be of a different ethnic or religious background, it is similarly unnatural and anachronistic to tolerate the occupation and forcible division of Cyprus on ethnic criteria.

The territorial integrity of Cyprus and its unity must be fully safeguarded. The international community has already categorically rejected the attempted secession of the occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus and any solution to the problem has to respect that very principle.

Turkey has ignored over the years numerous resolutions adopted by the United Nations. And she has ignored them with impunity. Such a defiant attitude, if tolerated would set a dangerous precedent, because no country has the right to claim special grounds for putting itself beyond the rules of international law.

If Turkey, because of perceived strategic or other interests evades this rule, then "might is right" will prevail and lawlessness and aggression will then be the rule and the fate of small countries will especially be in jeopardy.

Since the framework for a solution in Cyprus already exists in the numerous resolutions adopted by the United Nations, what is urgently needed and what would really constitute the only prospect for a solution 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 comply with the international community's decisions.

As we are approaching 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 the shameful and anachronistic policies of ethnic cleansing can no longer be tolerated in any part of the world. Such policies 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. 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, member of the European Union. A true Multi-cultural society.

This is our dream and our vision for the new millennium, which I put today before you.

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