By Muzaffer Vatansever, USAK Center for EU Studies
As a participant of the IV. International Conference on “Balkans and North Cyprus Relations: Perspectives in Political, Economic and Strategic Issues”, organized by Eastern Mediterranean University-Centre for Strategic Studies (DAU-SAM) on 17-19 March 2011, I had the opportunity and honour to meet by Former Prime Minister of TRNC and President of DAU-SAM, Mr. Hakký Atun in Famagusta. In the context of our meeting, I conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Atun regarding the recent developments and tensions between Turkey and TRNC.
Mr. Atun critically commented on the “Economic Package” and the replacement of Turkey’s Ambassador to TRNC Mr. Kaya Türkmen with Mr. Halil Ýbrahim Akça, Former head of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Technical Delegation.
Q: Mr. President, as you know, some of the slogans and banners used in ‘Social Existence Demonstration’ of 28 January in Nicosia, raised Republic of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan’s and some of his cabinet members’ harsh reaction. In the following days, the “content” of banners and the “dose” of Turkish representatives’ response caused intense disputes on the Island. What is your opinion on the “Economic Package” which created the basis of these tensions between Turkey and TRNC?
A: First of all, it has to be asserted that the above-mentioned economic package has not newly-appeared today. This Package was signed by Derviþ Eroðlu in his term of Prime Ministry. However, in that period, Prime Minister Soyer, by saying “the priorities of the government are different “, had refused to open the package to public discussion. In fact, his priority was to proceed from the Prime Ministry to the Presidency office. Thus, this issue was deliberately overlooked, even hidden. It is very grave situation that in a democratic country the issue was not sufficiently discussed by the related parties and that nobody was informed.
In the TV Programs that I participated, as an objective person who wants nothing but the well-being of the country, I tried to attract attention to this side of the issue. However, gradually, by media’s sometimes true, sometimes exaggerated news, the tension in the country started to increase. And finally the Labour Unions, which are unnecessarily powerful in our country, carried the issue into an obstipation exaggerating the problem. And they, as if all these were not enough, also criticized Turkey, our only protector and who paved the way for our well-being position today, prepared our infrastructure and had incredible contribution to our economy. For sure, it would have undoubtedly been better if Turkish response had been calmer. I have to say that I am in deep sorrow by Mr. Erdoðan’s accusation of Turkish Cypriots as “free-rider”.
I have worked with dozens of governments in Turkey and we solved our problems behind closed doors. We have never gone beyond their advice. Turkey has the right to have a say in every issue about us. Yet, just like a father would not try to rule his son, Turkey-TRNC relationship should be as such. Even more, Turkey is regarded as a “dominating” country to the domestic affairs of TRNC. Such a kind of impression should have been avoided especially in the eyes of International community.
In these incidents, the faults of TRNC government is bigger. Turkey requested us to take this step and offer this package. But Mr. Eroðlu preserved his silence when changing his office from Prime Ministry to Presidency. If you could follow well, the rage of the Republic of Turkey was directed to TRNC President and Government. They are slowly awakening now and trying to re-establish dialogue with Turkish authorities.
However, as non-governmental organizations, we are not satisfied with these initiatives. We created a totally impartial platform which consisted of approximately 100 people including all the parties of the country. Organizing round table meetings, we will discuss the issue that “a reform is a necessity for our country”. For the past 40 years mistakes might have been made in administrative issues as well as financial and political ones. So, we have to restructure our system. The name of the platform that we have formed is “Public Dialogue and Change Platform”. There are representatives of all sides in TRNC from parliamentarians to union representatives and non-governmental organizations as well as industrial and trade chambers. Thus by these meetings we will try to come up with a realistic picture and try to help and guide the government.
Q: As a reaction of Turkish state, Mr. Kaya Türkmen, who was appointed as Turkey’s Ambassador to TRNC six months ago, has been replaced with Mr. Halil Ýbrahim Akça, former head of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Technical Delegation. How do you evaluate this development?
A: I don’t believe even for a moment Turkey wants something that is not good for us. However, the practice of this issue shouldn’t be in that way, in fact, it could have been better. Ambassador Mr. Kaya Türkmen is an honourable diplomat who is widely respected and appreciated by Northern Cypriots. Mr. Türkmen has been regarded as “scapegoat” in these discussions and replaced with Mr. Halil Ýbrahim Akça who is known as being a party in the recent tensions between Turkey and TRNC. In this regard, replacement is seen as an imposition of Turkey and is not welcomed by Northern Cypriots. In addition, this is not a good beginning for our brother, Mr. Akça. Since he is seen as an “agent” of Turkey, in the following process, he should conduct his relations with Northern Cypriots in a very careful and balanced way. One of the political parties of TRNC launched a sit-in protest in front of the Turkish Soldier’s War Memorial in Nicosia in order to let Turkey to step back from its decision. In my opinion, all these should not happen.