Cyprus

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:49 am on 23rd December 1981.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath 10:49 am, 23rd December 1981

I wish to draw the attention of the House once again to Cyprus. I last raised the question of the Cyprus tragedy in an Adjournment debate in August 1975. The intervening years have brought little hope but much suffering and misfortune to this remarkably beautiful Mediterranean island.

I have not come to cheer on one side or the other but to cheer on the people of Cyprus in their struggle for a just, honourable and lasting settlement and my Government in their attempts to facilitate such a settlement. As one of the three guarantor Powers, Britain is pledged to support the independence of Cyprus, and, of course it was a Conservative Government who correctly gave the pledge.

I do not underestimate the problems posed for successive British Governments by the Cyprus crisis and the agony of the Cypriot people. I hope that I do not over-estimate our diplomatic strength, but I believe that over the years my country has failed in its special moral commitment and left undone things that could have been done, particularly following the coup of 15 July 1974.

Britain has ties with Cyprus going back to 1878. Cyprus is a fellow member of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe. On no account can we accept the situation as a fait accompli on some faraway holiday island. The decisions of the United Nations are being treated with armed contempt, and grave damage is being done to United Nations' authority and effectiveness. United Nations resolution No. 3212 was supported by 117 nations, including Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. None voted against it and none abstained, which is almost unheard of in the General Assembly, yet it has still to be implemented. The United Nations peacekeeping force, in which for years Britain has played a leading role, does excellent work. It should be strengthened and given wider responsibilities to cover the protection of both communities and to guard the integrity of the island.

We should not give ourselves to recriminations and the repetition of actions with which we are all familiar. It is sufficient to say that prior to 1974 the Turks exercised patience and restraint in the face of provocation. In particular, in the important years 1960 to 1963 there was an incredible failure to give the Turks a full part in the new independent Cyprus. The Greek colonels wanted to reactivate the EOKA struggle for enosis. The arrival of the murderer, Nicos Sampson, as President of Cyprus was an outrage. I speak as one who was ambushed by members of EOKA prior to independence.

Using the coup as a pretext, Turkey invaded Cyprus—my right hon. Friend's predecessor was wrong to open up a debate on when is an invasion not an invasion—allegedly as a guarantor of the independence of Cyprus. Approximately 40 per cent. of the total territory of the Republic of Cyprus still remains under Turkish military occupation. In 1974 Turkish Cypriots represented only 18 per cent. of the population. The area occupied happened to contain 60 per cent. of the agricultural land, 90 per cent. of the tourist accommodation, 83 per cent. of the cargo handling capacity and 55 per cent. of the mines.

The occupation must, in all honesty, be seen as the first and most obvious barrier on the way to a free and independent Cyprus. So long as the so-called Attila line runs from Lefka in the west to Famagusta in the east, Britain can be seen by the whole world to be failing in its duties as a guarantor Power.

The House has previously noted the plight of the refugees in Cyprus. The 200,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, including 50,000 children, represent 40 per cent. of the Greek population. They are still prevented by sheer force from returning to their homes, businesses and farms. The Government and people of Cyprus have done a wonderful job in looking after such a large number of refugees, but their right to return to their towns and villages must not be overlooked by the House.

The question of the so-called missing people must be tackled by the international community on humanitarian grounds. I am told that the committee to investigate the fact of persons missing in Cyprus since 1974 was set up in April after meetings between the Greek-Cypriot committee of relatives of missing persons and Mr. Denktash. Some 2,000 Greek and 500 Turkish Cypriot cases are involved. The committee consists of representatives of both sides and a United Nations Red Cross representative, but procedural disputes have prevented investigations taking place. The committee continues to exist only because neither side wishes to take responsibility for killing it off. That is not good enough. The wives, lovers, mothers and fathers of the missing soldiers have a right to know whether they are alive or officially dead. Will Britain give a lead in getting the matter settled once and for all?

The Turkish authorities have been settling farming families from Anatolia and former Turkish soldiers in the so-called "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus". Altering the demographic structure of Cyprus in that way and passing on houses and farms of the uprooted Greek-Cypriots must be condemned without reservation, as it has been by the United Nations.

The Turkish authorities could and should further scale down their occupying force. There can be no conceivable reason for the continued presence of 20,000 troops. Incidentally, what is the Government's latest information on the rumours that the garrison is being reinforced by 7,000?

A reduction of the garrison would bring minor relief to Turkey's well-documented economic plight. It would also help Turkey's military Government regain the political friendship of those members of the world community on whom she depends, almost totally, for financial support.

All British Governments have appreciated the fact that the Turkish contribution to NATO is crucial. The morning after our debate on Poland is a good time to pay tribute to the military strength of Turkey and the courage and dedication of her soldiers, sailors and airmen. However, the importance of our NATO ally has led to a tendency in the Foreign Office over the years to play down Britain's obligations to Cyprus. Turkey will remain in the alliance, I hope, for many years, but in reality only so long as it is in her defence interests to do so.

To obtain stability in the eastern Mediterranean it is necessary to achieve first a settlement in Cyprus. Without such a settlement, NATO's south-east flank, bordering the Middle East, with its tensions and tank armies, will remain a matter of continued concern.

I appreciate the presence of my right hon. Friend this morning. I trust that I have not delayed his departure either to bring Christmas cheer to his constituents or to be with his family at home. Cyprus for him will be one of many problems on his new desk, but its importance should not be overlooked.

Who, following recent political events in Greece and noting the results of the election and the country's present views on NATO and the European Community, would deny that Cyprus has been an underlying factor? I would mention Mr. Papandreou's visit to Cyprus on 9 January which is, I am told, the first visit of a Greek Prime Minister since independence. I cannot help wondering whether its timing and purpose will help or hinder a Cyprus settlement. All of us have put our faith in the present intercommunal talks. They might lead to success—God willing, they will. We all appreciate that this debate takes place at a critical time in those talks. The Secretary-General's special representative, Hugo Gobbi, started by expressing satisfaction about the good atmosphere that prevails. Discussions began on reaching agreement on the resettlement of Varosha under United Nations auspices and on practical measures by both sides to promote good will and mutual confidence.

There is general agreement in Cyprus that a revised federal constitution is required. Fixing the northern region boundary will be a formidable problem. Above all, the Turkish community in Cyprus must be given security. As in the Middle East, security is one of the keys. However, I fear that real negotiations are not taking place, only the tabling of carefully prepared papers setting out well known, carefully prepared positions. Real negotiations will require toil, sweat and the burning of midnight oil.

The British Government have a clear duty to strain every sinew to get the talks to succeed. Of course, a settlement cannot be imposed, but propositions can be put forward that neither side would have proposed but which both sides can accept. The whole weight of world opinion can be brought to bear to achieve a settlement. We need to get the American Administration closely involved and to activate direct links with both Greece and Turkey. My conviction is that the European Community has a key role to play in the Eastern Mediterraean.

The new Secretary-General has a special knowledge of Cyprus and will want to take a close interest. It would be good to hear that one of the first ambassadors that he will see after taking up his duties on 1 January will be our own Sir Anthony Parsons, who would remind him of our deep concern for Cyprus and would discuss with him the current United Nations proposals and how they can best be advanced.

I am currently the chairman of the British-Cyprus CPA group. I assure my right hon. Friend that many right hon. and hon. Members want to know that Britain is doing everything possible to support the intercommunal talks and that she does not intend to allow Cyprus to fall by the wayside because no one is prepared to stand up for the people of Cyprus, whether Greek or Turkish Cypriots. My right hon. Friend must also be considering privately with his officials and with other countries how best to discharge the commitment that we have arising from our association, if the talks should flounder and if Mr. Denktash again raises the cry of UDI.

That is my main message to the Government, although I have a number of minor points. First, Friends of Cyprus recently organised in London a remarkable and encouraging meeting. A mass meeting of Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, assembled to welcome a declaration which had been made by three editors from the Greek side and three editors from the Turkish side, all calling for understanding and reconciliation. This follows other meetings of professional Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There is a danger that as the years go by the two communities will grow apart. Friends of Cyprus, as an independent organisation, is well suited to call such meetings, but the Government and their diplomats and agencies also have a part to play. How can that part be played in the future?

Secondly, I raise the vexed subject of students' fees. Cyprus has no university. In the past, many of her leaders in politics, law, industry and commerce have been educated in Britain. In the future, it looks as though Cyprus will turn elsewhere, particularly to America, which I understand recently allocated no less than $5 million for scholarships, and of course the Soviet Union. It is as plain as a pikestaff that Government policy in this area has been short-sighted and in the long run will be damaging to both Cyprus and Britain. It is not too late for wiser counsels to prevail. Let the Foreign Office contribute to those counsels.

Thirdly, the woes of those British subjects whose property was occupied in the north of Cyprus have frequently been related by hon. Members. What is the latest position with regard to compensation from Turkey for former British residents? Has the matter been resolved once and for all?

Fourthly, the sovereign bases are of considerable importance to Britain. At present, the administration of the United Nations force in Cyprus is carried out from them. They assist the local economy. There is minimum feeling against them locally. May I be assured that their future is not in question?

In conclusion, having studied the Cyprus issue for many years and having had the opportunity to meet the leading politicians on both sides of the dispute, I am convinced that a settlement that will bring peace, stability, territorial integrity and lasting independence and non-alignment can be achieved.

If there has been a thought among Greek Cypriots that a delayed settlement is likely to be a better settlement, such an attitude is tragically mistaken. Equally, it is not in the interests of either the Turkish Cypriots who live under an austere and economically unsuccessful regime, or Turkey, which stands condemned by the international community, that the present shameful state of affairs should continue.

I am not pro-Greek Cypriot or pro-Turkish Cypriot. I am simply pro-Cypriot. Although Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are very different in character and temperament, they share a love of Cyprus. The evidence of the past 100 years is that in Cyprus they can live peacefully together and the two communities complement each other. Individual shopkeepers, farmers and those who will have to share a water channel or graze the same pastures have told me of their conviction that they can live together in harmony.

In economic, industrial and agricultural terms, Cyprus must be regarded as one unit. A mountainous island of 3,572 square miles is far too small to be permanently divided. An officially partitioned Cyprus would be as lacking in stability as Palestine or Northern Ireland. Joining Cyprus to either Greece of Turkey would lead at once to a vicious and bloody war between Greece and Turkey and would be a monstrous destruction of an independent country.

I do not doubt that a long and tortuous road lies ahead. I do not doubt that more missed opportunities could condemn an island's generation to bitterness, growing hatred, despair and degradation. But neither do I doubt that a magnanimous, lasting settlement, encouraged by Britain, between these two proud and well-established communities could lead on to a fertile plateau of peace and prosperity.