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A leopard doesn’t change its spots

İpek Özerim

İpek Özerim

A leopard doesn’t change its spots

  • 11.10.2017

THE news earlier this week that non-EU passengers arriving at Larnaca airport were being refused entry and deported for stating they intended to cross over to North Cyprus sent shockwaves across the island and beyond. It’s difficult to understand why – this is not new!
Since the island’s 1974 split into two ethnic zones, the Greek Cypriots have spent millions of pounds and man-hours trying to present North Cyprus as “illegally occupied”. They do all in their power to prevent Turkish Cypriots from having normal, direct relations with the rest of the world, claiming they are the sole sovereign authority on the island.
As part of their propaganda war, Greek Cyprus has constantly maintained that those arriving on the island from the North have entered via an “illegal port”. Any overseas traveller crossing into the South would be arrested and fined, before being despatched. Similarly, those entering “lawfully”, but with North Cyprus stamps in their passports, could still be deported not only from South Cyprus, but also from close ally Greece. The aim was to kill off tourism to the North – and for years it worked.
Greek Cypriots gave legal weight to these procedures, which went unchallenged until Cyprus’s accession to the European Union in 2004. This marked a watershed moment for the island in more ways than one. 
The EU regards Cyprus as a single entity and while its body of law – the acquis communautaire – remains suspended in the North, it still insists on applying its core principles, among them the freedom of movement. Overriding South Cyprus laws, the acquis insists that EU citizens arriving in Cyprus from any port – including those in the North – can travel freely across the island. 
In January 2008, Olli Rehn, then EU Enlargement Commissioner, went further. Responding to Greek Cypriot MEP Marios Matsakis’s letter about the Syria-North Cyprus ferry service, Mr Rehn said: “Based on the general principles of international law, entry and exit of vessels from sea ports in the northern part of Cyprus is not prohibited."
The Greek Cypriots were livid, but were obliged to comply. They had fallen out of favour with the EU and wider international community for voting against the Annan Plan to reunify the island, while human rights group Embargoed!’s campaign had courted global sympathy for Turkish Cypriots who remain unfairly isolated. The South’s tourist ban softened – not by choice – but these laws were never repealed.
Becoming an EU member created new dilemmas for Greek Cypriots. Most refuse to recognise the “Green Line” border as part of their ongoing denial about the existence of two states on the island. As such, unlike the TRNC, the South doesn’t have compulsory passport controls. Spot-checks do occur and if you are found not carrying the right paperwork you can be refused entry.
Last month, there was a terrible example of this involving an elderly man of Turkish origin who crossed over into the South by bike. On August 31, Mehmet Sapmaz, who lives in Mağusa with his Cypriot-born family, was stopped by Greek Cypriot police, one of whom decided as part of the arrest to verbally abuse and physical assault the pensioner, witnessed by bystanders. As of this week, Mr Sapmaz remained in detention in the South awaiting deportation. 
It should be noted one of the most active organisations seeking his release and the prosecution of the reprehensible police officer is Kisa, a Greek Cypriot organisation seeking to combat racism and discrimination, while promoting a multicultural society in Cyprus. The NGO also uses neutral language, referring to the North as “non-government-controlled areas of the Republic”.
Sadly, instead of this progressive group becoming a template for evolving attitudes in the South, which continues to demonise everything in the North and promote a deeply hostile, xenophobic outlook towards Turks, Kisa is itself the target of right-wing activists and media, who treat them as “traitors to the cause”. 
Which brings us back to the latest incidents at Larnaca airport: a Greek Cypriot exposed the situation in the media after his guests from the Lebanon, including a famous DJ, were denied entry and deported on the same plane they had arrived on, after unwittingly telling the authorities of their cross-border vacation plans. But for the intervention of the Israeli Embassy, 35 Israeli tourists were facing the same fate. 
According to a report in the Cyprus Mail, the dormant law became active in June following a directive from the Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry, which instructed immigration officers to take a hard-line stance in implementing the policy to bar non-EU nationals from entering Cyprus if they intend to stay at hotels built in the North on former Greek Cypriot land. The report says the Foreign Ministry “failed” to inform embassies and tour operators, hence the current outcry. The policy has been suspended until a “smoother transition” can take place. 
The whole situation is ridiculous and smacks of electioneering. Not only have the European courts ruled on the use of “stolen property”, recognising the rights of new users, but the South’s policy also is highly hypocritical given that both Larnaca and Paphos airports are built on Turkish title land, along with many other state-owned facilities. 
As Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos recently revealed, many private individuals have misappropriated former Turkish Cypriot land, among them a Greek Cypriot ex-minister and former local councillor. So before they start objecting to people in the North using “stolen property”, it would be good if the South put its own house in order.
The TRNC is no longer a pariah state. Tourists will still come. And many more will now travel to Ercan to avoid the risk of deportation under this nasty South Cyprus border policy, which again underlines the warped mindset of many (but thankfully not all) Greek Cypriots. 
Given a leopard doesn’t change its spots, the TRNC authorities should adopt a different tack: publish a map of all disputed property in the South where Turkish Cypriot refugees and Evkaf have title rights. Perhaps then Greek Cypriots will realise they have much more to lose by these stupid games.
 

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