Cablegate: Greek Cypriot Enclaves in the North: Hanging by A

Published: Wed 20 Dec 2006 03:49 PM
DE RUEHNC #2051/01 3541549
P 201549Z DEC 06
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On December 14, political section staff
joined United Nations civil affairs personnel on one of their
weekly monitoring visits to the enclaved Greek Cypriot
community on the Turkish Cypriot-administered Karpass
peninsula. Embassy officers accompanied UNFICYP personnel on
two home visits before observing the delivery of Christmas
gifts to the Greek Cypriot school in the town of
Rizokarpasso. While the 300-odd Greek Cypriots of Karpass
continue to live in challenging conditions -- and face some
difficulties in their relationship with the Turkish Cypriot
authorities -- the opening of this school (the first Greek
Cypriot secondary school to operate in the north since the
1974 war) has marked an important improvement in the lot of
the enclaved. Although the fate of this aging, dwindling
community is an open question, the continued support they
receive from the GOC and the UN -- as well as the
comparatively accommodating stance of the post-Denktash
"TRNC" -- suggests that this community stands a better chance
of long-term survival than at any time since 1974. END
2. (U) In the wake of the 1974 war, a large and comprehensive
population transfer took place, with all but a small number
of Turkish Cypriots moving north, and all but a few Greek
Cypriots and Maronites fleeing to the Government of
Cyprus-controlled south. Those who remained behind are
commonly referred to as "enclaved." Their numbers have
dwindled significantly over the past 30 years. Today,
approximately 500 Turkish Cypriots remain in the south
(mainly around Limassol), while approximately 300 Greek
Cypriots and 150 Maronites live in the north. The Greek
Cypriot enclaved are concentrated in three villages on the
Karpass Peninsula at the northeastern tip of the island:
Leonarisso (Ziyamet in Turkish), Agias Trias (Sipahi), and
Rizokarpasso (Dipkarpaz).
3. (U) The enclaved in the north make up less than 0.2 per
cent of the population of the "TRNC," but their political
significance has always outweighed their numerical strength.
During the 30-year reign of Turkish Cypriot strongman Rauf
Denktash, the "TRNC" took a fairly aggressive stance toward
the enclaved, denying them schooling, hampering their
religious life, and making economic activity difficult. This
policy of persistent harassment lead to the gradual shrinking
of the enclaved populations in Karpass, as well as the
outright disappearance of Greek Cypriot life from towns like
Bellapais -- where an enclaved community that had held on for
some years after 1974 eventually pulled up stakes and fled
south. Those that remain today in Karpass are, with a few
notable exceptions, elderly and completely reliant on the GOC
for support. For its part, the GOC remains committed to the
material and financial upkeep of enclaved Greek Cypriots, as
a symbol that the division of the island is not an acceptable
or permanent state of affairs.
4. (U) Under the terms of the 1975 Vienna III Agreement,
civil affairs officers from the United Nations Peacekeeping
Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) monitor the condition of the
enclaved in the north, facilitate medical care, deliver
supplies money provided through the Red Cross by the GOC
(pension payments and the like, usually in cash), and
informally seek to resolve disputes involving the enclaved,
their Turkish Cypriot neighbors, and "TRNC" officials.
Accordingly, UNFICYP conducts regular weekly patrols to the
Karpass region, visiting the designated Greek Cypriot
spokespersons in each of the three villages and making
informal home visits. UN convoys also visit the enclaved
Maronites in the northwest every fortnight.
5. (U) To facilitate their monitoring and assistance
activities, UN civilian police (CIVPOL) maintain a post in
Leonarisso, normally manned by two officers (currently, one
cop each from India and the Netherlands). On December 14,
poloffs joined a small UNFICYP convoy, which called on this
liaison post before setting off to visit Greek Cypriots in
the three enclaved villages. The situation of the enclaved
in each village is different, but each settlement nonetheless
highlights some of the common challenges faced by all Greek
Cypriots residing in the north.
6. (SBU) Leonarisso, which is some 100 kilometers from
Nicosia, is the site of both the UNFICYP liaison post and the
NICOSIA 00002051 002 OF 004
smallest enclaved community. Of the 200-odd residents of the
town, who are both Turkish Cypriots and Anatolian "settlers,"
only four are Greek Cypriot. (COMMENT: A local cop from the
"political bureau" of the "TRNC" police -- whose job was
apparently both to monitor the UN convoy and to relay their
questions and requests back to Turkish Cypriot authorities --
joined the convoy in Leonarisso and stayed with us throughout
the day. He was a visible, but fairly unobtrusive, presence,
and seemed to have an easy rapport with the enclaved we
visited. END COMMENT.) Even though the liaison post gave
the impression that neither life nor work was too hectic for
the UN in or around the village, it was quite clear from the
convoy's home visit to Leonarisso enclaved spokesperson
Panayiota Kananka that the seriousness of problems faced by
the enclaved are in inverse proportion to the size of their
7. (SBU) Ms. Kananka, the youngest of the four elderly, frail
and isolated Leonarisso enclaved, greeted the UN delegation
in her small, drafty, mud-and-wood home (which had
electricity but no indoor plumbing, and was filled with
decades-old family photos, religious memorabilia, and the bed
of her invalid mother who had died some months previously).
She rattled off a series of complaints suggesting that life
in the village was very difficult. Although some of her
complaints would probably have been echoed by her
poverty-stricken Turkish Cypriot neighbors, she also
highlighted several problems that were clearly particular to
the enclaved. Totally dependent on the Government of Cyprus
for supplies and financial aid (and on the UN for delivery),
Kananka reported that she had been the victim of theft
several times; robbers had made off with a significant amount
of assistance cash she had squirreled away in her cupboard,
while "gypsies" had cut down some olive trees on a plot of
land she worked for extra cash -- presumably making off with
the logs for firewood. This, noted the "TRNC" cop, was a
common complaint made by villagers from both communities.
8. (SBU) Although Kananka did make a somewhat cheerful remark
in Turkish that "Talat is OK!", it was clear that
ethnically-tinged friction continued between her and the
Turkish Cypriot authorities. She complained to the UN that
the "government's" road upgrading scheme had not included the
paving of a 40-meter lane leading to the Greek Cypriot
cemetery outside of town. This prompted an indignant reply
from the Turkish Cypriot cop, who claimed that this was the
first he had heard of Kananka's complaint -- and who accused
her of making a show by raising the issue with the UN before
even approaching the local authorities with her request.
9. (SBU) Kananka also updated the UN on her continued dispute
with the local muhktar (village mayor) over the town's
church. The church, which had been used for Muslim worship
for years (a hand-made metal minaret top was still perched
awkwardly on top of the steeple), was reopened for Orthodox
prayer after a brand new mosque was built nearby four years
ago. A dispute erupted, however, between Kananka and the
village mukhtar over control of the keys to the building, and
the authorities reportedly closed the church and began using
it for agricultural storage in retaliation. Although the
Talat administration has since cleaned the building, the
mukhtar still holds the keys.
10. (SBU) According to CIVPOL, the UN has repeatedly
intervened in the matter, and even gained assurances from
"TRNC" officials in Nicosia that the keys would be handed
over to Kananka. But local officials in the town claim that
they have not been authorized "by the state" to surrender
control of access to this "cultural heritage site," although
they reportedly assure the UN that the enclaved may still
have access to the church for prayer at any time. (UNFICYP
personnel commented to us that the deadlock smacked of a
personal war of wills between the tenacious Kananka and
stubborn local authorities. Nonetheless, they felt her
request to have custody of the keys was a reasonable one, and
said they would continue to press for this. Deputy Chief
Civil Affairs Samba Sane told us that UNFICYP might seek
Embassy intervention with high-level "TRNC" officials if
their efforts to resolve the dispute continue to be
11. (SBU) The patrol then proceeded to the village of Agias
Trias, which is some 20 or so kilometers past Leonarisso.
The village consists primarily of mainland Turkish settlers
(approximately 900, according to one UN estimate) but also
hosts an enclaved community of 85 Greek Cypriots. The
enclaved of Agias Trias are clearly in better shape than the
beleaguered shut-ins of Leonarisso. A larger community, they
NICOSIA 00002051 003 OF 004
are less isolated and have a more vibrant community life.
The convoy called on spokesperson Savvas Liasi in his home.
Mr. Liasi, a spry and gregarious man in his mid-80s,
complained about his health (he had traveled to the south for
medical treatment on several occasions) but said that, by and
large, the situation in the village was "pretty much okay."
12. (U) Coincidentally visiting on the name day of the patron
saint of a neighboring village, UN officials also spoke
briefly with Father Zaharias, the Orthodox priest who has
ministered to the enclaved (spending alternate weeks in Agias
Trias and Rizokarpasso) since being allowed entry to the
"TRNC" after the end of the Denktash regime. Zaharias
conducts services in all three of the Karpass churches
currently in operation (as well as at a fourth, which Turkish
Cypriot authorities have not officially opened, but is
nonetheless used in practice without special arrangement).
Offering an almond-and-pomegranate dish made especially for
the saint's day, Liasi and his wife recalled their
as-yet-unanswered request that Turkish Cypriot officials
allow the assignment of a second priest to take up some of
the slack. The first candidate, who had been named by the
Government of Cyprus, withdrew from consideration "for
personal reasons," while a second one was rejected by Turkish
Cypriot authorities for making allegedly "nationalistic"
13. (SBU) Although Liasi was visibly happier and more
prosperous than Kananka (he joked with the Turkish Cypriot
cop who accompanied the patrol and stressed to us that the
villagers got on quite well with their neighbors, learning
each other's languages and interacting freely) the Greek
Cypriots of Agias Trias face the same demographic pressures
that threaten the Leonarissa enclaved. While more numerous,
Agias Trias's villagers are still comparatively old, since
nearly all of the town's children moved south long ago in
search of education, jobs, and marriage prospects. The
village's only wedding in recent memory had taken place a few
months earlier, between a local woman in her sixties and a
former resident (now living in the south) who was at least as
old. Even if Turkish Cypriot authorities respond positively
to the new husband's request for permission to reside in the
village permanently (he can now visit on a "tourist visa" for
90 days at a time), it still seems likely that Greek Cypriot
life in Agias Trias will slowly fade away as the residents
die off.
14. (U) The patrol's final stop was Rizokarpasso, home to the
largest community of enclaved -- approximately 270 Greek
Cypriots living among 2000 or so Turkish settlers in the
Karpass peninsula's principal town. UNFICYP personnel
visited the secondary school in the town and chatted with the
headmaster and his staff, since the local spokesman for the
enclaved had gone south that day for medical treatment. They
also delivered Christmas gifts for local primary school
students, courtesy of the GOC.
15. (SBU) The enclaved community of Rizokarpasso is
relatively prosperous and far less isolated than the
communities of Leonarissa and Agias Trias. Greek Cypriots
there reportedly mingle freely with their settler neighbors,
and enjoy reasonably good relations with local officials (who
provide free clinic-style medical care and look the other way
when the enclaved regularly fail to pay their utility bills).
According to the secondary school principal, there was also
a modicum of economic activity (with some Greek Cypriots
tending goats, growing olives, or operating the occasional
restaurant and coffee shop), even though relying on transfer
payments from the government was still the "easiest option"
for most of the town's enclaved.
16. (SBU) There is also some embryonic political life in
Rizokarpasso, with enclaved Greek Cypriots seeking to elect
their own muhktar in ROC local elections December 17. The
headmaster noted that the current Greek Cypriot muhktar (as
opposed to the Turkish Cypriot mayor who actually governed
the town from the local city hall) lived in exile in the
south, having been elected thanks to the support of
Rizokarpasso refugees in the government-controlled areas.
For the first time, however, a local man was standing for
election. Rizokarpasso's enclaved were hoping he would win
out over the exiled candidate, so that their municipal leader
(and their main advocate with GOC authorities) would be
"closer" to the enclaved and their day-to-day concerns. (On
December 17, the Larnaca-based mukhtar was reelected -- no
doubt a disappointment for the enclaved still residing in the
NICOSIA 00002051 004 OF 004
17. (U) Key to Rizokarpasso's comparative vitality, however,
were the children and their school -- the only educational
institution serving Greek Cypriots in the north. According
to school officials, the town's Greek Cypriot population fell
from a high of over 3,000 in the 1974 to its current level of
270 thanks in large part to Turkish Cypriot authorities'
refusal to allow the opening of a secondary school for the
enclaved. Prior to 2005, when the Talat administration
reversed years of Denktashian intransigence and gave
permission for a secondary school, children regularly went
south for any education beyond the primary level. They
rarely returned.
18. (U) Although there were several months of disagreement
and posturing between GOC and Turkish Cypriot officials
(involving disputes over which "sovereign" entity should pay
for the school, the content of textbooks, and the political
proclivities of the teachers sent from the south to teach
there), the headmaster told the UN patrol that the school was
"now fully functioning, fully staffed, and fully equipped."
Indeed, the teacher-to-student ratio at Rizokarpasso schools
(to which 20 teachers commute from the south to work with 27
secondary students, 15 primary students, and 13 nursery
school kids) compares favorably to that of the
government-controlled areas. The facility appeared clean,
modern, and well-equipped with computers, musical
instruments, books, and so forth.
19. (SBU) Although New York has reportedly raised serious
questions about the wisdom of continued UN support for the
enclaved since the opening of the Green Line in 2003
(liability issues associated with the delivery of large cash
payments from the government are a particular concern now
that the enclaved have more regular access to banks), UNFICYP
will likely insist on continuing to visit and provision the
Greek Cypriots of Karpass. Access to Karpass was a hard-won
concession, and UN officials tell us that they do not want to
abdicate their patrolling rights in the area lest the
political situation deteriorate in the future. Moreover, in
the absence of direct and pragmatic contact between Turkish
Cypriot and Greek Cypriot officials, the UN remains the only
force that can advocate for the enclaved with the Turkish
Cypriot authorities when something goes wrong -- as it
inevitably does. UNFICYP's quiet presence is probably vital
to the continued correct (if not cordial) relations between
the enclaved and their Turkish Cypriot neighbors.
20. (SBU) For its part, the Government of Cyprus seems
certain to continue its financial and logistical support of
the enclaved, regardless of the cost. A commitment to the
survival of Greek Cypriots caught "under occupation" is
something on which no Greek Cypriot leader could politically
afford to waiver. Furthermore, cutting support for supply
runs (even unnecessary ones) would lend credence to the
politically unacceptable idea that the division of the island
has somehow become normal.
21. (SBU) It is an open question whether Greek Cypriot life
in the Karpass can endure in the long run. For the elderly
shut-ins of Leonarisso, the odds of survival past the next
few years are pretty slim. If current trends continue, even
the more vibrant pensioners of Agias Trias will also
eventually dwindle away. Nonetheless, there is hope for the
comparatively sizable and young population of Rizokarpasso,
thanks to the continued support of the GOC and UN -- and to
the quiet change in Turkish Cypriot attitude that came about
when Talat replaced Denktash. Although low-level friction
may continue (as it does over the church keys of Leonarisso),
the current Turkish Cypriot administration has made -- and so
far stuck to -- a strategic choice. Where Denktash actively
sought to choke out the enclaved through outright harassment
and subtle demographic pressure, the Talat administration
(albeit after much haggling) has eased up, allowing the
opening of a school and the assignment of a priest. This
could open the door to a modest demographic and religious
bounce-back for Greek Cypriots in Karpass. But, as Liaisi
stressed when he took poloff aside and begged the USG to
"keep working for a solution," a real renaissance of
mixed-village harmony in Cyprus is unlikely absent a
comprehensive political solution. END COMMENT.
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media