The Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has called upon the UK Government to work for the reunification of Cyprus, carrying out its obligations towards the island as one of the Guarantor powers.
Corbyn was addressing a UK Cypriot event in north London’s Cypriot Community Centre on Wednesday evening, organised by the Famagusta Association of Great Britain to mark the 42nd anniversary of the Turkish invasion and beginning of the illegal occupation of the northern part of the island.
The Leader of the Opposition hailed the “huge” contribution of the Cypriot community in the life and economy of London and reminisced about how he had helped found the Cypriot Community Centre as a north London councillor. “People here have stayed together determined to see Cyprus reunited; and I want to see that too. I am very proud to be here, at a place I helped found as local councillor,” he told CNA.
In his speech he praised the steadfastness of the Cypriots he had first met in 1974 in keeping their community together and taking up the cause of reunifying their island. “It is obvious that this not huge and divided island should be reunited. I absolutely take at heart your call for serious progress by the British Government, because Britain is one of the Guarantors of Cyprus’s independence – it is a British obligation and it is the British Government that should carry out that obligation,” said Corbyn.
“You stood steadfast for all these years with your wish to return home, the wish to reunite, to bring your people together whatever their faith, language, religion or background… Surely, our message to the British Government is ‘you signed the Guarantees agreement in 1960, you have a responsibility to bring together the people of Cyprus, a responsibility to guarantee the Cypriot unity and independence.’ Let’s work for it, let’s make sure that we achieve it,” he added.
Referring to Turkey, he spoke of his concern over the government’s response following the failed coup d’ etat. “This time the coup didn’t succeed, but there are big issues here, issues about human rights, justice and freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary. I can’t be the only person who is very worried that after the failed coup amongst the people arrested are judges and journalists and many other people. This is something that causes me a great deal of concern.”
He also expressed concern over the lack of respect for human rights beyond Turkey and Cyprus, across Europe. “Greece, under deep austerity imposed in large measure by the ECB, barely able to cope, but nevertheless handing out friendship and all support they can to very desperate asylum seekers and refugees. The general response of the rest of Europe, with some exceptions and I pay tribute to Germany and Italy for what they tried to do, has been to put up barb wires and electronic surveillance systems.
”Sorry, these are desperate human beings who must be treated with the respect they deserve. The response to the refugee crisis must be a humanitarian one across the whole continent. If we don’t stand up for human rights now, particularly in the atmosphere of potentially leaving the EU, then I ask myself what kind of rights will people have in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years’ time.”
In his introductory remarks, the President of the Famagusta Association UK Dr Vassilis Mavrou urged the UK Government to look again at moving from the “rhetoric support” for the reunification of Cyprus to “active and constant pressure on Turkey.” He also called for the return of the occupied Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants, according to the relevant international resolutions and as a symbolic and important confidence building measure.
The High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus to the UK Euripides Evriviades said that the ongoing Turkish occupation of Cyprus in “not acceptable”, and referring to the 1974 experience in his country as well as the recent events in Turkey said that all coups are “condemnable” as they attack democracy; and added that democracy is all about how you treat it.
He praised Jeremy Corbyn for his “indefatigable” fight to support the rule of law and democracy and also thanked him for his long-standing support for Cyprus, noting that the Cypriot community’s “heart disc” does not suffer from “memory loss”.
North London Labour MP Kate Osamor urged everyone to keep working hard so that Cyprus is not forgotten. “To forget is a crime,” she said, pledging her own support to the Cypriot cause. She also promised to write a letter of representation on behalf of the Famagusta Association to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Speaking in Greek, former MP and current London councillor Andrew Dismore noted how the ongoing settlement talks between President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci in Cyprus have renewed hopes and called upon Ankara not to block these negotiations.