(L-R) La Trobe Research Fellow Dr Michalis Michael, Halil Adal, Yener Adal, Labor MPs Linda Burney, Steve Georganas, and Maria Vamvakinou; High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus Martha Mavrommati, Cyprus’ deputy head of mission Vakis Zissimos, and Yalcin Halil.

It might be coincidental, but it is hard to overlook the relevance between the outcome of the elections in Turkey, and a motion on the Cypriot issue presented in federal Parliament by Greek Australian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou. The motion was discussed at the same time that Recep Tayip Erdogan was celebrating his victory, which has raised concerns within the international community, about the future of democracy in Turkey.

During the motion, presented by the Calwell member and seconded by the Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese on Monday, both Ms Vamvakinou and her fellow Greek Australian Labor MP Steve Georganas repeated the United Nation’s position to unify the island and find a peaceful and viable solution for the benefit of all Cypriots.

“For all of us who, over the years and decades, have been associated with the plight of Cyprus and who advocate for a free, reunified, sovereign, democratic and independent Cyprus, we stand firm in our continued commitment to support and aid, with whatever resources we have at our disposal, those who are genuinely committed to reaching a peaceful, humane, fair, just and viable solution for the Cyprus problem,” she said.

“But formal negotiations in officialdom by themselves are not sufficient to bring about change and counter the politics of fear, hate and uncertainty. They often require backing and encouragement from civil society and even from the most unlikely of quarters.” One such example was the symbolic initiative of two Australians, Stavros Protz (Tzortzis) and Yalcin Adal, respectively coming from Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot backgrounds, who made a 350-km 16-day walk across Cyprus three months ago.

Inspired by British writer Colin Thubron’s 1975 travelogue Journey Into Cyprus, Yalcin and Stavros followed the same itinerary Thurbon did before the 1974 division of the island, sending a message that despite the events that occurred during these past four decades, “for these two mates who have become brothers Cyprus has no boundaries, no barriers, no minefields, no checkpoints, no green lines, no ghost towns and no lost homelands.”

The parliamentary discussion on Ms Vamvakinou’s motion was attended by the High Commissioner of Cyprus to Australia Martha Mavrommati, the deputy head of the Cypriot mission Vakis Zissimos, and Yalcin, accompanied by his father Halil and his younger brother Yener.

Unfortunately Stavros was unable to attend, as he is mourning the recent loss of his mother.

Speaking to the house, Ms Vamvakinou mentioned that the two Australians’ initiative was embraced by many Cypriots from both communities and finished her statement saying: “Australia has been proactive in the involvement in Cyprus. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have had the longest continuous presence in Cyprus, from 1964 until their departure in 2017 after 53 years.

“Australia supports the establishment of the bi-communal NGO Cyprus Academic Dialogue, and the citizens’ diplomacy program, instituted in 2010 during the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government and a project that our Australian High Commission in Cyprus continues to support today under the present government.
“This is what we Australians do and [what] we do best. Our distinctive, down-to-earth political acumen is to try to find practical solutions to what appear to be insurmountable problems. Inspired by Yalcin and Stavros’ ‘Journey into Cyprus: East2West’, this motion proposes a simple, practical measure to the Australian Government: to action its continued bipartisan support for the peacemaking efforts in Cyprus by reappointing a special envoy on Cyprus to actively promote dialogue, peace and reconciliation.”

Seconding the motion, Mr Georganas gave an account of the Cypriot tragedy: “As we know, in 1974, the island was occupied and nearly 40 per cent of the island still remains occupied,” he said. “Since then, a so-called state has been declared, but it has only been recognised by one nation – the nation that invaded – in the entire world. Only they recognise that part of the island. It just happens that, ironically, as I said, only the northern part is recognised, and that is by the nation that invaded. There are still 1,600 people missing. These people still haven’t been found. In that 40 per cent of the island, we have homes which owners have not been allowed to return to, and they are still not allowed to return.”

The member for Hindmarsh said that the two Australians’ walk was “a symbol of peace, a symbol that people can work together and a symbol that there can be a just solution.”

Praising the “wonderful contribution” of the AFP that has been deployed to Cyprus as part of the UN peacekeeping forces in Cyprus, he said that it is “a pity that in 2017, the government saw fit to withdraw them.”

Mr Albanese also commemorated the Cypriot tragedy saying that “in the coming month, we will mark 44 years since the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, 44 years without a resolution – a nation divided, with 37 per cent of the island still occupied in contravention of a number of United Nations resolutions and with over 200,000 people displaced.”

Stressing that he had already raised this issue in the parliament as federal MP 10 times prior to this occasion, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure referred to the ties between Cyprus and Australia “another island nation, which more than 80,000 Cypriots of both Greek and Turkish background call home,” saying that “the hope of justice and reunification” of Cyprus “very much lives on.”

After the motion was presented, the Australia-Cyprus parliamentary friendship group met with the Cypriot High Commissioner and the Halil family.

Neos Kosmos

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