AEJ-Bulgaria team participated in a journalist visit to Northern Cyprus

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Three members of the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria were part of an AEJ delegation to North Cyprus between 16th and 20th of April. The invitation for this came from the local Press Union Basin-Sen. The European journalists’ delegation was formed by representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Italy, Romania, UK, Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain.
The delegation of AEJ-Bulgaria was not only the biggest and the youngest, but also the most multinational one, as each of its members was representing a media from a different EU country: Jeni Koleva is working for Dnevnik.bg (Bulgaria), Francesco Martino – for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso (Italy) and Ivan Radev – for  the Romanian National News Agency Agerpres (Romania).
During their short stay on the island, the European journalists met a huge variety of political and citizen representatives of the Northern Cypriot society. A remarkable conclusion that can be drawn from the discussions we had is that, despite the current “exceptional situation” (an expression heard several times from our interlocutors), in the territory under control of the Turkish Republic of Norther Cyprus (recognized only by Turkey) there is a relatively pluralistic political system, where people feel free to express their point of view on the Cypriot issue and on other subjects discussed.
However, we registered worrying limitations to freedom of speech especially when it comes to criticizing the Turkish army, or Turkey’s role on the island. For instance, Şener Levent, director of “Africa” newspaper and a fierce opponent of Ankara’s military presence on Cyprus (which he defines as “foreign occupation”), has twice been a victim of assassination attempts in 2011. The investigation is still ongoing, but the attacks can be linked to Levent’s journalistic activity. Other colleagues, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed necessity of self-censorship regarding delicate political issues.
We met representatives of the whole political spectrum, including the Prime Minister Irsen Kucuk, former President M. Ali Talat, and leaders of four opposition parties. We also met local journalists, university professors, students, Heads of different trade unions.
We observed that there are largely different ideas about what would be the best solution for the Cyprus issue, but there is great unanimity that the status quo is not acceptable and Cyprus needs a comprehensive political settlement. Unfortunately, hopes for a breakthrough ahead of the forthcoming Cyprus EU presidency (1st of July 2012) faded away. On the 21st of April, when UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon announced that the international conference supposed to revive the peace process between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would not take place.
In this context, as a national section of AEJ in an EU member state, we dare to conclude that the European Union should be more active in looking for a solution. Pointing out that Cyprus as whole is an EU territory, we consider that is inadmissible that, due to a political and diplomatic deadlock, a significant part of its inhabitants is forced to live in isolation and exclusion from the free movement of goods, capital, services and people.
On the other hand, we were informed that there are some human rights concerns related to the fact that Turkish occupation troops in the northern part of the island are not subjected to any civilian control, this being also the case of police, which is controlled by Turkey’s military forces.
Last but not least, we have to point out that visiting of this territory is far of making us partial in the debate for the island’s future. We are journalists and we were invited not by the local authorities but by our colleagues, journalists from the Northern Part of Cyprus.
We are very thankful to the local Press Union that they made it possible for us to meet so many and different representatives of the society of Northern Cyprus, and to collect precious information.  We declare that we are ready in any moment to do the same thing in any other part of Europe, if we are invited by a journalist union or a national section of AEJ.
Note: This reflects only the point of view of AEJ-Bulgaria and it can not be considered as a position of the Association of European Journalists as a whole, neither of the others members of the delegation we were part of.