While the world is focused on strife in the Middle East and Ukraine, Foreign Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Ozdil Nami directed students’ attention to a small Mediterranean island also facing turmoil.
Nami emphasized the need for reconciliation between the northern and southern regions of his country to a crowd of nearly 40 on Monday afternoon in Timothy Dwight College. Nami, who previously held positions in the Cypriot military and presidential cabinet, said that the ongoing negotiations between the southern Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have been tense. While the TRNC is still not recognized on the international sphere as a sovereign body, Nami said that he believes progress is possible.
“There will be times when tensions are high,” he said. “But we will not allow those to rule the day.”
According to Nami, economic incentives should catalyze the union of the two regions. Cyprus has a wealth of hydrocarbons in its soil, and though the island currently leans on agricultural exports and its tourist industry as its main sources of income, Nami said that the two Cypriot factions must unify their economies to focus on the export of hydrocarbons.
In response to questions from the audience, Nami broadened his discussion to look at the Cypriot tensions through the lens of other ethnic and territorial conflicts in Western Europe and the Middle East. Because Northern and Southern Cyprus share many traditions and cultures, the Cyprus issue should be one of the easiest to fix, he said.
“The social [and] psychological barriers [between Northern and Southern Cyprus] must be overcome,” Nami said.
Timothy Dwight College Master Jeffrey Brenzel lauded Nami for his eloquence despite being “embedded in a complex situation that few people understand fully.” Brenzel said Nami struck a balance between trying understand exactly what fuels the conflict and lobbying for the reconciliation between the two regions.
Both Brenzel and Nami added that compromise has been difficult to achieve because of disjointed attempts at negotiation.
“When one partner was willing to dance, the other partner couldn’t find a partner,” Brenzel said.
As a representative of the TRNC, Nami’s job requires him to navigate this conflicted relationship.
The contemporary phase of the Cyprus issue was began with the 1974 invasion of Turkey into Cyprus. After the invasion, the island divided into northern and southern regions along the Green Line — a buffer zone established by the United Nations that runs from east to west across the island.
While Nami has spent most of his working life arguing for the legitimacy of the TRNC, the Republic is still not recognized on the international sphere. Neither the European Union nor the United Nations supports the region, instead considering it a military occupation of a member state.
Over the course of his career, Nami has held several different political positions, including political advisor in the TRNC’s presidential office and representative of the Turkish Cypriot community at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
In 2008, Nami was appointed as the TRNC president’s special representative for Cypriot negotiations, holding that position until 2010. In September 2013, the politician was elected as the foreign minister of the TRNC.
After graduating from college, Nami said he was ordered to enlist for mandatory military service. Once Nami left the military, he said he realized that he could not ignore the tensions in Cyprus.
“[It is] difficult to isolate yourself from the political realities of your country,” he said.
Taha Ramazanoglu ’17 said he hoped that Nami’s presence on campus would foster dialogue between the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus on Yale’s campus. Ramazanoglu applauded Nami’s emphasis on the similarities — rather than the differences — between the Turkish and Greek regions of Cyprus.
“[He did] a beautiful job putting forth how hard we have to try for a solution,” he said.
Ali Shawar ’18 said he admired the parallels that Nami drew between the conflict in Cyprus and others in the Middle East.
The talk was sponsored by five student organizations, including Yale Friends of Turkey, The Politic and the Yale International Students’ Organization.