18 October 2023
Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization, Mr Kitack Lim,
Secretary General-elect of the IMO, Mr Arsenio Dominguez,
Your Eminence Archbishop Nikitas,
Esteemed Members of both Houses of Parliament,
Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to Cyprus House and] thank you all for braving the London weather to be with us tonight as we celebrate the 63rd Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Cyprus-a momentous occasion that symbolizes the birth of a free and self-governing nation. Your presence honours both this High Commission, but more so the island of Cyprus and the Cypriot people.
The weather outside may be damp and miserable, after all it is mid- October in London, but we have just been treated to a wonderful rendition of the two national anthems by the prizewinning soprano Ms. Katerina Mina, whose voice and immeasurable talent is recognized globally. Katerina thank you so much.
I am particularly happy to be hosting this year’s reception as this is the first one since 2019. Covid prohibited holding the reception in 2020 and 2021 and last year saw the sad passing of His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos a few days before the event. I would like to thank my colleagues and all the staff at the High Commission for their dedication and for their hard work in organizing tonight’s event.
The establishment of the Republic of Cyprus stands as a historic achievement and a testament to the enduring spirit of the Cypriot people. Throughout these years Cyprus has faced many problems, difficulties, and challenges. There have been times when it was necessary to safeguard democracy and to protect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of our country. We owe tribute to those who fought to protect and preserve legality, but also to face Turkey’s invasion in 1974, which caused the greatest blow to our country, with nearly 37% of its territory still under occupation after nearly half a century.
Despite the destruction and suffering, the people of Cyprus have managed to thrive and to transform the Republic of Cyprus into a modern European state, a pillar of stability and security in the Eastern Mediterranean. I am filled with pride and gratitude as we reflect on the remarkable journey of progress and achievements that Cyprus has undertaken since its independence.
Much has changed since the days when Cyprus was predominantly agricultural. It has evolved, though it is still well known for its halloumi cheese – nothing wrong with a bit of free advertising.
Cyprus has witnessed tremendous economic growth. Our robust economy has attracted investment, fostered innovation, and created countless opportunities for our citizens. Cyprus is fast becoming a regional focus for trade, commerce and tourism, evidence of our resilience and adaptability in an ever-evolving global landscape. Moreover, shipping and the blue economy, as one of the main drivers of economic growth has developed over the last 60 years into a sizeable and important Registry, ranking 11th worldwide and 3rd in the EU, with a strong presence at European and international level. Cyprus is also amongst the largest ship management centres globally. We have been an active and constructive member of the IMO Council and hope to count on your support as we seek to be re-elected at the upcoming elections later this year. Only last week we held the very successful 18th Maritime Cyprus Conference 2023, and I would like to thank both the IMO Secretary General and Secretary General-elect for participating in the Conference and for honouring us with their presence this evening.
Our commitment to education and innovation has borne fruit. We have nurtured a generation of skilled and creative minds, bringing Cyprus to the forefront of technological advancements and research. Our universities and research institutions have vastly developed over the last two decades promoting knowledge and contributing not only to our nation, but also to the region and further afield.
We are also immensely proud of our national heritage and rich and diverse cultural mosaic. The indelible footprint of over ten thousand years of history are omnipresent on the island. From ancient archaeological treasures to vibrant contemporary arts, Cyprus stands as a beacon of cultural richness and diversity. Our heritage is not just a reflection of our past, but a living, breathing part of our present and future.
On the international level, Cyprus has also proven itself to be a steadfast and reliable partner. We have played a constructive role in international and regional diplomacy, advocating for peace, justice, and stability in our region and beyond. Strengthening of our relations with the countries of the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa and the Gulf, has been a key pillar of our foreign policy. Cyprus is an integral part of this region and attaches great importance to jointly and effectively identifying and addressing challenges that affect us as a whole. As a member state of the European Union since 2004 and its lighthouse in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus’s goal has been to utilize these historically close relations with almost all neighbouring countries and peoples and become the gateway between the EU and the wider Middle East The immeasurable pain of the last ten days for the loss of civilian life in our neighbouring Israel and Gaza is felt across our island. Yesterday’s condemnable attack on the El Ahli Hospital in Gaza and the loss of so many lives has put the current conflict into even sharper focus. One life lost is one life too many. As Foreign Minister Kombos said earlier today in Nicosia, Cyprus has strongly condemned the heinous terrorist attacks of Hamas and whilst recalling Israel’s right to self-defence this should be within the limits of international law and international humanitarian law. At this immensely tense and critical times for our region, when we are reminded in the most urgent manner that stability is fragile, we need to find the space for diplomacy and dialogue to happen. Firstly, for de-escalation and then with small, gradual steps, open the political horizon for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, for a two state solution to be achievable. In this moment, humanitarian catastrophe needs to be averted and Cyprus stands ready to cooperate on this with the international community. Since 10 October, Cyprus also set into motion its crisis management plan “ESTIA”, having since then facilitated the safe exit of more than 1000 people. The Republic of Cyprus is a “safe port” at times of crises and I believe that, through its consistent and focused cooperation with our neighbours at quieter times, it has emerged as a pillar of stability and security in the region, acquiring a valued role in strengthening and deepening relations with the countries of the wider Middle East.
This is so, despite its own existential threat, faced every day for the last nearly 50 years. We know well, that durable, sustainable peace can only be achieved through a diplomatic, a political process. The fact is that what has become known as the Cyprus issue or Cyprus Problem, in essence the continued Turkish occupation and division of the island, stands as the biggest challenge Cyprus has ever faced. We have one clear vision, goal and objective; to find a just and viable solution that will bring peace and prosperity, first and foremost to the Cypriots, but will resonate beyond the island. President Nikos Christodoulides has made it abundantly clear that we are determined to restart the negotiation process from where it left off in 2017 at Crans-Montana. However, the key to progress lies in creating a favorable environment, where all sides are committed to dialogue on the agreed framework, free from tensions or threats, where our collective strengths can be harnessed to pave the way forward.
We strive for a solution based on the internationally accepted framework of a bizonal bicommunal federation, with a single sovereignty, single citizenship, and single international personality, with political equality as described in the relevant UN resolutions. This solution will fully respect International Law, the European acquis, and will include the termination of the anachronistic guarantee system and the withdrawal of the occupation forces. Our aim is to create a state of peace, prosperity, and security that respects and safeguards the human rights of all Cypriots, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite and Latin alike, thereby fostering an environment of mutual respect, prosperity and collective creation.
In our efforts, I know we have the support of the international community as a whole, our partners in the EU and also the United Kingdom which has a particularly important role as one of the guarantor powers and penholder at the United Nations. We deeply appreciate and count on your continued support in our common goal of reuniting the island and its people.
Our national experience, our commitment to the rules based global order and our quest to uphold international law and human rights in our own case, could not but guide our position in condemning in the strongest way the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We simply ask our partners to hold Turkey accountable to the same standards.
The relations between Cyprus and the United Kingdom are more than skin deep. They are marked by cooperation, mutual respect, and shared values. Our nations have been linked by history, the legacy of which has forged bonds that continue to shape our interactions today.
These relations have gone from strength to strength in recent years. Our historic ties, evident in the deep connections that exist at all levels of our societies and Government, with people-to-people contacts; the respective diasporas of which there are over 300,000 in the UK and the many thousands of British citizens residing in the Government controlled areas who have made Cyprus their home; the over one million UK tourists that vacation in Cyprus year in year out. In fact, in 2022 this amounted to over 1,2 million or 38% of the total arrivals of over 3,2 million. UK universities pre-Brexit were the first port of call for Cypriots wishing to study abroad. Many still do. These, and a plethora of other areas within which cooperation is pursued, form the foundation for an ever-closer partnership between our countries going forward. The depth of this relationship though, is most acutely felt at times of crises, and the cooperation that took place during the evacuation of civilians from Sudan showcases its strength.
The signature of the Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing a Strategic Framework of Cooperation between Cyprus and the United Kingdom a year ago lays the foundation for a more structured and evolving relationship following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. This Memorandum can steer our cooperation in a way that reflects the United Kingdom’s and Cyprus’ shared interests and values in Europe, the Commonwealth and globally. A multifaceted and deeper cooperation that spans a spectrum of policy areas. Through this engagement we can foster tangible cooperation initiatives and people-to-people contacts, enable exchanges between civil society and encourage the transfer of know-how and expertise.
Lastly, I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Cypriot community here in the United Kingdom. You are the embodiment of our nation’s spirit, and your contributions are invaluable. You serve as a bridge between our homeland and the UK, strengthening the bonds that unite us.
For decades, you have been unwavering in in your contribution, actively participating in every struggle in promoting and fortifying our national aspirations. Among you we are fortunate to count brilliant scientists, visionary entrepreneurs, and engaged citizens with a strong public presence. You are the finest ambassadors of our Cyprus, carrying its legacy and values to every corner of the world.