The Guardian 23 April, 2008
The Cyprus issue and Marcos Baghdatis
"I did nothing more than to defend my country, Cyprus." Marcos Baghdatis.
While attending the Australian Open in Melbourne in early 2008, young Cypriot tennis player Marcos Baghdatis was criticised by various media commentators and some people in the Turkish community. Marcos Baghdatis was denounced after video footage of him taken in 2007 was posted on YouTube.
The film showed him singing and chanting slogans against the Turkish occupation of Cyprus at a Hellas Fan Club barbecue. In one segment, Marcos and others at the function chant, "Turks out of Cyprus" and later they sing the Greek national anthem. The video was recorded at a private function behind a Greek café after Baghdatis finished his Australian Open tennis campaign.
Outraged Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association President Hakki Suleyman said that Baghdatis should be disqualified from the Australian Open. "The International Tennis Federation should expel this man because of the comments he made."
He further stated, "I have had a lot of calls from upset members stunned about this racist attack by a high profile sportsman that breaches the racial vilification act. This is a straight-forward provocation … He is not being a sportsman and should apologise." His association wrote to Tennis Australia and the state and federal governments, calling for Baghdatis to be expelled from the open and deported.
But Marcos Baghdatis was defiant, dismissing the criticism and insisting he had no reason to apologise for calling for a Turkish military withdrawal from Cyprus. "There has been a lot of coverage of me appearing in a video on YouTube.com. In that video from 2007, I was supporting the interests of my country Cyprus, while protesting against a situation that is not recognised by the United Nations."
Turkey invaded the Cyprus in 1974 after a failed coup by military forces of the Greek Junta. It has continued to illegally occupy Cyprus in defiance of United Nations resolutions and only Turkey recognises the state it established in the northern occupied part of Cyprus.
Marcos Baghdatis also released a written statement responding to the attacks launched against him by several Australian journalists, politicians and the president of the Turkish Cypriot Association. In the statement, Marcos Baghdatis said, "I did nothing more than to defend my country, Cyprus. My position in support of the withdrawal of the occupation forces from the island is the position shared by the United Nations."
The director of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Bill Papastergiadis, said that the chant wasn’t racist and the call for Turks to leave Cyprus was in line with a United Nations resolution. He added that the comments by Baghdatis were not racial vilification and it was "mischievous" of the media to make such a story out of the footage.
In his Open blog Baghdatis also wrote, "When I come to Melbourne I always get lots of support and that is really good. Normally I catch up with the president of my fan club, who I speak to on the phone and meet here. We rent a place after the tournament is finished and have a barbecue each year. It’s a Greek café with a yard out the back."
Marcos Baghdatis receives support from both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, in Cyprus, Australia and elsewhere. He said nothing racist against Turkish people, but called for Turkey to abide by numerous UN resolutions on Cyprus by withdrawing its 40,000 troops from the northern third of the island that it illegally occupies.
Rather his statements were about the political and human rights situation in Cyprus and Marcos Baghdatis was expressing his wish to see his small island nation, united and free. It is a longing that he shares with most other Cypriots, and many other people whom desire to see peace and justice prevail on Cyprus.
The accusations of racism against Marcos Baghdatis are plainly absurd; as his sentiments were humanitarian, they show an articulate, thoughtful and compassionate young man who is deeply concerned about the well-being of his people and homeland. In some countries it might be considered strange behaviour, with young people being so politically conscious and outspoken
But in a place like Cyprus that has because of its strategic position experienced so many colonial occupations and known few periods of real freedom and independence, young people, just like the rest of the community are intimately mixed up in political affairs. How could it be otherwise in an island society with a small population that has lived with the Turkish army’s occupation, destruction and division of Cyprus and the deaths, dispossession, displacement and disappearances of many Cypriot people. This is something that affected and continues to affect the whole Cyprus community, at home and abroad.
Much of the rest of the world may neglect and prefer to forget about the occupation and partition of Cyprus. But for the Cypriot people the ongoing pain and distress of separation and the desire for a just and viable resolution of the conflict is real and potent and has an effect even on young tennis players like Marcos Baghdatis.
Cypriots have grown up amid regional unrest and world turmoil, with big powers contending for position in the Middle East and this has impacted greatly on their lives and their small country. Cypriots are rightly angry at the torment inflicted on their long-sufferingly people and the lack of action by the international community to enforce UN resolutions and compel Turkey to leave. Most Cypriots have a keen political awareness of the situation and are active in striving for real change and for a lasting settlement to the Cyprus problem.
Marcos Baghdatis loves his island homeland, Cyprus. When he plays tennis he wears a shirt in the colours of the Cyprus flag (white and gold). When Marcos wins he drapes himself in the Cyprus flag. In the past he has been invited to play for France and Greece, but declined these requests to play for Cyprus.
Cyprus does not have a large army or great influence on the world stage, but it does have fine youth, who are willing to speak up and make a stand in support of their country and the injustices done to its people. Thankfully, there are people of principle like Marcos Baghdatis, who do speak from the heart about things that really in the world and willingly express empathy with his people’s aspirations. He is a brave young man deserving of respect and admiration. Good on you, Marcos, you are a real champion.