Officials from the parliaments of Cyprus and Armenia met on Thursday and discussed ways of closer cooperation, especially within parliamentary organisations in which the two countries participate, in the light of Armenia’s EU aspirations and Turkish threats to Cyprus natural gas exploration plans.
Ararat Mirzoyan, Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia, is heading a parliamentary delegation in Nicosia, after House of Representatives President Demetris Syllouris visited Yerevan in May last year, just days after the “Velvet Revolution” saw a radical regime change, ending decades of corruption and failing politics.
In a joint declaration in the House, the two leaders said: “During the meeting, the importance of close ties connecting Cyprus and Armenia and their peoples that have deep roots in history on the basis of common principles and values was stressed.”
Mirzoyan said that Armenia fully supports the just struggle of the Republic of Cyprus and its positions regarding the Turkish provocations in the Cyprus exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Cyprus has awarded exploration licenses to global giants ExxonMobil, Total, Eni, Kogas, Qatar Petroleum, Shell and Noble Energy that have discovered commercial deposits of natural gas which need several more years to be exploited. But Turkey continues its provocations in the area, sending survey vessels and drillships to conduct illegal exploration under the cover of a strong naval presence, putting claim to these offshore blocs.
Mirzoyan said that he and Syllouris discussed the challenges facing the two countries, meaning the Turkish provocations in the Cyprus EEZ and the Nagorno Karabakh issue. For the latter, he said that the status and security of Nagorno-Karabakh are the major priorities for Armenia, supporting a solution through peaceful means and that the conflict can’t be resolved without the crucial decision of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is the main party to the conflict.
On the Cyprus issue and the Turkish challenges it faces, he conveyed Armenia’s full support in the just struggle of the Republic of Cyprus.
Welcoming Mirzoyan, Syllouris said they discussed issues concerning the Armenian community in Cyprus and cooperation with representative Vartkes Mahdessian.
“We talked about the past, common relations, traumatic experiences, genocides that both Greeks and Armenians suffered, the Turkish invasion, something we are still going through. We also discussed current violations of Cyprus’ EEZ by Turkey and how to build in a more practical manner, cooperation in all fields.”
Today’s meeting aims at turning our very good relations to even more practical cooperation, he added.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mirzoyan said that the roots that bind the two countries are deep. “We are here to further deepen these relations and bonds”, he said.
Mirzoyan thanked the House for ratifying the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement on June 28, something which is very important for Armenia as it is trying to improve its relations with Europe.
“I expressed my gratitude to Speaker Syllouris because those who survived the Armenian Genocide found refuge in Cyprus and enjoy equal rights with the people here.”
Mirzoyan and MPs Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, Vladimir Vardanyan, Shake Isayan, Anna Konstayan, Tsovinar Vardanyan and Hripsime Grigoryan met with House Foreign Affairs Committee President Yiorgos Lillikas, Deputy President Nicos Tornaritis and MPs Giorgos Loukaides, Angelos Votsis, Costis Efstathiou and Aristos Damianou, as well as Armenian Representative Vartkes Mahdessian.
The need to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of education and youth was also noted, together with the importance of a direct flight connection between the two countries.
Syllouris: Melkonian “should reopen”
Both parliamentary delegations also discussed the issue of the closure in 2005 of the historic Melkonian Educational Institute in Nicosia, and current efforts by the administrators to sell the land, despite appeals by officials from Cyprus that the school should reopen in order to serve a great need in the Armenian Diaspora.
Syllouris attached importance to the centuries-old historic and cultural ties between Cyprus and Armenia, the role of the Armenian community of Cyprus in the public and economic life of the country, as well as the destiny of the Melkonian school.
The Cyprus House President has a special fondness to the Melkonian issue, a matter he raised during his meeting with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan in May 2018, noting that it should not be made available for any commercial activities, but a solution should be found to benefit the Armenian diaspora and the community in Cyprus, with Melkonian becoming a centre of excellence for education, technology and research.
During his meeting with then-National Assembly Speaker Ara Babloyan, Syllouris had said many Armenians and the entire Cypriot nation were against selling the Melkonian and expressed certainty that with patience a solution would be found.
He had recalled how in July 2016, he was the guest of honour at a special event in Nicosia to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Melkonian orphanage.
Syllouris said he was emotionally overwhelmed when he received a commemorative plaque dedicated to “All the governments and the people of Cyprus” from Dr Daniel Abdoulian, one of the oldest surviving graduates from 1944, who came especially for the event from the U.S.
Syllouris expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the award and said that it would be placed at the Presidential Palace because of its dedication “to the entire nation of Cyprus” that has always had brotherly relations with the island’s Armenian community.
The organisers of the event had praised Syllouris “and all his colleagues in the House of Representatives” who supported the initial campaigns in 2004 and 2005 to keep the school open and preserve the buildings and the forest (planted by the first orphans who escaped from the Genocide) as a ‘protected national heritage site’.
The parliamentary delegation from Armenia will visit the Melkonian on Friday afternoon, where they are expected to meet with community members who will appeal for the reopening of the school and the prevention of the property sale.