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ARIANA FERENTINOU ariana-ferentinou

Cairo and Nicosia

HDN | 2/13/2011 12:00:00 AM | ARIANA FERENTINOU

Turkish society (and presumably its political life) is like moving on two opposing axles, one turning in one direction while the other one is turning in exactly the opposite direction.

I do not remember who used this metaphor recently but it fits perfectly. He or she had said that Turkish society (and presumably its political life) is like moving on two opposing axles, one turning in one direction while the other one is turning in exactly the opposite direction.

I thought of that brilliant concept when I was trying to interpret side-by-side two very important developments that are taking place at the same time and are closely related to Turkey. One is the “revolution” in Egypt and the other one is the “rebellion” in northern Cyprus. For the first one, the Turkish prime minister followed a very clear line. When things started to go wrong for the aging Pharaoh and the American administration chose to sacrifice him, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first leader from the Muslim world – although not himself an Arab – who advised Mubarak to listen to the “voice of the people” and retire gracefully. It was a dramatic almost philosophical speech with moving overtones about the accountability of one’s life and the unavoidable fate of death. That speech on Feb. 1, which, after all came not only from a fellow Muslim leader but also from a democratically elected leader of a functioning secular republic, sent an additional important message. That given the trend of events in the shaky region of the Middle East, what the global policy makers were coming to agree was that the most viable political solution for the region would be a “Turkish model”, i.e. a type of administration which would be based on a majority parliamentary system albeit with a high electoral measure to keep minor opposing voices out of the parliament. A system which would keep its religious roots on a “mild” Islam but look at the West for business and trade and with which the West – but also the East – would be happy to cooperate. The dramatic “appeal” of the Turkish prime minister to the people of Egypt was meant to elevate him in the eyes of the rebelled Egyptians and ultimately in the eyes of all the suppressed members of Muslim societies suffering under corrupt autocrats supported till now by the West, as a modern Muslim leader who believes in democracy and accepts the will of the people. And as if to confirm about where things would go, Erdoğan sent another strong message last Friday after the final exit of Mubarak and the passing over of power to Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. He asked for “a new administration, to be formed through fair and free elections, in the shortest possible time and a transition to a constitutional democracy, shaped by the will of the Egyptian people.” After the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak – likely to be followed by other Middle Eastern autocrats – this Turkish alternative model expressed by this democratically elected popular leader seems to be fast gaining ground among a perplexed West that is mainly caring to continue keeping its interests in the region safe. 

However, there is the counter-turning axle, too. And it made itself apparent almost simultaneously in a similar dramatic way. In his incisive commentary published in this newspaper under the title “Tahrir Square? Don’t overlook Inönü Square in Nicosia,” Cengiz Aktar talks about the dangerously worsening situation in Northern Cyprus after the protests on Jan, 28 of tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots against Ankara’s new austerity imposed program on the north. If the Egyptian people, who started gathering in Tahrir Square initially to protest against their low income, unemployment and rising food prices, deserved for their voice to be heard and their feelings expressed, then one could only see the case of the Turkish Cypriots as an expected domino-effect action. After all the official political rhetoric used so far by Ankara had been that whatever they have done from the 1974 military operation to the Annan Plan was to defend the Turkish Cypriot people. However, as it turned out, Turkish Cypriots and Egyptians are not to be seen as similar social groups hence they did not get the same support by the Turkish prime minister. While the Egyptians were right to rebel, the local Turkish Cypriots were ungrateful to the people who feed them, i.e. the motherland Turkey. In fact there is a serious difference. If Egyptian rebels were the majority voice of the new Egypt, the indigenous Turkish Cypriots have now found themselves to be in a position of a minority of around 80,000, of whom 42,846 held EU passports by 2009 and 60,108 held identity cards issued by the Cyprus Republic. Against a total population of 200,000 or 400,000 according to various calculations and a strong presence of the Turkish army, it is not strange that the locals from the north would feel hostage to a policy of “the motherland” which also sees them more ready to look to the “south” or even become tools of it. 

In his recent interview to the Turkish channel NTV, the Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroglu – himself an immigrant from Turkey – tried to keep equal distances from Ankara and from his people and described how much the Turkish Cypriots were “hurt” by the statements made against them by Ankara and warned of “unforeseen social explosion” lying ahead.

The Cyprus issue has been a complex problem for Turkey, Greece and Cyprus for very long time. It has multiple parameters and every one of these countries stumbles upon it with their every move. During the last few weeks, a new parameter was added, which seems to be more Ankara’s problem than anybody else’s. And while Ankara will require some new creative policies to deal with the known problems with Brussels regarding the Cyprus issue per se, the consequence of the recent tough talking by Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government towards the Turkish Cypriots may also become a validity test for the proclamations of democracy by the AKP administration. 

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