The Turkish Cypriot state at 30
While writing an article on the 30th anniversary of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for an English-language Turkish Cypriot weekly, my friend Christopher Green requested that I tell a story from my childhood that now I want to share today on this historic day for my homeland.
As a young boy, I and many other Turkish Cypriot boys were traumatized by the Greek Cypriot hordes not only attacking Turkish Cypriot settlements but also at frequent roadblocks subjecting our mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces and girlfriends to body searches. As someone from Gönyeli (on the outskirts of Nicosia on the Kyrenia road) with the family of my mother living at the time at Kotchatis (a village on the Nicosia-Limassol road, some 13 kilometers outside Nicosia), I was appalled during every trip to and from Kotchatis at why the Greek Cypriot paramilitary people had erected so many barricades and why we were so frequently subjected to body searches.
Because of Gönyeli’s particular place in the Turkish Cypriot struggle for dignity, my mother was very concerned about her kids, and thus we were not allowed to travel anywhere without her or my father accompanying us. Of course, going to school was an exemption.
One day, on the way from school, not noticing that the convoy of buses and cars that had stopped at the red light belonged to Greeks and mistaking one of them for my uncle’s bus, I jumped onto the bus through its back door, which was wide open because of the Cypriot heat. To my horror, it was a Greek bus. I was scared to death. I sat in the back seat all along the road and for the first time in my life, I saw the sea that way when the bus reached Kyrenia.
What a beautiful city it was! I did not utter a word all the way and upon arrival in Kyrenia, I got off and started walking toward the mountain, remembering from my parents’ talks that some streets toward the mountains were occupied by Turks. Upon seeing a cafe sign in Turkish, I rushed in, asked permission to phone home and reported my whereabouts to my family, who then came and picked me up. I was 11 at the time.
Now, would I want a repeat of body searches and that fear I experienced just because I traveled a few kilometers outside my village by mistake? What Turkish Cypriots experienced from 1963 to 1974 was some sort of an apartheid regime. Yes, 1974 was a brutal intervention and occupation for Greek Cypriots, but it was liberation for the Turkish Cypriots. Since 1974, there has been peace and security, something that we were so thirsty for previously.
As for the future, I believe Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should first of all agree that they are not one and they cannot be one, at least for now. We might be partners, friends and compatriots even, but not one. At best, we might become like estranged spouses living side by side but respecting each other’s differences. That could be a federation, a confederation or two states. But as things are now, we are in limbo; we just have a state which is a Turkish dependency, which could lead to annexation to Turkey. Joining Turkey would mean becoming a lentil in the big Turkish soup; succumbing to the Greek Cypriots would mean abandoning our struggle for a dignified life on our own land.
My prime concern has always been my family and my people, but I would never ever want anything bad for the Greek Cypriots because as much respected Israeli President Shimon Peres once told me: “With Arab neighbors going to bed with empty stomachs, Israelis can never ever have sustainable peace. We must be concerned as well for the well-being of Palestinians.” Indeed so...
How and why the Turkish Cypriot state was proclaimed, as well as northern Cyprus’ current economic, political and indeed existential problems, actually deserves a much longer article, but the Turkish Cypriot state is like fresh air, a cup of water in desert, a safe haven, and indeed security for the Turkish Cypriot people. Only those who were deprived of fundamental human rights of safety, respect and indeed the sine qua non of all rights, the right to live, can understand what a state can mean to a Turkish Cypriot.
Long live the TRNC.