Cyprus taboo in Turkey

Cyprus taboo in Turkey

The Cyprus issue has long been a taboo in Turkey, and Cyprus is still a matter of national interest that is not to be discussed freely. Apart from legal and psychological pressures, this taboo has been created by the nationalism of the left and right. After all, it was the coalition government of Islamist National Salvation Party (MSP) and the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), who were the champions of militarily intervention in 1974. 

The leaders of the two parties, Necmettin Erbakan and Bülent Ecevit, respectively, have been regarded as “the conquerors of Cyprus” since then. After the Turkish intervention which resulted with the partition of the island and the establishment of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC), northern Cyprus had to live in legal and political limbo. Nevertheless, since the issue turned into a political taboo, there was no room for discussion on the shortcomings of the de facto partition.

Nobody can deny that it was also Greek nationalism on behalf of Greece and Greek Cypriots which hindered the criticism of Turkey’s politics and an open discussion on the matter. Finally, it was Greek Cypriots who voted against the Annan Plan which was the last hope for reconciliation and a political solution in 2004. At the time, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Turkish Cypriots exerted a genuine effort to support the peace plan, but unfortunately, both sides missed a golden opportunity for reconciliation due to the Greek Cypriot vote, even though Greek Cypriots were rewarded with EU accession after their misdeed.  

The recent presidential elections in northern Cyprus could be a new chance for a political solution in Cyprus, since the left-wing, pro-solution Mustafa Akıncı won a majority. Nonetheless, the political circumstances have dramatically changed in Turkey as a result of the governing party’s authoritarian and nationalist sway. That is why Akıncı’s statement on the need for more equal relations with Turkey in his victory speech outraged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters. Erdoğan and some AKP politicians reacted in a very patronizing way by reminding Akıncı that it was Turkey who saved Cypriots and that Cyprus need Turkey’s economic assistance. Moreover, Akıncı and indeed his voters were accused of being Western pawns against Turkey. Some political observers think that the severe reaction of the governing party is due to the coming elections and the need for nationalist votes. It can be partly true, but the nationalist understanding of the Cyprus issue in terms of Turkey’s strategic interest is not particular to the governing party but the expression of a more popular view. After all, the governing party’s support for the Annan plan was opposed at the time (2004) by many secular nationalists and social democrats.   

In short, as the authoritarian and nationalist sway of the president and his governing party seems to have become an obstacle in the way of a peaceful solution in Cyprus, it is also the Turkish nationalist view in general on the Cyprus issue that has become another hindrance on fostering supportive public opinion concerning a peaceful solution in Cyprus. It is time to start questioning the so-called “conquest of Cyprus,” inquire why the military intervention turned into de facto partition and Turkish settlement on the island and ask the opinions of Turkish Cypriots on the “forced isolation” from the world and so on. 

Unless we feel brave enough to engage in an open discussion on those matters without fear of being accused of treason, we will further contribute to the sufferings of Turkish Cypriots. Unless we are more concerned by the welfare of the islanders rather than Turkey’s so-called “strategic interests,” the prospect of a peaceful solution in Cyprus will continue to be held ransom by the populist politics of Turkish nationalism. Moreover, under the circumstances, the Cyprus issue will once again a pillar of authoritarian politics in Turkey.