Turkey should heed the Turkish Cypriots

Turkey should heed the Turkish Cypriots

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and certain members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are proving once again they are only democrats unto themselves. Erdoğan always underlines the fact that he is the people’s choice, having been elected democratically.

It appears, however, that he is not happy about the choice of the Turkish Cypriots, who overwhelmingly elected Mustafa Akıncı, a veteran left-wing politician and peace activist, as president over the weekend for the sake of the much desired change in their country, as well as a new understanding with Turkey.

Worse than this perhaps is the fact that Erdoğan’s remarks belie Turkey’s official thesis concerning the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). This has always been that the TRNC is an independent state, with its own flag, government and parliament, and that Turkey is only there to protect its sovereignty and does not interfere in its internal affairs.

After being elected, Akıncı indicated in his victory speech that he would seek a relationship with Turkey that was on an equal footing and based on mutual respect, not on the “motherland-babyland” approach of the past.

Erdoğan responded angrily, saying, “Akıncı’s ears should hear what his mouth is saying,” and adding that Turkey had spilled blood on the Island and would continue to look on the TRNC as its “babyland.” 

Taking his cue from Erdoğan, Burhan Kuzu - an AKP deputy and head of the Parliamentary Commission on the Constitution - jumped into the fray. He accused Akıncı of behaving “shamelessly,” and suggested that Akıncı was in fact the choice of Greek Cypriots, trying in this way to label him as a traitor.

“If the Greek side wants you to be elected, this alone proves that there is something crooked about you,” Kuzu said, throwing all manners and diplomatic niceties out the window. 

Akıncı did not take all this lying down of course and repeated his position, reiterating that he was seeking a “brotherly relationship” with Turkey.

Judging by Erdoğan and Kuzu’s approach, the TRNC is anything but independent. It seems Turkey wants northern Cyprus to remain at its behest in every way and not do anything that is not approved in Ankara first. 

Erdoğan and those like him may not be aware but their approach only undermines Turkey’s official position and provides ammunition for Greek Cypriots who have always claimed Turkey is an occupying and colonizing power on the Island. 

Unfortunately we see now that more and more Turkish Cypriots are coming around to the same belief and Akıncı’s election by over 60 percent of Turkish Cypriot voters is proof of this. It is no secret that Turkish Cypriots have considered themselves trapped within the seemingly intractable Cyprus problem, unable to enter the international stage - even sporting events - as citizens of a sovereign state. 

This situation, from their perspective, can go on for another quarter century, during which the north of the Island will totally lose its Turkish Cypriot character, as more and more settlers from Turkey arrive. Even today Turkish Cypriots see themselves as a minority in their own country and have to in many instances cope with the arrogance of “dominant mainlanders.” 

They can therefore not be blamed for seeking a way out of this morass and for electing a president they hope will achieve their dreams. The traditional Turkish approach which says “Turkey saved you from massacre and deportation by the Greeks in 1974, so you sit down and behave yourselves” is hackneyed by now. 

Unless Ankara comes up with policies that put the interests of Turkish Cypriots, and not Turkish settlers on the Island, first, it will also lose what little support it has left among Turkish Cypriots. 

We are at such a stage that it is not unimaginable that Ankara follows the fashion of the day it has set for itself in a huff and recalls its ambassador in Lefkosa also.