Can Turkey defend its own interests?

Can Turkey defend its own interests?

Should Turkish Cypriots try to defend their own interests even if that amounts to hurting Turkey’s interests? Or should they defend Turkish interests even if that requires their own interests be sacrificed? This is not an egg and chicken story, but a very serious issue that deserves a very serious evaluation. The question is of course also related to who the Turkish Cypriots are. Turks living on Cyprus? Cypriots of ethnic Turkish origin? What about those living abroad? Are they still Turkish Cypriots or what? 

Personally, I had given up identifying myself as a Cypriot, proudly believing I was a member of the Turkish nation. On a very sad 2013 February day I was told on a white screen, by the prime minister of the time that Turkish Cypriots became something like parasites for Turkey, while commenting on an irrelevant question. He did not use that exact wording, but that was the meaning. I was in my study room writing something while lending an ear to the news hour on TV. My wife brought a cup of Turkish coffee. “Oh my God, why are you crying?” she asked, seeing tears pouring out of my eyes. It was a very sad moment. I remembered once again that even if I was ethnically a Turk, I was a Turkish Cypriot and I was proud of it. However, I grew up in Cyprus with a very strong commitment to Turkey and with an understanding that if something was good for Turkey, irrespective whether it was in line with our immediate interests or not, it ought to be good for us as well. Otherwise, if something was good for Turkish Cypriots but bad for Turkey, in the long run it would be bad for us as well. That was what “the advocate of the national cause, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot struggle for a respectable life, honorable peace and wellbeing” was telling us anyhow. How could Rauf Denktaş be wrong?

Questioning what Denktaş said, particularly in those difficult years when I was growing up as a teenager, was unthinkable, at least in my neighborhood. Very much like the famous Murphy laws, “Denktaş is always right. If Denktaş is wrong, than the first article applies” was the ultimate dictum of the time. Later, I had the opportunity to become a friend of Denktaş and granted the privilege of free access to his private world. He was not just the commander “Toros” of the Turkish Resistance Movement, but a humble friend for people of all ages, a hard worker, very religious in the private sphere but at the same time, a committed secularist in public life. It was great fun to make him angry, yell at me and after a while start pondering ways to patch up and make me happy.

He was shocked hearing what the Turkish premier had said but could not publicly utter a word on the issue. “How can Turkey be publicly criticized,” he only mumbled. Indeed, it was with the same consideration that he did not publicly criticize when a decade earlier, back in 2003, despite the parliament adopting a strongly-worded Cyprus national cause declaration a while ago and the National Security Council reaffirming its full support of it, the Turkish government declared support for the Annan plan. When a Foreign Ministry undersecretary told him the Turkish government’s message that he should be “receptive” to the Annan plan, he only told close confidants, “Time is up gentlemen… Time to quit politics… Rather than confronting Turkey, I should step down with my honor…” Still, to avoid hurting Turkey, he withheld his resignation until 2005, when at polls that year he announced he would not seek reelection. Years later, in a private discussion, he admitted his “Turkey is always right” approach might have been wrong. However, when asked if he should publicly admit that, he smiled and said, “How could I? I do not have time to tear down an image I built for so many decades and try to create a new one…” Yet, he no longer believed in the validity of the “whatever Turkey does, does Cyprus good” cliché. At least he was aware that there was a new Turkey where some other interests had started to come before the country’s national interests.

The Cyprus talks have come to a crucial junction once again. Even some norms were laid down to deal with the difficult individual property issue. Intelligent rumor is that in all subheadings, excluding the 1960 guarantee scheme and related security matters, there has been considerable progress. Because of the thick veil of uncertainty provided by the news blackout, there are serious concerns among the Turkish Cypriot conservatives that all red lines were wiped out by President Mustafa Akıncı and his negotiating team. They accuse the president of being “defeatist,” if not a “traitor,” and “intentionally surrendering” to the Greek Cypriot side.

Yet, most of those accusations stem from the worry that the settlement being negotiated might be against Turkish interests. Can that approach still be valid in today’s conditions? Should Turkish Cypriots continue to defend Turkish interests and sacrifice their own future for them or should they place their own chart in front of that of Turkey’s? Turkey is a big country and can defend its own interests if it wants, is it not so?