Denktaş University controversy in northern Cyprus

Denktaş University controversy in northern Cyprus

Could anyone imagine, let’s say 10 years ago, that the majority partner in the Turkish Cypriot ruling coalition, the National Unity Party (UBP), would be plunged into serious internal strife because Prime Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün agreed to lease 200 acres of land in Nicosia for the establishment of a “Rauf Denktaş University?”

 Was Denktaş not the founding father of not only the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus but also the UBP? Was it the first time ever that the state was leasing land to entrepreneurs and foundations wishing to establish education establishments? Have UBP deputies all become so anti-Denktaş that they object to the establishment of a university with the name of the founding president?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Serdar Denktaş agreed in remarks to the media that there was an ethical problem in him sponsoring the lease of the land – formerly allocated to the military – as the university would be owned by his son, also a Rauf Denktaş. Yet, he said, there was nothing abnormal under the laws of the Turkish Cypriot state, and the land was duly leased with a government decision.

At that point, there appeared a problem. While Özgürgün and Serdar Denktaş knew about the deal, apparently many ministers were not briefed at all on the issue and the decision to lease the land was made possible with a document pre-signed by ministers. If some UBP ministers were not informed at all about the development and if the decision was made on a pre-signed page with only the premier placing his very valuable signature to please his coalition partner, Serdar Denktaş, one need not be a fortune teller to expect a serious storm within the ruling party. Indeed, that happened. Now, people have been talking about early elections, and Özgürgün has already reportedly suggested Nov. 5 as a possible poll date, while some heavyweights in the UBP have demand an election date in October.

To overcome growing dissent, Özgürgün raised speculation that there would soon be an early election as well as the possibility of an imminent government reshuffle. Would re-election worries and the possibility of losing ministerial seats help Özgürgün soothe dissent in the UBP? What about the growing displeasure in society regarding such undertakings, which technically comply with the laws but are ethically questionable, as Serdar Denktaş has admitted?

At a recent meeting with UBP ministers, Özgürgün reportedly pledged that he would speak with Denktaş and requested that he agree to scrap the land lease even though a cabinet decision – although morally questionable – was already taken. He also reportedly agreed to early election demands, but the decision whether to have the polls on Oct. 15 or Nov. 5 has been left to the UBP Executive Board.

Obviously, the establishment of a university with the name of the founding father of the Turkish Cypriot state cannot be opposed. Yet, should the state transfer funds and property to the Denktaş family on such a pretext? I must say, even if Serdar is like a brother to me, particularly if the decision was taken with him prodding Özgürgün and even if there is nothing illegal, admitting the ethical problem in this development is a must. No one, particularly members of the Denktaş family, should dare to harm the good name of the founding father of the Turkish Cypriot state with such inappropriate petty undertakings. Serdar Denktaş’s contention that nothing illegal was done and that there was no wealth transfer from the state to the Denktaş family and that the state is leasing land to a university, as it did many times in the past, are all acceptable explanations. Are they sufficient or convincing? Well, I am not sure. 

Nowhere in the world can a deputy premier or minister indulge in such questionable affairs. Some people might have an allergy to the name of Denktaş, and they might be exaggerating the situation, but this is a very unpleasant situation that has been giving people headaches even if they have deep respect for Denktaş. Why was Serdar involved? Why was Serdar’s son involved? If there was a need to establish a Rauf Denktaş University, which I also think would be a great development, why did the family and perhaps the state not set up a foundation and let it undertake such a noble endeavor?

Obviously, the UBP has been hurt by all of this, but the name of Denktaş, Serdar and his Democrat Party have been hurt even more.