Equality matters to Cypriots

Equality matters to Cypriots

Some 177,000 Turkish Cypriots went to the polling booths April 19 to vote to elect a president that would lead the tiny Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in talks with Greek Cypriots, expected to resume next month, to achieve a federal resolution.

At the heart of the presidential campaign was not economic hardship, rampant unemployment or any other domestic problem. Even the decision of the soccer federation to accept becoming an affiliate of the Greek Cypriot-run Cyprus Football Federation – the first such development since the two communities violently parted ways in December 1963, three years after the former British colony became a bi-communal Cyprus Republic – did not become a major issue.

Dr. Sibel Siber, the parliamentary speaker and a candidate of the ruling socialist Republican Turks’ Party and Mustafa Akıncı, the legendary former mayor of Nicosia’s Turkish quarter and a former deputy prime minister, said they approved of the decision of the football federation. Akıncı said if after so many decades this problem could not be resolved and Turkish Cypriots were barred from international sports events, then it was the right of Turkish Cypriots to find a way out. Incumbent Dr. Derviş Eroğlu, however, described the development as “patching up to Greeks” and thus “treacherous,” as it undermined the demand for “equal status” for Turkish Cypriots.

The difference in describing what equality indeed is has been one of the fundamental problems between the two peoples. The Turkish Cypriot side – as was enshrined in the failed Annan Plan of 2004 as well – defend that, irrespective of the numeric sizes of the two founding states, there ought to be equality of the two constituent units at an upper house or senate and in federal governance, while the two peoples might be represented in a lower house or house of representatives and in most bureaucratic recruitments. The Greek Cypriot side, however, has been stressing that seven and three or eight and two could not be equal and the equality between the 750,000 strong Greek Cypriots and the 265,000 strong Turkish Cypriots cannot be one of strict equality; even seven to three was a generous offer.

Will the Cyprus talks start as expected in early May? Will Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades abide with his pledge and return to the talks, as international pressure builds on him and the Turkish Cypriot side to finish off a federal deal to the over half-a-century-old Cyprus problem and go to twin referenda in May 2016?

Eager to clean the Cyprus shackles obstructing its European Union advancement and Cyprus popping up at every international forum as an impediment, Ankara has been pressing hard since the current political Islamist government came to power in 2002 to achieve a sustainable resolution on the island acceptable to Turkish Cypriots.

Yet, the mentality problem of the Greek Cypriot side appears to be an acute one. Over the past few days, repeated trips to the Greek Cypriot side by this writer demonstrated a systematic apartheid policy against Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriot controlled areas of the island. Be it the registrar’s office, courts, interior ministry or the migration department, there are huge queues in front of large placards written on them in bold Greek, English and – surprise –Turkish: “Turkish Cypriots.” In 1998, seeing that at the entrance of his door there was only Greek and English signs, I had asked Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides how he claimed he was the minister of Turkish Cypriots while there was not even one mention of Turkish Cypriots at his ministry. Now, at the Foreign Ministry there is a Turkish placard as well. Yet, in today’s Greek Cypriot-run Cyprus Republic, Turkish Cypriots are no different than the blacks of South Africa during the Apartheid period.

Results were expected late April 19. The anticipation was that it would be an inconclusive vote which would trigger a runoff election April 26. Due to early deadline of the Hürriyet Daily News, however, there were still hours to the closure of the voting when this article was penned.