Hate crime and CBMs in Cyprus
Former Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat demonstrated his commitment to continue seeking peace between the two peoples of Cyprus. He did not demand revenge. He did not engage in hate talk after the March 26 attack on him by around 100 members of the extreme right-wing National People’s Front (Elam) during a conference in Limassol.
He was, of course, saddened seeing that the Greek Cypriot prosecutor set free all of the suspects because of police providing sufficient evidence, but did not appear as if he will be deterred by a few eggs, oranges and a Molotov cocktail – which, according to Greek Cypriot media, landed close to American Ambassador John Koenig’s feet. He appreciated the condolence messages from the Greek Cypriot political and religious leadership, and the sacking of the police chief by President Nikos Anastasiades was particularly “a very important step in the right direction,” Talat said. The Church of Cyprus, distancing itself from Elam, a fringe party that was founded in 2008 and espouses a radically anti-Turkish and anti-immigrant line, was important, according to Talat. He was also surprised as well that Archbishop Chrysostomos – a diehard opponent of power-sharing with Turkish Cypriots – was now supportive of a federal settlement as well.
“Things are changing,” he said in an interview in his two-story typical Cypriot Nicosia office. “We may further accelerate this change and enhance prospects of peace,” he added. Instead of talking of revenge, Talat suggested that perhaps the two sides, without waiting for a settlement accord, must start preparing grounds for the peaceful implementation of an accord that would entail the co-habitation of the two peoples of the island in a federal framework.
Instead of concentrating only on Varosha – a once-splendid tourist resort suburb of Famagusta – which indeed ought to be a global settlement since it is about territorial concessions to be made, Talat suggested mutual meaningful steps, such as introducing hate crimes. “These guys [Elam terrorists] might have indeed served a good cause by attacking at me. There are lots of discriminatory things in our everyday language, and it is same for Greeks. Such expressions are often used without bad intention, mostly for jest. Yet, they are discriminatory. Why would a Turk be happy to be referred to by a Greek as ‘Bello Turko’ [Crazy Turk] or such and vice versa?”
Talat often proposed things of that nature; for example, when he was education minister in 1994, he unilaterally erased terms of hate and enmity from textbooks and introduced new books, so that the two sides might undertake a “textbook reform” or start co-sponsored TV programs with subtitles in each other’s language. He also supported and encouraged learning the language of the other community: “I firmly believe and indeed witness in everyday life that those Greek Cypriots who can speak Turkish have a better idea about Turks and vice versa … People in communication can learn about each other better.”
Talat as well suggested a trilingual high school be opened in the Nicosia buffer zone, saying Turkish Cypriots now attending an English high school in southern Nicosia were becoming far more nationalist than others because they were seriously despised by Greek Cypriot students. A trilingual school, he said, might help establish better friendly bonds in the new generation.
He was of the opinion that through removing language and cultural barriers and making hate crime a serious offense with even more serious consequences if carried to action and after the settlement preserved as a federal crime, Cyprus might have a smoother transition to co-habitation after almost a half century of cultural and physical separation.
“Instead of focusing and downsizing confidence building measures to the Varosha issue alone, let’s act on these issues, otherwise these fascists that exists on both sides will blow up hopes for peace,” he said.
In Turkish it is often said there is a good in everything, even in the most deplorable.