Liberal citizenship regime needed in North Cyprus
It is imperative to put aside ideological differences, obsessions, personal interests and to look at some issues from an existential point of view. Recently I was one of the speakers at an e-conference – due to pandemic conditions – restricted to members of a local think tank.
It’s the fashion of the day. Speakers participate either from their study rooms or sit meters apart in a large room, with an audio-visual system recording and transmitting to an audience denied seats at the hall, but given codes for electronic participation. In fact, it’s very useful, but its effectiveness is debatable. Cyprus was the subject of the debate. The aftermath of the presidential elections, the new government, prospects of an early election, probability of a new Cyprus exercise, eastern Mediterranean issues, and such were the topics of discussion.
Such debates among people of identical views addressing people with almost the same opinion often appear to me as a waste of time. What can be achieved if everyone is of the same opinion and no one is provoking other participants to think of some alternate ways on any particular subject? While I was thinking how boring and exhausting it is to attend such a conference on a gloomy, rainy and cold day in Ankara, during the coffee break I realized what a precious occasion the event indeed might be.
One of the other speakers, in a friendly tone, accused me of often talking in a very “micro-nationalist manner.” Yes. I have always been a proud Turkish Cypriot. I have always been scared of losing the cultural, linguistic and even perceptional characteristics of Turkish Cypriot with a fear of it becoming nothing different than any of the sunny touristic towns along the Mediterranean or Aegean coast of Turkey. As I sometimes say that by becoming a part of Turkey, it might make the Turkish Cypriot community nothing different than a lentil in a large bowl of Turkish soup, with no peculiar or distinctive character.
There ought not to be a difference between Turkish nationalism and Turkish Cypriot patriotism. As someone living in Turkey since 1978, considers himself a Turk, I never thought my Turkish Cypriot identity and devotion might be a product of micro-nationalism.
The discussion, anyhow, provoked me to think on the issue for a while, and to my shock, I realized that for absolutely noble and patriotic reasons, very much like my friends in North Cyprus, I might be rather xenophobic on the issue of post-1974 mainland Turkish settlers, while excluding a small converted group, the Linobombaki, all Turkish Cypriots have their roots in Anatolia. Some came immediately after 1571, some decades or centuries later.
Some left after 1931, settled in Turkey, many left and settled in Britain and several other countries. After 1974 new emigrants settled in North Cyprus from Turkey. Those “neutralized” have become Turkish Cypriots, though some people today living in North Cyprus mentally and socially feel as if they are still living in their local towns in Turkey. It is the same when we look at the people coming from Sivas, Trabzon, Hatay or whatever city they belong to who come to major cities and form their “mini local towns” and insist not to harmonize, put aside neutralization. It is the same problem if we look at it from the Turkish Cypriot perspective.
Alas, Greek Cypriots complain that these settlers have been changing the demography of North Cyprus and changing the population ratio on the island. The demand to continue the Cyprus talks from where they collapsed in 2017 at Crans Montana, in a way, is an effort by the Greek Cypriots to maintain besides other concessions they managed to get from the former President Mustafa Akıncı, the so-called understanding that the one-fourth ratio between the Turkish and Greek peoples would be maintained in granting new citizenships.
Such a deal, of course, cannot be described with anything less than outright treachery. Why would Turks agree to an arrangement that for every Turkish Cypriot citizen, there would be three Greek Cypriot citizens on Cyprus? Naturally, Greek Cypriots are scared that Turks from the mainland might flood the island after a settlement. Why do we not have any such worry despite the fact that in full contradiction with the extremely low birth rate, Greek Cypriots have managed to increase their population threefold – thanks to liberal citizenship programs and scandalous passport sales – since 1963 start of the Cyprus problem?
We must indeed walk the same road that Greek Cypriots have been pursuing since 1963. If the population is one major element in Cyprus talks, why should Turkish Cypriots maintain their population of around 365,000 as opposed to around 820,000 Greek Cypriot population?
This is the day. Enough. Citizenship opportunities should be opened for those who want to invest in the island from all over the world, especially those of Turkish Cypriot descent. How shameful that there is so much opposition that the new government might accept citizenship applications of some 8,000 people, most of them who have been living in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) for more than a decade but have not been granted citizenship because of ideological reasons. They should be granted their rights in a fair way.
A far more liberal citizenship policy that would help to increase the North Cyprus population close to that of the Greek Cyprus’ should be seriously considered along with an infrastructure required for such population growth.
We must now be able to condemn to failure the intensive campaigns of the Greek lobby within Turkish Cypriots and realize that increasing our population will be our advantage. Naturally, measures should be taken to make sure Turkish Cypriot cultural and social characteristics and egalitarian mindset are maintained.