Turkish Cypriots’ identity problem

Turkish Cypriots’ identity problem

Abandoning clichés, perhaps it’s high time to focus on a key question: Who are the Turkish Cypriots? In all likelihood, the inability to reach a consensus on the precise identity of a Turkish Cypriot is one of the factors contributing to the intractability of the Cyprus problem.

First, an overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots are unprepared to abandon two very important components of their identity: Turkishness and Cypriotness. They are lacking something if either of the two are missing when describing their identity.

According to Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriot people are just Cypriots whose ethnic connection is a mere nuance or tiny detail to be ignored. For a common future, Turkish Cypriots must agree to abandon or, at the very least, relegate their ethnic identity to the backburner, in agreeing to become part of a “Cyprus nation” with a “Turkish nuance.”

For Turkey and Turkish nationalists, on the other hand, Turkish Cypriots are Turks who happen to be living on the island of Cyprus. That is, they are part of the Turkish nation, and that’s it. Turkish Cypriots are expected to abandon their Cypriot aspect of their identity and become, above all, a Turk.

Can this be healthy, either way? On one hand, Turkish Cypriots are expected to abandon the ethnicity, linguistic and religious elements of their identity, while on the other, they are asked to forget their Cypriotness, accept Cyprus merely as a geographical address of residence and devote themselves to Turkishness.

That’s nonsense. If Turkish Cypriots are expected to compromise on a fundamental part of their identity for the sake of survival, could anyone describe such a situation as a solution? Turkish Cypriots will be lacking something major in the absence of one of the two fundamental elements of their identity, meaning a “settlement” privileging either of the two aspects of this identity will not make the community happy or be sustainable.

The guarantor problem, effective equality in governance, the need for the Turkish military presence on the island and the thousands of mainland settlers on Cyprus are all problems defying easy reconciliation unless the Greek Cypriots first accept that Turkish Cypriots are “Turks” and members of a huge “Turkish nation,” just as Turkey accepts that Turkish Cypriots are Turks and Cypriots, making them a key component of the island.

A two-state settlement could help Greek Cypriots accept that there is another people living next door with equal rights, while even before a settlement, the Turkish government must understand that the time is up for it to be the sole country that recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state. After all, doing so would allow the latter to establish a relationship with other states, fostering mutual respect and other Westphalian principles.

Pointing at Mustafa Akıncı, Turkish Cyprus’ president, and accusing him of undermining Turkish identity in a bid to promote Cypriotness is as valid as Akıncı and his supporters pointing at Turkey and stressing the importance of Turkish Cypriot integrity and demanding that Ankara respect Turkish Cypriots’ particular identity.

How does one reconcile these two views? That’s the million-dollar question.