'It's impossible to achieve peace in Cyprus with Erdoğan's delusions of neo-Ottoman grandeur'

As the northern part of the island nation has been the target of the reactionary interventions of Turkey's ruling AKP party for more than a decade, soL News spoke to the General Secretary of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers’ Trade Union Şener Elcil
Tuesday, 17 July 2018 21:07

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid his first state visit to Northern Cyprus after his controversial electoral victory on July 24. As the northern part of the island nation has been the target of the reactionary interventions of Turkey's ruling AKP party for more than a decade, soL News spoke to the General Secretary of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers’ Trade Union (KTÖS), Şener Elcil, about the relations between the island and the continent within the context of the current situation in the so-called "Cypriot Question".


The leader of the AKP government and the president under the new pseudo-constitutional system, Erdoğan, paid his very first state visit to Northern Cyprus. This has been deemed to indicate that the Cypriot Question will be one of the priorities of the AKP administration. So, what do Turkish Cypriot workers think about Erdoğan’s visit? Did they rejoice? Were they excited about it, or did they simply express their preoccupation?

Erdoğan’s state visit to Northern Cyprus doesn’t really mean anything to Turkish Cypriots. It hasn’t really thrilled anyone; except for a few lackeys who earn a living by cringing to Erdoğan’s regime, that is. For them, it has been an opportunity to gloat.


Erdoğan had previously made some condescending statements about Northern Cyprus. Like all right-wing politicians, he also seems to believe that Northern Cyprus depends on Turkey. Is this really the case, though? Should Northern Cyprus be thankful to Turkey?

Northern Cyprus is a particularly attractive spot for the AKP’s investors. The AKP has turned Northern Cyprus into its backyard by injecting the black market, prostitution, gambling and private universities into its economy.

The capital that is accumulated in these sectors flows to Turkey. Although Mr Erdoğan describes Turkish Cypriots as "free riders," financial data prove otherwise. While Turkey invests 350 million Turkish liras per year to Northern Cyprus including military expenses, Northern Cyprus imports goods worth 1.5 billion Turkish liras per year. Moreover, as the Turkish lira faces devaluation every year due to inflation, Turkish Cypriots are forced to pay millions of US dollars in inflation tax. In addition to this, continental workers spend their salaries in Turkey, which doesn’t contribute to the Northern Cypriot economy.


In the past 15 years, hotels belonging to individuals close to the AKP have been held exempt from taxes not only after said hotels were opened but also during the construction phase. Moving from the premise that 83 percent of the national expenses were covered by national sources, it is clear who the "free riders" are in a country where 75 percent of the inhabitants are Turkish citizens.

The idea that Turkish Cypriots owe an eternal debt to Turkey is common among most Turkish politicians. While Turkish Cypriots’ love for Turkey cannot be measured by money or any other means, they are being constantly ridiculed by Turkish politicians who measure this love by money or land. For this reason, the puppet governments installed by Turkey are fine examples of this ridicule, much like the former Vichy regime in France.


The KTÖS is a very effective and militant trade union. Indeed, it has been a vanguard of all Turkish Cypriot workers despite only representing teachers. In order to provide our readers with a clear idea as to the role of Turkish Cypriot teachers in the workers’ movement in the island, could you provide us with a summary of the historical and social context?

The KTÖS was founded by a group of young socialist teachers in 1968. Due to the conditions of the era, our trade union had put up a principled struggle against both Greek chauvinism and the puppet regime established by the NATO officers sent by the Republic of Turkey. Our trade union has prioritised the political will of the Turkish Cypriot community and has acted according to the principle that the teachers’ problems are intertwined with the general problems of society.

Since 1971, our stance regarding the Cypriot Question has always been in favour of a sovereign island devoid of all forms of military presence.


Recently you’ve been leading a campaign against the AKP's schools in Northern Cyprus. What exactly is the AKP administration doing?

The AKP has recently launched a systematic assault on the belief system of the Turkish Cypriot community, a community that has preserved its language, culture and beliefs outside the National Pact*. There is a severe pressure to transform the Turkish Cypriot education system into a propaganda machine of the AKP by means of Sunni Islam.

In Northern Cyprus, there are 146 public schools as opposed to 212 mosques and the number of mosques keeps increasing drastically. 33 million US dollars were spent to build a new mosque in the Haspolat region and it hasn’t been the only one as they are planning to build a mosque in every district. Furthermore, there have been attempts at making religion classes obligatory, increasing the number of Quran courses across the island and, more recently, they have begun to cite the adhan more loudly.


How does the AKP impose Islamisation in Northern Cyprus? By forcing the Turkish Cypriot government to change the curriculum? By opening new Islamic vocational schools? Can such interventions actually succeed?

There is an Islamic vocational school next to the mosque in Haspolat that I’ve just mentioned, and its curriculum shows that it was designed like a madrasa. The objective here is to make people believe that Islamisation is nothing out of the ordinary. For this reason, the land belonging to the Foundations Bureau was leased for ten years to the foundation that seized the assets of the Gülen sect.

As the imams sent from Turkey continue to operate in mosques and settlements, women on the payroll of the Turkish Embassy continue to propagate, aiming for the common citizen.


During the Ottoman Empire, religious leadership was a prominent status in both communities, but the situation changed slightly during British colonisation in that the British institutionalised religious leadership. Nowadays, the Head of the Religious Directorate is trying to revive that tradition by declaring himself mufti. Such interventions of the AKP may influence some of the continental population on the island; however, it is impossible to influence those Turkish Cypriots who have embraced secularism and got used to applying positive sciences as part of their culture. The reactionary interventions of the AKP aren’t unopposed and the questioning nature of Turkish Cypriots inflate the reaction to reactionism.


This reaction to reactionism is common among our right-wingers as well. Former Turkish Minister of State, Cemil Çiçek, for instance, had opened a mosque in the morning and a casino at night: An epitome of the AKP’s mentality. In that regard, the AKP’s policies cannot transform Turkish Cypriots but they may create an environment of conflict with some continentals in the northern part of the island.

What can be the motive behind the AKP’s interventions aimed at the Islamisation of Northern Cyprus?

The imposition of Sunni Islam by force has been a policy that mainly targeted the continental Turks in Northern Cyprus. On the other hand, the opinions and reactions of Turkish Cypriots are being neglected. The fruits of this policy were reaped quite recently when the daily Afrika was assaulted by an angry, reactionary mob under the supervision of the police. The assailants sought to recreate the Madımak massacre with the help of the AKP’s thugs.

After the attack on the Afrika newspaper, people began to think that the AKP had a strong foothold in Northern Cyprus. Pro-government media even tried to depict an anti-AKP rally as a pro-Erdoğan rally. What happened in Northern Cyprus after the attack and who was behind the attack?

The people behind the attack on Afrika are embassy personnel who acted on orders from Mr Erdoğan, as well as the military corps whose objective should be to maintain security in the northern part of the island.


Given that the police condoned the acts, the perpetrators were released at the urging of the Turkish Embassy, nine other people who were involved haven’t been found, the judges overseeing the case have been forced to resign, the police officer who prevented the lynching was exiled to Mağusa and some mayors were incited by Turkish authorities to join the lynching, we can deduce that the act was planned by the Turkish Embassy and the military.

After the act of lynching, various strata of Turkish Cypriot society reacted to the vile plot of the invading Turkish authorities and the policies of the AKP. To that end, a mass rally was organised on December 28, 2017.

The Turkish Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Popular Party and the Democratic Socialist Party have kept their silence in order to form a coalition, whereas the National Unity Party saw this as an opportunity and aligned itself with the AKP.

Given the circumstances, do you believe that peace can be achieved in Cyprus?

The Republic of Turkey created a colony outside its borders for the first time since its foundation. In this unequal rapport between the island and the continent, we have to bear in mind the geopolitical importance of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as its rich energy resources.


Mr Erdoğan, who has delusions of neo-Ottoman grandeur, wouldn’t want to throw away the decisive military victory achieved in 1974 without gaining something in return. The most achievable solution would be the result of a negotiation between the NATO Member States and Turkey. In such a negotiation, as in any other aspect of politics, Turkish Cypriots would be mere hostages of the AKP. At the moment, the Republic of Turkey’s greatest bargaining chip is the pretence of defending the rights of Turkish Cypriots.

The fascist coup perpetrated by Greek nationalists with the connivance of NATO as a response to the amelioration of the relations between the Republic of Cyprus and the Soviet Union, along with the Turkish occupation that followed the coup, have brought about the ethnic and geographical division of the island.

As per related treaties, the Republic of Turkey was one of the "guarantors of peace" that were obliged to maintain constitutional order in the Republic of Cyprus. However, the military intervention by said guarantor has gradually turned the northern part of the island into a colony. The exact population of our country is unknown; however, it is well established that Turkey has been letting more and more continental Turks settle in Cyprus. The population of Northern Cyprus is roughly 700.000 and, according to our estimates, the Turkish Cypriot population is 130.000.


Policies like letting continental settlers become Turkish Cypriot citizens, establishing a puppet regime in the north, changing the names of settlements, forcing Turkish Cypriots to adopt surnames as per the Western-Turkish tradition, enforcing the Turkish lira in domestic markets, Islamising the curriculum, providing the lackeys of the AKP with immense privileges so that they can erect new hotels and casinos etc. are aimed at destroying the Turkish Cypriot community and making the occupation permanent. Not only Turkish Cypriots have become a minority in their own motherland, but they’ve also been robbed of their political will.

The most serious attempt at resolving the Cypriot Question was the Annan Plan proposed in 2004, when the AKP was in power. The failure of the referendum and Erdoğan’s later statements showed, however, that Turkish Cypriots continue to be mere hostages.

We can clearly see that the only solution to the Cypriot Question can be a solution that also safeguards Turkey’s interests. However, as long as Mr Erdoğan dreams of neo-Ottoman imperial restoration, resolving the Cypriot Question remains but a dream.

* The National Pact (tr. Misak-ı Millî) was a set of decisions made by the Ottoman Parliament before it was dissolved by British invaders. It served as a recognition of the decisions of the Kemalist congresses held in Erzurum and Sivas which, inter alia, determined the territories that Turkish patriots sought to reclaim. Stretching from Western Thrace (modern day Greece) in the northwest to Kirkuk (modern day Iraq) in the southeast, the territory envisioned in the National Pact was greater than the current territory of the Republic of Territory. Nonetheless, said territory was recognised as "Turkish territory" by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the Treaty of Moscow (1921).