By Harut Sassounian
Turkish columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz wrote an article in the Turkish website “al-Monitor” on February 18, 2020, titled: “Why is Turkish Cypriot leader declared ‘enemy’ in Turkey?” The article provided the details of the antagonism between the government of Turkey and the leader of Turkish Cyprus.
Ever since the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus in 1974, the Republic of Turkey has spent billions of dollars and stationed thousands of Turkish troops to preserve its foothold on the island.
In recent months, the Turkish media has publicized the hostility between the government of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leader. “Turkish officials and politicians visiting the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized as a state only by Ankara, have refused to meet with its president, Mustafa Akinci, since October,” wrote Cengiz.
The conflict started with the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria last October, when Akinci dared to criticize the “Sultan” of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Now, even if we call it [the Turkish invasion of Syria] Operation Peace Spring, what is being spilled is not water but blood. For this reason, it is my greatest wish that dialogue and diplomacy come into play as soon as possible.” Hundreds of Turks in Turkey have been imprisoned for criticizing the Turkish military campaign in Syria. Going beyond Syria, Akinci expressed his disagreement with Turkey regarding its invasion of Northern Cyprus: “Even though we called it Operation Peace, it was a war and blood was spilled in 1974.” According to Cengiz, “by drawing a comparison between the two interventions, Akinci was obviously trying to say that military operations in foreign lands create lasting problems and, therefore, he was inviting Turkey to consider other options in Syria.”
Even though Akinci’s criticisms of the Turkish military invasions were well-meaning, Erdogan, who does not tolerate dissent, was furious, stating that Akinci had “exceeded his limits” and adding that the electorate will soon teach him a “lesson.” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay also condemned the Turkish Cypriot leader. Cengiz reported that “in Northern Cyprus, meanwhile, Akinci received death threats, for which he requested a judicial investigation.”
Columnist Cengiz further reported that “Akinci’s remarks made him a scapegoat in Turkey and fueled an unprecedented wave of reactions, the harshest that any Northern Cyprus representative has ever seen. [Turkish] MHP leader Devlet Bahceli called on Akinci to immediately resign. ‘Akinci and his supporters should not forget that Cyprus is Turkish and will remain Turkish,’ Bahceli said. He also suggested that Akinci move to the Greek Cypriot south. AKP spokesman Omer Celik urged Akinci to apologize, while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Northern Cyprus leader was being ‘hostile to Turkey’ and that he had never seen ‘such a dishonest politician’ in his life. With the tone set like that by top politicians, pro-government newspapers were even harsher. ‘The Crusaders’ Akinci should resign immediately,’ one paper said, while another declared that Akinci was ‘like an enemy.’”
Cengiz explained in his article that “it is Turkey that pays the bills in Northern Cyprus through direct and indirect financial aid. Therefore, Cypriot Turks should always be grateful to Ankara. Turkey is ‘the mother’ and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is her ‘baby.’ Anything that goes beyond this notion of subordination would threaten the status quo.”
In an interview with The Guardian on February 6, 2020, Akinci warned the “permanent partition of its [Cyprus’s] Greek and Turkish communities unless an agreement is swiftly reached involving an ‘equitable’ federal solution.” Akinci said he disagreed with Erdogan’s vision of the relationship between Ankara and Nicosia as one of “mother and baby…. I want independent, brotherly relations,” he explained. He acknowledged the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus had to do more to make its economy less reliant on Turkey, which pays the government’s bills. To do this he needed support from the [Greek] south, Akinci told The Guardian.
“Akinci — who on Wednesday evening [Feb. 5, 2020] launched his re-election campaign — said the only viable solution to Cyprus’s nearly half century of division was reunification under a federal ‘roof’…. ‘If this failed to happen,’ Akinci told The Guardian, ‘the north would grow increasingly dependent on Ankara and could end up being swallowed up, as a de facto Turkish province.’”
“Akinci’s vision, which is shared by many Turkish Cypriots, calls for a bi-communal, bi-zonal Cyprus with political equality and a single ‘personality,’ he told The Guardian. It is based on a shared identity of being islanders of Cyprus, rather than being Turkish or Greek,” Cengiz wrote.
“Akinci’s likely election run-off rival is Ersin Tatar, an outspoken pro-Ankara populist who opposes reconciliation with the south. Tatar, the current prime minister, favors a two-state solution. He enjoys strong support from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and from settlers who have arrived in unquantified numbers from the mainland, changing the island’s religious and cultural makeup,” The Guardian wrote.
“I’m not going to be a second Tayfur Sökmen,” Akinci told The Guardian, referring to the president of Hatay, who in the 1930s merged his republic — formerly part of French-mandated Syria — with Turkey after a referendum.
The dispute between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leader is deviating the Turkish government’s attention away from a slew of other serious conflicts Turkey has with Armenia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Greece and Cyprus.