Turkey & North Cyprus: A troublesome mother-daughter relationship

"Despite all the troubles, Turkish Cypriots still refer to Turkey as the motherland and likewise, Turkey still sees the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as her daughter-state..."

Turkey & North Cyprus: A troublesome mother-daughter relationship

World Bulletin - Ertan Karpazlı

It has been thirty-nine years since Turkey conducted a peace operation to save the Turks of Cyprus from extinction. After Turkish troops landed in Cyprus in July 1974 to defend the Turkish Cypriots from Greek Cypriot violence, a mother-daughter relationship between the Turks of Anatolia and the Turks of Cyprus formed. Needless to say, however, just as in any mother-daughter relationship, problems have been and will be inevitable. The relationship between motherland Turkey and her daughter state the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is no exception to this rule.

Even before either state was founded, the ancestors of the Turkish Cypriots had a history of quarrelling with the Ottoman authorities. The Turkish Cypriots today are descendents of nomadic Turkmen tribes of central Anatolia called Yörüks. During the Ottoman era, these Yörüks lived as rebels in the Toros Mountains, unregistered to any recognised authority. As mainstream Ottoman society progressed as a civilisation, the Yörüks continued to live the nomadic lifestyle they inherited from their forefathers in central Asia. With the Ottoman conquering of Cyprus in 1571, Sultan Selim II issued an order for the Yörüks to be deported from central Anatolia to Cyprus. This decision was met by mass protests as the Yörüks feared that their nomadic lifestyle was under threat. However, in the end their efforts were futile.

It wasn’t long after the forced settlement program was complete that the descendents of these Yörüks began to protest against the Ottoman state in Cyprus, sometimes even side by side with the Greek Cypriots. A joint Turkish and Greek Cypriot rebellion due to the lack of wheat provided by the state was quashed by Ottoman auxiliary forces in 1804. However, despite all of the unrest, the Turks of Cyprus continued to share a love-hate relationship with their rulers in Istanbul. Most of the Ottoman governors of Cyprus were sent there from mainland Anatolia, and on two occasions, Turkish Cypriots Mehmed Emin Pasha and Mehmed Kamil Pasha even rose to the position of Vezir-i Azam (Prime Minister) over the entire Ottoman state. At very least, it could be said that a relationship of mutual dependency existed. The Ottoman Empire needed Turkish Muslims in Cyprus to protect its interests in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Turkish Cypriots needed the Ottoman Empire to ensure their safety and well-being on the island. This continued until Sultan Abdulhamid II leased the island to the British in 1878.

This handover of power was very disturbing for most Turkish Cypriots. Whilst the Ottoman Empire was collapsing around them, and as Greek Cypriot calls for Enosis (union with Greece) grew louder, fear and uncertainty over the future engulfed the Turkish Cypriots. It was at this point that the Turkish Cypriots and mainland Turks experienced a splitting of paths. With the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1924, secular nationalism swept across Anatolia. Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriots continued to live their lives largely unaffected by these new developments. However, there were some attempts by the Turkish Cypriots to reach out to Turkey, but due to the fact that their appeals had a religious basis rather than a secular nationalistic one, these appeals were mostly ignored.

During the British occupation, the Mufti of Cyprus was officially recognised as the leader and representative of the Muslim Cypriots, and the British had no problem with this until the 1920s when Hacı Hafız Ziyai Efendi was elected into the position. Hacı Hafız Ziyai Efendi managed to achieve a balance between Islamic and Turkish nationalistic values. Seeing a threat in this, the British abolished his position in 1928 and replaced him with a more compliant Fetva Emini. Futhermore, imams who demonstrated any assertive form of Islam, such as Imam Nuri Efendi, were imprisoned.

The imprisonment of assertive Islamic scholars left the Turkish Cypriots with a spiritual void. When the British endorsed passive version of Islam failed to make an impression on the Turkish Cypriots, they started to imitate their Turkish brethren in the mainland until they became fully secularised under the leadership of Dr. Fazıl Küçük. The position of Mufti was brought back to Cyprus, but this time an apolitical role was to be played by the newly elected Dana Efendi, who more often than not used his religious authority to issue rulings in support of his secular masters.

In the 1950s a Greek Cypriot paramilitary group called EOKA was founded for the purpose of uniting the island with Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, feeling threatened by EOKA, established their own paramilitary group called TMT. In this chaos, the British decided to draw up plans to leave the island. As the Turkish Cypriots largely depended on the British forces to police Cyprus and protect them from attacks by EOKA, this planned withdrawal left the Turkish Cypriots with a sense of uneasiness. Therefore, the Turkish Cypriots started calling for Taksim – the unification of Cyprus with Turkey. Nonetheless, with the co-operation of both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot representatives, a constitution for a united and independent Cyprus was signed in 1960.

When Greek Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios III breached the constitution after just two years, an effort to ethnically cleanse the island from Turks began. This lasted for eleven years between 1963 and 1974. Turkish nationalism amongst the Turkish Cypriots was at this point higher than it had ever been before, with calls for a Turkish military intervention erupting in both Cyprus and Turkey. Finally, on the 20th of July 1974, Turkish troops arrived in Cyprus to liberate the Turkish Cypriot people. As of 1974, migrants from Turkey started to arrive from regions with a similar culture to that of Cyprus, such as Antalya and Mersin. Moreover, the arrival of Turkish troops also meant the official arrival of the Kemalist system, which had already been adopted by the Turkish Cypriots unofficially.

AFTER 1974

Although the role of religion in the lives of the Turkish Cypriots had somewhat diminished in the three decades prior to the 1974 peace operation, they were still a very tight-knit community based on conservative morals and values. Following 1974, however, some businessmen from Turkey moved to North Cyprus in order to establish nightclubs, bars and casinos on the island. As these places often do, they brought with them all sorts of corruption including alcoholism, drugs, prostitution and gambling. Over the years, these factors have contributed to the disintegration of Turkish Cypriot society. Crime has also been on the increase as some settlers from Turkey arrive in North Cyprus illegally. This has caused many Turkish Cypriots to look upon migrants with a sense of mistrust.

Furthermore, the migration of Turks from less developed regions in Turkey meant the arrival of families with a lack of skills and poor education. These families have mainly settled in inner-city parts of Nicosia whilst Turkish Cypriots have been moving into more suburban districts. Division is also found outside of the city, as migrants from Turkey were often settle into old Greek Cypriot villages that were left abandoned after 1974, whereas villages that had always belonged to Turkish Cypriots did not experience a rush of migrants. Also, wealthier Turkish Cypriot families also tend to make use of private schools and hospitals, whereas poorer migrant families tend to use public services a lot more. The workplace provides another example of the existence of this social division. Businessmen from Turkey have a tendency to employ workers who are also from Turkey rather than natives. As a result, Turkish Cypriot business owners have responded likewise by only employing their own kind.

Between 1974 and 2003, Turkish Cypriots had very little interaction with any other peoples besides the migrants from Turkey. Meanwhile, their Greek Cypriot counterparts were enjoying all the benefits of international recognition. The Turkish Cypriots watched on as the Greek Cypriot population reformed itself to match EU standards. This, for many Turkish Cypriots, was seen as an opportunity to make amends with the Greek Cypriots. Many Turkish Cypriots then began to see the very same Turkish army that they had so warmly welcomed in 1974 as an occupying force. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was also looking for a satisfactory peace plan for Cyprus. This was provided in the “Annan Plan,” which was put forward by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. In 2004 it was taken to a referendum and the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots agreed to it. The Greek Cypriots, however, rejected it. Consequently, a divided Cyprus was accepted into the European Union. As of then, efforts have continued on behalf of Turkey to unite Cyprus as a bi-federal state, but to this day this plan has been rejected a number of times by the Greek Cypriot government.

Nevertheless, for the first time in thirty years, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots were able to interact with each other when the border dividing North and South Cyprus was opened in 2003. The opening of the border allowed them to remember many of the cultural similarities they shared with each other. A movement to rid the Turkish Cypriots of their Turkishness began, with the native Turks of the island preferring to simply call themselves Cypriots rather than Turkish Cypriots. Protests against the presence of the Turkish military on the island increased, as well as protests against anything that represented the broadening of Turkey’s influence on the island, such as the opening of an Islamic Theology Faculty and summer season Qur’an courses.

Of course, the concept of Turkey trying to bring Islam to Cyprus is quite contradictory. After all, it was Turkey that had originally inspired the Turkish Cypriots to become secular. The fact is, however, that the Turkish Cypriots adopted the secular Kemalist ideology so well that they even surpassed much of Turkey in doing so, which despite all its secular reforms still managed to maintain some form of Islamic identity. Under current Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan many anti-Islamic laws have been lifted. Religious Turks have therefore been given greater freedoms with regards to their religion. However, Turkish Cypriots choose to hold firm to the secular values they adopted in the 1940s. With the gradual ideological migration to Cypriotism, many Turkish Cypriots now deem Islam to be an attribute of Turkish identity that must be disowned to become fully Cypriot. The media in North Cyprus has also played a role in turning this debate from an ideological disagreement to a division between mainland Turkish migrants and native Turkish Cypriots.

In saying this, the role of the Cypriotists should not be exaggerated. Despite not being the most overtly religious people in the world, most Turkish Cypriots still consider themselves to be Muslims and respect people who live religious lives. At the same time, many still have a love for their motherland. On the other hand, quotes from Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan calling Turkish Cypriots “besleme” (an offensive term used to indicate complete and utter dependence on someone or something) has not helped the Turkish Cypriots reconcile their ties with Turkey. It is unfortunate that many mainland Turks look down on Turkish Cypriots as being ungrateful for their help in 1974 and see them as being more trouble than they are worth. 

Despite all the troubles, however, to this day Turkish Cypriots still refer to Turkey as the motherland and likewise, Turkey still sees the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as her daughter-state. In metaphorical terms, this rocky relationship could be summarised in the following way: The Republic of Turkey gave birth to North Cyprus when she herself was still a young and immature teenager. Perhaps Turkey’s lack of respect and rebellion against her own mother, the Ottoman Empire, set a bad example to her daughter in how mothers are to be treated. Of course, while North Cyprus was still a child, she was absolutely in love with her mother and wanted to be like her in every way. However, as North Cyprus grew older, she began to see the wrongs in her mother and became a rebellious teenager, just like her mother once was. Turkey needs to realise that her daughter is only behaving in the way she was raised to behave, and instead of trying to fix the crisis by blaming her daughter, perhaps she should question herself a lot more and try to address her daughter’s underlying problems. If she was to treat her daughter as a mature adult by discussing possible solutions together, perhaps she might start acting like one. Needless to say, the key word for both sides is “listen.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Haziran 2014, 11:12
Costas Yennaris
Costas Yennaris - 8 yıl Önce

I am sorry to say that this article is a perfect example of how facts and history can be distorted to serve political purposes. The writer has no idea of he is talking about and his writings are an insult to Turkish Cypriots.

Mark James
Mark James - 8 yıl Önce

can you please provide some examples of distortion costas? i believe the writer has taken a very neutral position and has simply listed the facts. what makes you think this is offensive to turkish cypriots and why do you feel that you are in a position to speak for them all?

Cagil - 8 yıl Önce

I have to say that you need to dig out the facts before producing such an article. Mother and daughter relation started in 1571;Long before Turkey was established. However I agree with you about Turkey trying to establish an Islamic Country, it dsnt mean that being Turkish makes you a Muslim. Religion and Race is different identities. Nationality comes with birth but you can choose you religion

John - 8 yıl Önce

I believe the writer of this article was un-biased as possible and I think they did a good job for a Turkish person. TC's were influenced by Turkey to gain more land in Cyprus, there were many Greek Cypriots killed or harmed during the fighting. +200,000 GC lost everything they had. The occupation in Cyprus is illegal, and the land needs to be returned, subject to providing back to TC's as well.