Tag Archives: TRNC

Letter from Lefkoşa: A new occasional feature

Our guest columnist

Living in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an experience in itself and allows a view of events rarely – if at all – publicised in the UK press and media. This website will occasionally publish articles by Mr Stephen Day, an ex-Westminster MP who retired to the TRNC in 2006. These posts will offer a unique insight into the reality of life in an unrecognised country.

Stephen Day was the former Conservative MP for Cheadle, Cheshire (1987–2001) and Member of the Tory Whips Office. He successfully brought into law a Private Members Bill introducing the compulsory wearing of seat belts by children, consequently winning the Automobile Association silver medal for his contribution to road safety. Prior to Parliament he worked as a Sales Executive, as a Graduate Member of the Institute of Export. In 2006 he retired to North Cyprus and is currently President of the British Residents Society (BRS). 

He has been a columnist for the Cyprus Today newspaper for the last 16 years.

Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for North Nicosia, the capital of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.

Stubborn stupidity

You would hope that an august organisation like the United Nations, might at last produce a Secretary–General capable of some original thought on the matter of Cyprus. Forget it. There’s as much chance of that as a resident of Lefkoşa being selected for the next crew of the International Space Station. In other words, none at all.

The latest ‘biannual report on Cyprus’ (Christmas, 2021), submitted to the UN Security Council by Secretary–General Antonio Guterres, is about as original as a forged Da Vinci masterpiece. It looks the same, but is worthless. In fact, the late, great, founding TRNC President, Rauf Denktaş, would have recognised every word – from 1983 onwards. The yawns of the Security Council must have been audible in far-off California, never mind in New York’s UN headquarters. 

The Secretary–General is concerned that ‘the faltering economy of the TRNC and the passage of time without a settlement being reached are thwarting reconciliation efforts.’ Well, I never. Get away! For a statement of the blindingly obvious, you can’t beat that, now can you? To some extent, Guterres blames the impact of Covid for that ‘faltering economy’. Undoubtedly so, but isn’t there another important factor impacting on the TRNC? Like the UN’s never-ending enforced diplomatic and economic isolation of the North, for instance? How can you overlook the impact of that? You can’t. It’s what the Secretary–General proposes to do about it that staggers me. Something different? No chance – just more of the same old failure (the mind boggles at the extent of the inertia).

He went on to say that there is ‘a risk that the deepening of disparities between the two [Cypriot] economies may start eroding the basis for important convergences achieved in the past.’ Pardon? What convergences? The so called ‘Republic of Cyprus’ in south Cyprus is still the recognised ‘government of the whole of Cyprus’ (even though it isn’t) and the TRNC doesn’t exist! What kind of ‘convergence’ is that? And what’s all this ‘may start’ eroding convergence? The UN’s (and EU) stubborn stupidity in pursuing repeated failure began eroding the chance of a settlement decades ago. It still does and, if the Secretary–General has anything to do with it, it will continue to do so. Favouring one side with all the recognition and ignoring the existence of the other hardly smacks of even-handedness, now does it? Inviting the Greek–Cypriot President to address the UN General Assembly last year and failing to invite the Turkish–Cypriot President to do the same was a classic example of UN bias. What incentive does the favoured side have to concede anything? It doesn’t. That is why they don’t. The status quo suits the Greek part of Cyprus nicely.

If not achieving a settlement worries the Secretary–General, isn’t it about time that the UN started asking itself why? It should be as obvious as the wart on Oliver Cromwell’s face, Cyprus needs a radical UN rethink. We need a new UN vision, like treating both sides equally and recognising the obvious fact there are two states in Cyprus, not one. 

This shouldn’t be too hard for the Secretary–General to comprehend. For instance, as one writer pointed out last week, ‘the UN supports and advocates the proposal for a two state solution for the Israeli/Palestine situation but rejects ratifying the two state solution in the island of Cyprus, where it actually exists’ [my italics]. Quite! That is amazing in itself – and it is even more incredible that the ‘Palestine’ bit of the equation is divided in itself, territorially and politically, between Hamas and Hezbollah. They are at each other’s throats. Not only that, but Hamas – a militant, so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorist group – rule that part of ‘Palestine’ called ‘the Gaza Strip’ and regularly fire missiles into Israel (Tel Aviv in particular). They receive Israeli retaliatory attacks in return as a consequence. In other words, in Palestine both the threat and the reality of violence exist on both sides. 

How is it right that the UN is quite prepared to grant recognition to two peoples in conflict but not to a Cyprus at peace? There’s no armed conflict here. What message does that send? Chuck a few missiles and bombs around and we will recognise you? I’m sure the UN doesn’t intend that, but that is the consequential inadvertent reality of the UN’s differing attitudes to both disputes. If so, it is literally ‘bloody’ madness!

The UN stupidity goes further. They want Cyprus reunited but under Greek rule. They want Turkey out of the Cyprus equation – especially her troops, whose presence has really ensured fifty years of peace in Cyprus, not the presence of the UN. Everyone on Cyprus knows better than to mess with the Turkish Army. If those troops had not come here, it would have been a ‘Palestine plus’ scenario! Turkey could have taken the whole island. They didn’t. They simply saved the Turkish Cypriots from extinction. That is the reality. That is the truth. Before they came, civil war raged: ethnic cleansing to evict the Turks was rampant. Since when has putting two peoples back together again, who experienced such division and conflict, ever been a clever idea? Never, unless you happen to be the UN.

If Turkish Cypriots remain eternally isolated and treated as some sort of pariah who does the UN think they have to turn to? There is only one place that can help and it’s Turkey: the very opposite of what the UN claims it wants to achieve! Madness incarnate.

The Secretary–General readily identified the current lack of common ground between Cyprus’s two sides and ‘the deepening distrust, both between the two sides and among the two communities.’ He got that right, at least. He called on the leaders to ‘look to the future with pragmatism.’ Well, I never. If anybody is lacking in pragmatism and needs to ‘look to the future’ it’s the UN. For goodness sake, it is blindingly obvious that the UN position on Cyprus is untenable. It is not working. It never has worked. It never will. It has failed, failed and failed again, almost more times than the sun has set. 

It’s time to accept there are two states, Mr. Guterres. There is no other way. Make history and recognise the facts. On the ground, sticking to the same old song is pointless. As things stand, so is the UN. 

One day, someone in New York might realise it.

Turkish Cypriots fear the heavy hand of Erdogan

The following article was originally published in The Times on 26 July 2021. It provides a context for the current likelihood of the success of any peace talks regarding the long-running conflict in Cyprus.

Under a punishing sun and the equally searing glare of international condemnation, President Tayyip Erdogan took the salute as the Turkish army paraded through northern Cyprus last week.

Hundreds of commandos marched in file while fighter jets and helicopters flew low and a long column of tanks and armoured vehicles roared past. Chants for the Turkish leader broke out from the crowd that had gathered to watch, many among them clutching placards of his image.

He gave them what they wanted: a raging recap of Cyprus’s bloody history, a diatribe against the hypocrisy of the West and assurances that the north will forge ahead to full independent statehood, torching the UN peace process predicated on reuniting the island. Away from the parade, his announcement that Varosha, once a glittering resort largely owned by Greek Cypriots, will be redeveloped by Turkish companies, has drawn rebukes from the UK, the US and the UN security council.

Plans for Turkish companies to develop the long abandoned resort of Varosha have fuelled fears of a new war on the island.

It was also eyed warily by many Turkish Cypriots, despite the enthusiastic turnout at the parade, which is held annually to mark the Turkish army’s landing on the island during the war of 1974.

For the first time Serdar Denktas was not there; instead, the veteran Turkish-Cypriot politician and son of the founding president of northern Cyrus sailed his boat to a more peaceful part of the island and contemplated the fading prospects for reunification.

“Once people lose hope, some of them look to Turkey, others to Greece. That is a loss for the Turkish Cypriots. Once our generation goes, we are finished,” Denktas, 62, said. “A two-state solution will not give us a heads up. I would love to be recognised but I know it won’t happen. We have to start with a very moderate policy with the Greek side, start working together on environment, health and trade with the political equality we had in the 1960s. Varosha could have been used in this direction. Instead, they open it and don’t care what anybody thinks. [Opening Varosha up to Turkish investors] would bring us to the edge of a new war.”

It is easy to forget that Cyprus, where a million Britons holiday each year, is Europe’s most enduring frozen conflict. Since 1974 it has been split straight through its capital, Nicosia. To the south, a Greek-speaking republic has joined the EU. In the north a complex society, tiny but unlike anywhere else on earth, has emerged.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was founded in November 1983, nine years after Ankara sent troops to defend the Turkish Cypriots in the aftermath of a Greek coup on the island. Rauf Denktas dominated politics there into the 21st century, and like many of his generation was determined to find a way to reunite the island.

Today about 30,000 Turkish troops remain stationed in the north, and while the state remains unrecognised by all but Ankara, it does run a representative office in London. You can fly there only from Turkey, and embargoes mean that it is mostly only Turkish companies which invest there, although a large community of British expatriates own homes. It has become a casino capital despite gambling being banned in Turkey, with 27 of them scattered across the north. There are 18 private universities, which attract scores of students from Africa and southeast Asia; young Pakistani men were among those who came to see Erdogan at the military parade.

After 1974 settlers from the Turkish mainland moved to the island in waves, bringing a more conservative, nationalist culture with them. Their descendants now equal the original Turkish Cypriots in numbers. The total population of 300,000 is still so small, however, that degrees of separation are slashed.

Ersin Tatar, 60, the new nationalist president who was elected with Erdogan’s backing in October and is a staunch opponent of reunification, was once an accountant to Asil Nadir, the Polly Peck boss jailed for stealing £29 million from his empire. At Nadir’s trial, one policeman said that Tatar had shredded papers for his boss. After years of speculation, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK confirmed in 2019 that Tatar was not under investigation.

The south is hardly doing any better. The banking crisis of 2012 prompted the government to sell citizenship to foreigners in return for a €250,000 investment in property; a scheme that was dismantled this year when it emerged that oligarchs and corrupt politicians from across the world had taken the opportunity to buy themselves EU passports. Relatives of President Anastasiades, 74, and members of his government are said to have profited from the scheme.

Russia’s influence has also mushroomed in the south, largely due to Syria’s civil war. It has struck a deal allowing its warships to use Cypriot ports, miles from the British air bases, while Russians are among the biggest citizenship investors. There is even a political party set up by and for Russian Cypriots.

Now there is a tangible sense that this volatile balance is tipping. Elections in the south in May resulted in gains for the ultra-nationalists, while a mounting row over the ownership of undersea hydrocarbons is deepening the mistrust. Even those in north Cyprus who oppose Erdogan’s growing influence say the south bears the brunt of the blame for his interventions.

“Anastasiades chose to put the political conflict aside, ignore the rights of Turkey and those of the Turkish Cypriots in the maritime zones and monopolise all hydrocarbon licensing and partnership agreements. The long-lasting isolationist policies of the Greek Cypriots on Turkish Cypriots and exclusion from the EU law continues to result in a growing dependence on Turkey,” said Fikri Toros, the foreign relations spokesman of the Republican Turkish Party, one of two blocs in the north Cypriot parliament to boycott Erdogan’s speech there last week.

Denktas ran against Tatar in October’s elections in an attempt to rein in Turkey’s influence and keep hopes for reunification alive. He found himself up against the might of Ankara, which poured money and people into Tatar’s campaign. Several opposition candidates, including Mustafa Akinci, the president at the time, say they were put under pressure to withdraw, including through visits from Turkish intelligence officers.

“I grew up adoring Turkey. I wasn’t able to criticise any Turk. When I entered politics and started criticising, my father would get angry,” Denktas said. “If Turkey has a good future, we will have a better future, but I feel we are vulnerable. We don’t have the power to decide for ourselves. We feel a lack of respect from the whole world. When the same comes from Turkey, it breaks our hearts.”