‘There is a real risk of a witch hunt as the uninformed point fingers without really knowing what is going on’
CONCERN, relief, and a state of anxious watchfulness have dominated in the north to Turkey’s failed coup just over a week ago and some Turkish Cypriots fear it’s just a matter of time before Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s purge reaches their shores.
In his first public speech after the abortive uprising on July 15, Mustafa Akinci acknowledged that Turkish Cypriots had serious concerns about the coup attempt and the ensuing upheavals.
The failure of the coup came as a relief but it was important that Turkey continue to progress “as a modern, democratic, secular and social state of law” in keeping with Atatürk’s principles, said the Turkish Cypriot leader.
The best response to such an unlawful and undemocratic attempt is to remain within the borders of law and democracy. The fact that the people, political parties and the media stood against the attempt would hopefully help deter such attempts in the future.
“This will pave the way for a democratic state of law to take more roots in Turkey,” said Akinci.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip President Erdoğan subsequently thanked the Turkish Cypriot leader for his “pro-democracy stance”.
Later in the week, Akinci assured UN Special Cyprus Adviser Espen Barth Eide that developments in Turkey would not hinder Ankara’s support for a Cyprus solution. The UN envoy had expressed some worry about the possible impact the coup attempt might have on the talks.
Although the failure of the attempt came as a relief, the feeling is that the fallout is just beginning.
Highest ‘officials’ from the Turkish Cypriot administration announced they plan to travel to Ankara on Tuesday to meet with Turkish counterparts to discuss measures to flush out suspected “terrorist” and pro-coup elements in the north.
Meanwhile, three Turkish Cypriot students attending an Istanbul military academy plus a number of senior Turkish officers who once held civil defence and military commands in the north are reported among the thousands arrested in Turkey in the ongoing crackdown. And police started investigating the discovery of copies of books by Fethullah Gülen – the US-exiled cleric accused of being behind the Turkish uprising – and two computer hard disks, found partially burnt on a rubbish tip at Galatia (Mehmetçik).
Unconfirmed reports also suggest the Turkish military is to dispatch a team to the north to investigate the loyalty of military personnel serving with units on the island
‘Authorities’ in the north have also announced they have added the Gullenist “Fetullahist Terror Organisation (Fetö)” to their list of banned terrorist groups. This came a day after Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in Turkey. Turkish Cypriot officials, however, have made it clear they do not plan for a similar move.
One senior ‘official’, asked if “Fetö terrorist activists” were present in the north Cyprus indicated they had no serious intelligence or information on the subject. “Only intimations, nothing that merits an intervention,” he said.
However, he added, the ‘authorities’ are taking the situation very seriously and police and security forces would be “legally empowered to undertake operations and arrests”.
The same ‘official’ noted that reported delays of Turkish nationals departing Turkish ports for the north were the result of stringent database checks by Turkey’s authorities but holders of “TRNC ID” cards were able to travel from the north of Cyprus to Turkey freely.
Among Turkish Cypriots and Turks in the north, opinions and reactions remain generally guarded and cautious, marked by an initial nervousness and a wait and see attitude. Some admit to being afraid.
Ahmet Sozen, a political scientist at the East Mediterranean University (EMU) in Famagusta, claims it will be business as usual for the time being but uncertainty lies ahead.
If anything, he hopes the drama of the failed coup will serve to concentrate minds and to spur the motivation of all concerned to bring the Cyprus settlement negotiations to a positive and speedy conclusion. Otherwise, they could be at risk of what comes next should the situation in Turkey deteriorate and become more authoritarian.
True, opposition parties were at one in condemning the coup attempt, suggesting a glimmer of hope for future democratic reforms. But there is now the added risk that what Erdogan calls “God’s given opportunity” to rid the country of the Gulenists might be exploited to go after other opponents of the government and to restrict democratic freedoms.
In the case of Cyprus, over time, changing demographics could mean that AKP supporters would get an upper hand.
As to the assertion by some Turkish Cypriot officials that Feto is in northern Cyprus, this could be an attempt to show the administration’s support and solidarity with the current government in Ankara.
Of greater concern are the tweets by some journalists “openly inviting Turkey to come here and search for Feto.” Sozen notes ruefully how some people have started talking exactly like Erdogan here perhaps in an effort to show solidarity but failing to realise that “this is not a neutral language”.
Because public media are dominated by his language, “this is the only language people know,” said Sozen.
Does he think Feto is strong on the ground in the north?
He believes there is a presence but not anything like in Turkey. True there have been rumours of an attempt to establish a school in the north. As to Feto membership in the military, no-one knows. Most are conscripts simply doing their service so hardly likely to be Feto. Perhaps there are some among the officers. In Turkey the figure cited was one-in-ten generals, so probably the same quota will be used here.
Sozen goes on to point out that academics from Turkey employed by the EMU are not affiliated with any universities in Turkey so the restriction order of the Turkish Education Board that last week banned Turkish academics from travelling abroad does not apply. The EMU does have so called flying professors who visit to lecture. If the travel ban lasts into the autumn semester, he admits there could be a problem.
Sener Levent, editor in chief of Afrika daily believes what happened in Turkey will influence the situation here, the talks especially because of Akinci’s need to consult with Ankara on most aspects of the negotiations.
The Turkish government will have more pressing matters to deal with in the declared state of emergency so there is bound to be a delaying impact, he maintains.
Levent believes that the military purge and accompanying interrogations will extend to the north of Cyprus if they haven’t already and that the repercussions will impact the community as they continue.
“Starting with Turkish army stationed here, and then the local Turkish Cypriot army, they will also check local intelligence service and civil defence. Afterwards they will go after police, which is not only under Turkish army command here, but also, contains many policemen who have dual citizenship which means they are also Turkish citizens,” Levent said.
He expects inquiries into the Directorate of Religious Affairs will follow as well as into the universities and various religious schools, especially those with ties to Islamic associations and charities.
He claims that there is much worrying gossip about Feto affiliations and that people are scared.
“One thing we need to understand, this is not a fight between secular and religious – this is a fight between two religious factions – Feto and AKP,” said Levent.
The PRIO consultant Mete Hatay is adamant that there are no Turkish Cypriots in the ranks of Feto. He agrees that Turkish Cypriots are worried because whatever happens in Turkey will have an impact here, such is the interdependence that links them. Watching events unfold the night of the coup, people in the north were seriously disturbed at the violent scenes and the implications for here.
Speculation about Feto may be rife but there is, he fears, a real risk of a witch hunt as the uninformed point fingers without really knowing what is going on. Countering this is the fact that in a place this small, everybody knows each other, everybody is interconnected.
He doesn’t think there are Feto people in the north’s administration. “We know that they have some dormitories where students or other people stay – maybe five altogether – in Kyrenia, Nicosia, Famagusta. But we don’t know how these dormitories work. They charge for staying there and perhaps they also have their own students there.”
But a Nicosia-based businessman (from Turkey), no admirer of Feto, claims there are many Fetulah Gulen people in Cyprus, the most significant of whom, he says, are in Kyrenia.
Turkey, he believes, could remove them — “one night, two ships” — but not right now. For the time being, “knowing where they are, they will just observe them.” He also claims that new faces have appeared in the last week – “people who came here, running away.”
Another businessman, a Turkish Cypriot, says everything points to the need for a Cyprus solution asap. Three people can achieve it – Akinci, Nicos Anastasiades and Erdogan.
“With what is happening our only hope is Akinci. He is the only one who can save us,” the businessman says.
One impact immediately felt is the blow to the north’s tourist industry. Some 40 flights carrying 6,000 passengers to or from the illegal Ercan airport were cancelled in the 24 hours following the failed coup. Twenty per cent of potential visitors from Turkey cancelled holidays planned and paid for and, according to the Cyprus Turkish Travel Agents’ Association, there was an immediate 80 per cent drop in reservations from would-be visitors from Turkey.
Cyprus Turkish Travels Agents Association (KITSAB) also predicts there could be a longer-term decline in tourists from Europe.