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Our View: Has thin-skinned Erdogan boxed Akinci into a corner?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Akinci of overstepping his limits

IT is doubtful that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci thought his views about Turkey’s invasion of Syria, which were posted on his Facebook page, would have caused such anger and provoked a public reprimand from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He had said nothing particularly critical of Turkey, other than mention that in a war – regardless if this were labelled a peace operation as in the case of Cyprus in 1974 or Peace Spring, the title of the invasion of north-east Syria – blood flows. Who could disagree with that?

He had fought in the 1974 invasion and saw friends being killed and this was the reason he did not want “any society to live the pain of war”. He concluded: “I cannot wish for blood to run down the nose of any child, Turk, Kurd or Arab.” Asked to comment, Erdogan accused Akinci of overstepping his limits, not knowing his limits and that he was in the position he was in thanks to the intervention of Turkish Republic. In what could be interpreted as incitement, Erdogan said the people of the ‘TRNC’ would give him the lesson he deserved.

Turkish Cypriot politicians also turned against Akinci for the perceived disrespect he showed Turkey, and there was even talk of calling for his resignation. Despite the barrage of criticism, Akinci, to his credit did not back down, issuing a statement through his office expressing disappointment about “the unfair and hurtful” comments and asking, “how long has it been a crime to defend peace?” Nobody is likely to take any notice of his explanations because the Turkish Cypriot leader had committed the unforgivable sin of questioning Turkey’s actions, something the authoritarian Erdogan does not tolerate. Turks have ended up behind bars for expressing milder views than those of Akinci.

With opposition parties baying for his blood and Erdogan not known for showing tolerance to people that question his decisions, Akinci has put himself in a corner. Were he a more calculating politician, it could have been argued that he was positioning himself for next year’s presidential elections as the candidate who is independent of Ankara, but it is doubtful this was his motive. Regardless of his motive, this is not the end of the matter. He has incurred the wrath of Erdogan who is unlikely to forgive and forget. There are plenty of politicians in the north that will be more than happy to turn the screw on Akinci in order to impress Ankara.

This is a big opportunity for them, and it remains to be seen how the Turkish Cypriot leader will cope.

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