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Turkish VP flies in for gala premiere of controversial Cyprus series

File photo: Fuat Oktay being driven through Varosha during a visit in 2020

Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay paid a working visit to the north on Thursday, though the highlight of his trip was attending a gala premiere for the airing of a controversial Turkish made-for-TV series on the events of 1963-1974.

According to reports in the Turkish Cypriot media, Oktay – a hardliner on the Cyprus issue – was to attend the gala for the launch of ‘Once Upon a Time in Cyprus’, produced by Turkey’s TRT channel and shot entirely on location in Famagusta and the fenced-off town of Varosha.

The date of the show’s launch is symbolic, coinciding with Eoka’s campaign to end British colonial rule over the island, which began on April 1, 1955.

The gala was taking place in the evening – just hours ahead of the airing of the series’ first episode – at the ‘Rauf Raif Denktas’ cultural centre in Famagusta.

The issue got a great deal of play in Turkish Cypriot newspapers, some pointing out that the event would break coronavirus-related health protocols.

A day earlier, the north’s ‘health minister’ Unal Ustel denied reports that 400 people would be attending. He said only 250 people would be at the event, and that they would undergo rapid tests before entry.

Speaking on Kanal T, a private Turkish Cypriot television channel, Ustel said the cultural centre in question has space for up to 800 people; however only 250 would be admitted, and no beverages or cocktails would be served.

Commenting on the affair, leader of the Communal Democracy Party (TDP) Cemal Ozyigi said he wished the gala “were another April Fool’s joke, but it is not.”

Ozyigi said the event served as a snub to people following coronavirus protocols. He added that whereas cultural and theatre events in the north have been cancelled, this particular event somehow got the nod from the scientific advisory team.

For his part, Turkish Cypriot ‘prime minister’ Ersan Saner thanked TRT for producing and broadcasting the series. Referring to the April 1 anniversary, he said that the Greek Cypriots and mainland Greeks had ‘dreamt’ of bringing the whole of the island under their control; the only way to avert this, he noted, is to support the sovereignty of their ‘state’ in cooperation with ‘mother Turkey’.

The TV series, depicting events from 1963-1974, a period when intercommunal strife intensified, has been welcomed by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar who described it as “extraordinary.”

It’s understood the series will track the lives of a Turkish Cypriot family, headed by a gum merchant, as they are engulfed in the violent period marked by the events following December 21, 1963, the outbreak of intercommunal troubles.

Recent trailers released for the TV series – Bir Zamanlar Kibris – by Turkish state broadcaster TRT1 show depictions of Makarios III, General Grivas and long-term former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.

Prior to attending the gala, Oktay was scheduled to visit a site in the village of Acheritou – the location of a planned new industrial zone in the north, co-financed by Turkey. Playing host to Oktay would be ‘economy and energy minister‘ Erhan Arikli.

Back in February, Oktay had caused another stir when he said the Greek Cypriot side should forget Varosha.

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