Cyprus Mail

Secular Turkish Cypriot community under threat

feature esra main turkish cypriots brave the pouring rain to protest islamification of the north earlier in the week (yeniduzen)
Turkish Cypriots brave the pouring rain to protest islamification of the north earlier in the week (Yeniduzen)
From the new mufti to illegal cults, the north is being swamped by Islamisation


A series of revelations since the beginning of this year have shaken the secular and modern Turkish Cypriot community to the core and heightened concerns about Islamisation and radicalisation of the northern part of Cyprus as part of an Ankara-orchestrated project.

At the beginning of January, online newspaper Özgür Gazete reported that dozens of associations and cults – with the aim of promoting Islam among the Turkish Cypriot community – are active in the north. The newspaper published photographs of young boys gathered at one of these Islamic associations – the Turkey-based Association of Love and Brotherhood Sevkad – in mosques, flats and offices, being subjected to Islamic teachings by older men. The association, which, on its website professed that there is need for ‘morals’ in the north, but then deleted this phrase after a backlash from the community, also organises events where banners displaying the word ‘jihad’, which means ‘fight against the enemies of Islam’, are held celebrating the conquest of Mecca.

There are illegal cult houses, secretary general Burak Maviş of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union Ktos told Özgür Gazete.

“We make complaints,” he said. “Police go and raid a place and close it down. The next day, they receive a phone call. The house is reopened, and they continue their activities. These sects and cults are fearless because of the Turkish embassy and Turkey.”

Ozan Elmali, the head of the Turkish Cypriot Secondary School Teachers Union Ktoeos said that all these are being done in the name of “religion” and with a focus on “morality”, but in fact, the real aim is political.
“Everyone, who so wishes, is gathering children under 15 anywhere, and giving them courses that are in contradiction with scientific, secular education,” Elmali said. “Those, who attempt at social engineering, should know that we will not give way to bigots. This country will not turn into the country of sheiks, dervishes, disciples and lunatics.”

Before the Turkish Cypriot community could get over the shock of Islamic cults approaching minors all over the north, another online newspaper, Bugün Kıbrıs published the blood chilling voice recording of Ahmet Ünsal, the head of the religious affairs department and the new mufti of Turkish Cypriots.
During a seminar in Famagusta on “The rights and obligations of spouses in marriage under Islam”, targeting women and girls only, Ünsal said: “The only reason for getting married is to reproduce, and therefore, women have to obey their husbands’ invitation to bed and meet his needs.” He also said, “girls should be married off as soon as someone suitable comes across.” The seminar was organised by the Religious Services Consultancy of the Turkish embassy in Nicosia.

feature esra young boys at one of the islamic associations (ozgur gazete)
Young boys at one of the Islamic associations (Ozgur Gazete)

The mufti is appointed through the joint signature of the Turkish Cypriot leader and the head of the Turkish Cypriot administration. Until now, all muftis were selected among either Turkish Cypriots, or among people of Turkish origin, but who had grown up in Cyprus and knew the culture and the lifestyle here. The new mufti Ünsal, on the other hand, being appointed to Cyprus directly from Turkey, is not accustomed to the Turkish Cypriot way of life. He was granted the Turkish Cypriot citizenship in a matter of days before being appointed mufti and this is why he is being referred to as the “imported mufti” in the media.

A number of Turkish Cypriot imams, who spoke to Bugün Kıbrıs on condition of anonymity, said that they are struggling with the ‘incompatibility’ they have with the new mufti.

Questioning why, while there are qualified Turkish Cypriots for the job, someone from Turkey has been appointed as mufti, one of the imams said: “When we warn him about a mistake he has made, he says: ‘the [Turkish] National Intelligence Organisation MİT asked me to do this.’”

“He complains to important people in Turkey about those of us who stand up to him,” the imam added.
There is a widespread demand for Ünal’s dismissal in the community. Some, including former senior judge and former ombudswoman Emine Dizdarli, are calling for him to be prosecuted and punished for violating the secularism principle of the Turkish Cypriot constitution.

The right-wing ruling coalition has stated that there would be an investigation into the issue. However, no such step has been taken so far.

The revelations sent Turkish Cypriots from all walks of life – from doctors to teachers, from journalists to lawyers, from engineers and architects to politicians, and even the retired civil servants of the religious affairs department out on the streets earlier this week. Under pouring rain, a total of 46 political parties, non-governmental organisations and unions protested “the attacks against the community’s modern, secular and democratic structure and the [religious] conservatisation policies that are being imposed.”

“We are here against those, who are trying to design and change our way of life,” said the press statement read by Duygu Geylan, the secretary of Ktoeos.

“Bigoted mufti, get out of Cyprus,” and “We don’t want cults in Cyprus,” shouted the crowd.

A group of demonstrators placed a black wreath outside the Turkish embassy.

Turkish Cypriots are among the most liberal Muslims globally, and traditionally practise a very peaceful, moderate version of Islam. In recent years, however, there has been a significant increase in the religious activities and organisations in the north – all originating from Turkey – leading to concerns about the radicalisation and Islamisation of the Turkish Cypriot community.

The Turkish governments before the Justice and Development Party AKP, were implementing educational, cultural, social projects to increase the consciousness of “Turkishness” among Turkish Cypriots. With the AKP coming to power, this aim became to increase the consciousness of “Islam”. Turkish Cypriots have particularly been feeling threatened recently by more and larger mosques, illegal Quran courses, plans to establish more theological schools, more conservative imams and religion teachers coming from Turkey, and attempts to change the Turkish Cypriot education system.

“These activities are aimed at…eroding our culture and values, at preventing liberation and democratisation and at realising the goal of AKP, which is political Islamisation,” said Növber Gürtay, the secretary of the Turkish Cypriot Press Workers Union, Basın-Sen. “In this way, the foundations of this country will be replaced by the AKP culture, and they will guarantee their political future here.”

Commentators agree that the increase in Islamic activities in the north in recent years is part of a social engineering project by Ankara to maintain control on the Turkish Cypriot community.

“The Turkish Cypriot community is a community that has embraced a secular way of life,” says academician Yonca Özdemir. “It’s clear that this secular social structure is increasingly disturbing those, who have different plans for the northern part of Cyprus. The goal is to establish a hegemony in the northern part of Cyprus. And if this community’s social and cultural structure is an obstacle to that, of course, changing this structure becomes an important political target. Therefore, yes, all these are part of a comprehensive plan to render the Turkish Cypriot community more controllable.”

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