With our vote we must send the right message to the Turkish Cypriots
Çırak is a Turkish word and literally means an apprentice craftsman, a craftsman’s assistant. But, in Greek, the word has acquired a negative connotation and denotes one who follows and serves someone stronger. I am old enough to remember that in the early 1950s, relations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots were friendly and peaceful, but there was a pervasive impression in the two communities that Turkish Cypriots were çıraks of the Greek Cypriots.
Understandably, this social degradation of the Turkish Cypriots annoyed the most capable of them, who were rightly claiming equal opportunities with those enjoyed by their Greek Cypriot compatriots. It is true that these underlying feelings were later cultivated by the British, as a tool to combat the Greek Cypriot revolt against the colonial government. These developments led to the formation of the Turkish Cypriot nationalist movement, which Turkey adopted and promoted, with the well-known slogan “taksim” or partition.
The idea of dividing Cyprus into a Turkish and a Greek part, was first proposed by Dr Fazil Kucuk in 1957, as a reaction to the Greek nationalist movement Eoka in 1955 that aimed at the political union of Cyprus with Greece.
However, the Turkish-speaking Cypriots (and many of the Turkish settlers who were economic migrants) have social and cultural characteristics that are fundamentally different from those of mainland Turkey. Thus, in the process of attempting to eliminate the stigma of the çırak (in relation to the Greek Cypriots), the Turkish Cypriots, once they were segregated following the Turkish invasion of 1974, came to realise that there was a visible and serious risk that they would end up becoming çıraks of Turkey, something that most and, in particular, the educated and liberal Turkish Cypriots, do not wish to see happening.
This is the message that was transmitted in the recent municipal elections in the north. This message carries an opportunity and a risk. The opportunity is for Greek Cypriots to recognise the concerns of Turkish Cypriots and help them deal with the threat they face from Turkey. The risk is that the Greek Cypriots will perceive the Turkish Cypriots’ attitude towards Turkey as an acceptance of the role of second-class citizens. That would be a fatal mistake, because that is not what the Turkish Cypriots are willing to accept either.
The Turkish Cypriot insistence on “political equality” stems from their justified desire to eliminate the stigma of the çırak. If, therefore, the Greek Cypriot reaction to the Turkish Cypriot message of December 25 is a paternalistic proposal to reintegrate into a single state under the hegemony of the Greek Cypriot majority to avoid becoming çıraks of Turkey, then it is very likely that the Turkish Cypriots will opt for the second choice as the lesser of the two evils. Already, many Turkish Cypriots have migrated to other European Union states, leaving northern Cyprus at the mercy of Turkey. As the turkification of northern Cyprus intensifies, this wave of migration will grow. In both cases, the losers, apart from the Turkish Cypriots, will be the Greek Cypriots.
The Greek Cypriot response to the message of the Turkish Cypriots will be given in the presidential elections of February 5 and 12. If the Greek Cypriots choose to ignore the Turkish Cypriots’ call for help in a way that effectively convinces the Turkish Cypriots that the aid offered is genuine, and if they proceed to vote for candidates who place such conditions for reunification that end up favouring the partition of the island, then they will sign their own death warrant.
Greek Cypriots (and Greece) need to realise that Turkey has been in northern Cyprus for half a century and is in command there. Turkey has absolutely no reason to upset the arrangements that were attained in 1974 and which, little by little, will lead to the annexation of northern Cyprus to Turkey.
Typical is the case of the opening of the fenced-off part of Famagusta. The Turks are in no hurry. They are following, step by step, a well-thought-out plan, which the Greek Cypriot leaders have proved unable to neutralise. Greek Cypriot politicians wonder why the latest reports of the UN secretary-general are “the worst, so far”, as they themselves have called them. Unfortunately, this is the umpteenth time they have chosen the easy, but irresponsible and frivolous, course of blaming “outsiders” for their failures.
I believe the time has come for the electorate to show the necessary political maturity. The price of an irresponsible, selfish reaction will be heavy. I, therefore, ask all my fellow Greek Cypriot compatriots, prior to exercising their voting rights on February 5 and 12, to take into consideration the message transmitted by the Turkish Cypriots in their own local elections of December 25.
The rejectionist candidates, who essentially favour the partition of Cyprus, offer Greek Cypriot voters a napalm bomb wrapped in a gift box, which if they take it will explode in their hands and burn them.
Close your ears to the sirens, which – like those of Ulysses – aim at serving their own self-interests. This is the last chance we have to prevent the ratification of partition that has already been attained on the ground. To paraphrase the late Glafcos Clerides, after moving away from the “teneka” (the ballot box), no mistake is recognised. Do not become co-responsible for the creation of yet another lost homeland. Do not make yourself co-responsible for the partition of Cyprus. Vote for a presidential candidate, who is unreservedly in favour of the reunification of Cyprus, on the basis of the UN resolutions and the Guterres Framework, as long as he makes it a condition that the umbilical cord that currently connects northern Cyprus with Turkey is severed. Send the right message to the international community and to the Turkish Cypriots now, because tomorrow will be too late.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia