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‘Step by step’ moves to annexation of north

Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yıldırım with former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı
(At the time) Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yıldırım with former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı in 2017

The current extent of integration with Turkey is unprecedented

It has been almost six years since the then-prime minister of Turkey, Binali Yıldırım, who was visiting former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı to discuss the crisis in the ongoing federal solution negotiations, proclaimed: “Whatever there is in Turkey, it will be in Cyprus.”

In these six years, the United Nations-sponsored negotiations failed, Turkey declared the UN parameters for a solution invalid and started promoting a two-state solution in Cyprus. Meanwhile, with the collaboration of the obeying Turkish Cypriot politicians, Turkey’s control over the northern part of Cyprus grew bigger than ever. Among other things, the Turkish Cypriot community saw unprecedented interventions in their elections; a stark rise of political Islam, reactionism and conservatism in the north; suffocating control of the Turkish embassy over every single internal dossier from education to health; increased daily financial, administrative and political dependence on Ankara; smashing pressure on media and civil society; plans to establish more military bases and open the fenced-off city of Varosha; and an accelerated demographic change.

Turkish Cypriots learned the hard way that Yıldırım was not joking, and almost everyone in the community admits that right now, there is an unprecedented integration of the northern part of Cyprus with Turkey. However, recent developments – from an Ankara-appointed mufti, who is pushing the buttons of the secular Turkish Cypriot community to a bid to change the legislation and enable Ankara to go ahead with any building project in the north without local approval – are making more and more people question what Ankara’s ultimate aim in Cyprus is, and whether the annexation of the northern part of Cyprus may be on the cards.

Most recently, the north Cyprus representation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party AKP organised a meeting with the Turkish Cypriot mukhtars, who are elected local authorities, in Kyrenia, during which, head of the representation Fahri Yönlüer told them to convey their problems to Ankara instead of the Turkish Cypriot administration.

“I know the capacity of the TRNC,” Yönlüer was reported as saying. “You cannot rely on help from the central administration. The right address for meeting your needs is the Republic of Turkey.”

“Nothing that is happening is a coincidence,” wrote the daily Özgür Gazete earlier this week, saying that all these developments are step by step taking the Turkish Cypriot community to an annexation.

“The footsteps of Turkish Enosis,” was the title of journalist Hasan Kahvecioğlu’s column in the daily Halkın Sesi. He argued that the upcoming difficult presidential elections in Turkey is likely to make a panicking Erdoğan “from whom anything can be expected” to annex the northern part of Cyprus.

“The essence of the deep ‘two-state’ project is becoming more and more clear,” wrote Kahvecioğlu. “And the excuse is ready: ‘Federation was not possible; we said two states, this was not possible either; so, what should we do? Wait for the Greek Cypriots for another 50 years?’ And then they will say that the only option that remains is ‘annexation.’ This will make Erdoğan – the ‘Conqueror of Cyprus’ – come out of the 14 May elections victorious.”

Akp representatives meeting with mukhtars in the north (ozgur gazete)
Akp representatives meeting with mukhtars in the north (ozgur gazete)

Kahvecioğlu also claimed that gatherings are already being held at Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar’s office with civil society organisations, which bring together people of Turkish origin living in Cyprus, to prepare for a possible annexation referendum.

This week, many Turkish Cypriot social media users posted on their pages a black background with the word “Enosis” written on it, implying that the northern part of Cyprus is being united with Turkey.

Adding fuel to the flames, right-wing Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar, who is a strong opponent of a federal solution in Cyprus and a staunch supporter of Turkey’s increased role, in an interview to The Guardian newspaper last week, said unless there is a two-state solution on the island, the northern part of Cyprus would integrate even more with Turkey.

“Obviously, if there is no agreement, in the long run we will have more and more Turkish influence on the island because we will over time become more and more dependent on Turkey,” he asserted.

According to Mine Atlı, who is the head of the Social Democracy Party TDP of former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and the current mayor of the Nicosia Turkish municipality Mehmet Harmancı, the foundations of an annexation were laid through the latest financial aid protocol between the northern part of Cyprus and Ankara.

The ‘Economic and Financial Cooperation Protocol’ promised loans for the Turkish Cypriot community in exchange for conditions that call for limited fundamental rights and freedoms including the freedom of expression; an undermined civil society; a strengthened role of Islam; easier Turkish Cypriot citizenship for Turkish nationals; no restrictions on Turkish nationals to acquire property and to invest; and the preparation of Varosha for daily use.

Atlı argues that Turkey finds little resistance from the international community, the Republic of Cyprus, and the Turkish Cypriot opposition in reaching its objective in the north and that the current environment enables Turkey to implement every policy it has on Cyprus.

“Turkey is carrying out its project with utmost diligence and ease,” says Atlı.

While conceding that an annexation of the northern part of Cyprus is possible, PRIO Cyprus Centre’s Senior Researcher Mete Hatay underlines that this will have consequences for Turkey and warns that talking so much about this possibility may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Yes, it’s possible, Turkey may annex the north,” Hatay says. “But is Erdoğan ready to pay the price of doing this? We already have a de-facto integration. In the past, Turkey would let us play in our middle earth [the world between heaven and hell according to Islam]. Now that middle earth too has collapsed, and Turkey is directly in control… Therefore, it doesn’t really need to annex the north. But as we voice such an eventuality over and over again, we are, in a way, preparing the grounds for it. Because no matter how well-meaning, such presuppositions serve to break people’s mental resistance.”

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