Without a recognised nationality all her life, one woman welcomes the government’s decision to re-evaluate citizenship
“I’ve been alive for 21 years, but I actually don’t exist… Nobody knows of my presence. Nobody acknowledges me…” wrote Turkish Cypriot Sude Dogan on her social media page two years ago.
She was speaking about her feelings as one of the thousands of Turkish Cypriots, who are denied Cypriot citizenship because they are children of mixed marriages between a Cypriot and a Turkish parent. Since then, she has been tirelessly campaigning for the citizenship rights of children like herself.
Two years later, today, Sude is under a ferocious attack by Turkish nationalists for saying she “feels European” but is “unable to live her life as a European because of Turkey’s invasion in the northern part of the island”.
The attacks came after an excerpt of an interview she gave to France 24 ENTR channel eight months ago was dubbed and published on social media by a Turkish outlet earlier this week. It was viewed by almost 11 million users before it was removed for copyright reasons.
“You are a Greek bastard,” says one of the thousands of comments under the post with the interview excerpt. “Ungrateful”, “a traitor”, and “British seed” are other names Sude is called.
Despite all the personal attacks, she is most hurt by comments that refer to Cyprus as the territory of the Republic of Turkey and attest that Turkish Cypriots do not have a say in Cyprus.
“For them, the land that I was born and raised in, and live on, is just a commodity… Cyprus, for them is just a military base. And I should not be able to determine its fate or future. They don’t value Cyprus and they don’t respect the love we have for it,” Sude tells the Cyprus Mail.
Sude is the daughter of a Turkish Cypriot mother and a father born in Cyprus to a Turkish mother, who came to Cyprus in 1975 and married a Turkish Cypriot. Because of her Turkish grandmother, Sude has not been able to get Cypriot citizenship. Her parents divorced when she was a baby. Her mother has another child from her second marriage to a Turkish Cypriot.
“One time my mother, my stepfather and my stepsibling went abroad from Larnaca [airport],” says Sude. “I stayed home. I felt awful… I’ve felt awful for years. I’ve felt a huge emptiness inside me. I’ve never known where I belong.”
In the Republic of Cyprus, legally, any child of at least one Cypriot parent has the right to Cyprus citizenship. However, a provision later added to the law has given the discretion to the cabinet in cases where either of the parents entered the island from the ports and airports in the northern part of Cyprus, or the residence of any of the parents is in the north. This has left an estimated 10,000 Turkish Cypriot children without rights both as Cypriot and EU citizens. They face significant restrictions in their daily lives with barriers to travel, work and study abroad. Many – like Sude – are at risk of statelessness if they cannot acquire the Turkish parent’s nationality for any reason because the Turkish Cypriot nationality does not constitute a nationality under international law.
Towards the end of high school, Sude realised that even though she was a thriving student, she did not have the same opportunities as her friends to study abroad.
“They were all EU citizens and could go abroad for university for very affordable fees,” she says. “But my family could not afford the fees for international students in the EU.”
Sude ended up going to Turkey to study medicine. She was an international student there too since she never got the Turkish citizenship through her father’s side.
Asked why she is not a Turkish citizen, Sude says she was hesitant to apply because of Ankara’s treatment of the Turkish Cypriot opposition.
“I have always been a peace activist,” she explains. “I was a little girl when I attended my first bicommunal children’s camp. I was scared of what this would mean for me if I attempted to get Turkish citizenship. In Turkey, it is enough to say ‘I want peace in Cyprus’ to be blacklisted. I witnessed for years that Turkish Cypriot intellectuals and progressive people were banned from entering Turkey.”
At least 12 Turkish Cypriot activists, unionists, intellectuals and journalists have been denied entry to Turkey in recent years on the grounds that they pose a threat to Turkey’s “national security”. Many face trials in absentia in Turkey.
As she became increasingly visible after establishing the Movement for the Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem (KESCH), studying in Turkey became more stressful and Sude transferred to the University of Nicosia in Cyprus in September last year.
“I am now back in my country, but again as an international student,” she remarks.
Sude is less scared of her safety than getting completely physically confined to Cyprus as a result of the ongoing attacks.
“If I am banned from entering Turkey, this means I can never go out of Cyprus ever again,” she says, since she can currently only travel to Turkey. “Is this incident going to imprison me here? This scares me a lot because I am still in university. I dream of going abroad for further studies and coming back to Cyprus to do much bigger things for all Cypriots. But I don’t know if I will be able to do this after all that’s happening.”
Sude wants to study law after graduating from medical school.
Earlier this week, the government of Cyprus announced a series of unilateral measures for Turkish Cypriots, which includes the intention to start evaluating the suspended citizenship applications of Turkish Cypriot children of mixed marriages.
Sude doesn’t think that it’s a coincidence that the attacks against her came just after the announcement.
“I would like to thank,” the Republic of Cyprus, she says. “This is a small step, but definitely a step in the right direction. This problem cannot be solved overnight. It will have to be solved in stages. They took the first step. This means they heard our voice, and they value it.”
Last week, the European parliament’s petitions committee, deliberating on the citizenship rights of children born of mixed marriages, resolved to keep the petition active and decided to reach out to the Cypriot government with a formal request to clarify the intended measures for addressing the issue.
“I am a foreigner in Turkey. I am a foreigner in the Republic of Cyprus,” concludes Sude. “Where do I belong? This emotional turmoil led me to undertake the struggle for children of mixed marriages. And I will continue until it is solved. The Turkish Cypriots had their hopes shattered too many times. I do not want to give up and be another reason why their hopes are shattered one more time.”