Miss­ing the point!

Cyprus Today - - OPINION - With Ipek Öz­erim

EAR­LIER this week, the press in North Cyprus and Turkey were in a frenzy fol­low­ing news that a TRNC min­is­ter had flown out from an air­port in the South us­ing a Greek Cypriot-is­sued pass­port. A photo of Labour and So­cial Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Zeki Çeler and his cousins at Paphos air­port was posted on so­cial me­dia, prompt­ing a flurry of com­ments, many crit­i­cal, about the min­is­ter’s ac­tions.

While thou­sands of Turk­ish Cypri­ots travel abroad us­ing Repub­lic of Cyprus (RoC) doc­u­ments and air­ports, it is be­lieved Çeler, who is an MP for the left-wing So­cial Demo­cratic Party (TDP), is the first serv­ing TRNC min­is­ter to do so.

The 37-year-old politi­cian is­sued a state­ment de­fend­ing his ac­tions, claim­ing his de­ci­sion to fly out from an air­port in the South was due to the “ex­or­bi­tant” prices charged by air­lines in the North. He main­tained he had done noth­ing wrong, nor did he have any­thing to hide, hence the post on Face­book. He ar­gued he would have made the same travel plans whether he was a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter or not be­cause af­ter the TRNC’s na­tional air­line had gone bust in 2010, air­lines fly­ing to Er­can air­port had taken ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to “rip off” Turk­ish Cypri­ots.

Many will sym­pa­thise with Çeler’s view. Fly­ing from Er­can, es­pe­cially at this time of year, can be hugely ex­pen­sive. But air­lines rip­ping off cus­tomers dur­ing peak sea­sons are not pe­cu­liar to North Cyprus.

Nat­u­rally, the slump in the Turk­ish lira has made North Cyprus res­i­dents wary of their di­min­ish­ing spend­ing power, so any op­por­tu­nity to avoid not only extra travel time, but also ad­di­tional costs is wel­come. It’s why last year 30 per cent of all TRNC hol­i­day­mak­ers flew out from South Cyprus air­ports. For dif­fer­ent rea­sons, book­ings from Bri­tain to the TRNC via Lar­naca have also soared: one lead­ing UK tour op­er­a­tor said one in five Bri­tons now trav­els to North Cyprus via South­ern air­ports.

Calls by the Bri­tish di­as­pora for ur­gent ac­tion from Le­fkoşa on the UK-im­posed se­cu­rity mea­sures forc­ing pas­sen­gers to dis­em­bark in Turkey for ad­di­tional screen­ing fell on deaf ears. For rea­sons still un­clear, the TRNC gov­ern­ment chose not to hire an in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity firm to do a com­pre­hen­sive au­dit of Er­can air­port to demon­strate it was up to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. They also failed to press Pe­ga­sus Air­lines and the Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties to al­low a touch­down on the UK-to-Er­can leg, as this fell out­side the UK’s tran­sit rule. In­stead for the past 14 months, the el­derly, dis­abled and those with young chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar have faced tor­tu­ous jour­neys in both di­rec­tions.

That po­si­tion is set to change, ac­cord­ing to TRNC Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Ku­dret Öz­er­say. He said last week that dis­cus­sions with Pe­ga­sus — the largest car­rier to the is­land — were pos­i­tive, and he thanked the air­line and Turk­ish of­fi­cials for sup­port­ing plans to re­turn to a simple touch­down pro­ce­dure for flights from Lon­don to Le­fkoşa.

Does this ex­cuse Çeler’s be­hav­iour? No. I am not one for vil­i­fy­ing peo­ple for their choices, but I do ex­pect pub­lic fig­ures to set a bet­ter ex­am­ple. Yes, money mat­ters and so does Çeler’s point that if we ex­pect the Greek Cypriot au­thor­i­ties to lay off their com­mu­nity for cross­ing to the North to pur­chase cheaper petrol, we can­not then con­demn Turk­ish Cypri­ots for seek­ing good deals in the South. But Min­is­ter Çeler doesn’t have the lux­ury of be­ing just an as­tute con­sumer; he is a se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the gov­ern­ment of the Turk­ish Repub­lic of North Cyprus, which brings sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Zeki Çeler is not alone in hold­ing a Greek Cypriot pass­port. For­mer prime min­is­ter Hüseyin Özgürgün does, as do the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of for­mer pres­i­dents Rauf Denk­taş and Derviş Eroğlu. One of the most hu­mil­i­at­ing mo­ments of Eroğlu’s term in office was when the Greek Cypriot au­thor­i­ties re­turned to him — in full view of the me­dia — his daugh­ter’s lost RoC pass­port.

It is em­bar­rass­ing, to say the least, for any se­nior TRNC of­fi­cial to be car­ry­ing the pass­port of a gov­ern­ment which has hi­jacked the fun­da­men­tal rights of Turk­ish Cypri­ots. Not sat­is­fied with that, the Greek Cypriot au­thor­i­ties are hell-bent on ob­struct­ing our lives at ev­ery given turn, whether it is prevent­ing global avi­a­tion body ICAO from recog­nis­ing Er­can air­port as open to in­ter­na­tional traf­fic, or ob­ject­ing to us play­ing friendly in­ter­na­tional foot­ball matches against Fifa-reg­is­tered clubs and coun­tries.

There is zero good will to us from the Greek Cypriot au­thor­i­ties. If any­thing, at­ti­tudes are hard­en­ing, as we have seen with the re­turn in 2017 of longex­ist­ing rules to pre­vent non-EU cit­i­zens en­ter­ing Cyprus from South­ern ports if their aim is to cross into the North. Mid­dle East­ern tourists have been de­ported af­ter be­ing open about their plans to hol­i­day in the TRNC, while a party of 13 Ser­bian school­child­ren and their adult chap­er­ones were blocked from par­tic­i­pat­ing in our April 23 Chil­dren’s Day cel­e­bra­tions.

These hyp­ocrites claim it is to check the “il­le­gal use” of ho­tels for­merly owned by Greek Cypriot refugees. Yet they have no qualms about us­ing Lar­naca and Paphos air­ports, both built on Turk­ish land! They also con­ve­niently ig­nore the fact that huge swathes of Lar­naca, Li­mas­sol and Paphos were once the prop­erty of Turk­ish Cypri­ots who still await any form of le­gal rem­edy to their losses.

In ev­ery com­mu­ni­ca­tion about us, it is “il­le­gal” this, or “so-called” that. We do not ex­ist as their equals. In­deed, the Greek Cypriot au­thor­i­ties spend mil­lions each year to keep us in­ter­na­tion­ally iso­lated, while their part of the is­land re­mains vis­i­ble and ac­ces­si­ble to the world.

Us­ing RoC travel doc­u­ments and air­ports means we not only bol­ster the South’s po­si­tion against North Cyprus, but also give them our hard-earned cash to use against us. It is why nei­ther I, nor any mem­ber of my im­me­di­ate fam­ily, nor a great many of my Turk­ish Cypriot friends, will travel via the South.

Prin­ci­ples mat­ter, Zeki Çeler. Yes, you do have a choice, but if you sin­cerely think as a TRNC gov­ern­ment min­is­ter you are help­ing your peo­ple by us­ing a Greek Cypriot pass­port at Paphos air­port, you are com­pletely miss­ing the point.

Labour and So­cial Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Zeki Çeler

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