Turkish Cypriot and proud of it
IT WAS good to see Tom Cleaver address the complex issue of Turkish Cypriot identity in his recent column (Cyprus Today, September 17) inspired by a social media post by Young Turkish Cypriots (YTC).
Although Tom made good points, he also made several factual errors, and his selective referencing of the YTC post meant Cyprus Today readers would not have fully grasped why it is so dangerous for Turkish Cypriots to simply identify as “Turkish-speaking Cypriots” (TsC).
Firstly, the term “TsC” demotes an entire people to just a language. Yet our distinct Turkish ethnicity and roots are a vital part of who we are.
It is this unique identity that is enshrined in the treaties and constitution that created the Republic of Cyprus, and which gives us equal sovereign rights today.
By emphasising only “Cypriot”, we remove our visibility as a separate people and in turn undermine our political rights at the negotiating table.
These are not baseless fears. Just look at the Turkish community in Greece, an EU member state. Despite having protected rights, the Turks of Western Thrace are constantly discriminated by the Greek state; they are denied their Turkish ethnicity, and instead described as “Greek Muslims”.
Their Turkish schools are closed, their elected muftis jailed, and their politicians threatened.
Tom claims YTC are “out of touch”, and that young Turkish Cypriots on the island want to accentuate their Cypriot identity and forge a common path with their Greek Cypriot peers.
He argues that Turkish Cypriots should, therefore, reclaim the word “Cypriot”. He needs to remove his rose-tinted glasses.
Following the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict in 1963, Turkish Cypriots have been internationally isolated and the island has only been represented by Greek Cypriots.
As a result, the word “Cypriot” is synonymous with “Greek”. It is totally intentional. Hellenising the island is at the root of the conflict, a goal shared by the Greek Cypriot Church, politicians and people. Their mission is to eradicate all traces of Turkishness; they have done it in Greece and they would have done it in Cyprus if it were not for Türkiye’s [Turkey’s] intervention in 1974.
Today, people in the South cannot even bear to use terms such as “Turkish coffee”, or “Turkish delight”. Using “TsC” simply plays into these bigots’ hands.
This attempt to reengineer our identity by using terminology that erases our Turkishness is sadly supported by the UN, the EU and foreign states.
The long-term aim is for us Turkish Cypriots to sever ties with Guarantor Türkiye, which would make us even more vulnerable. Just look at the plight of Palestinians, who have no protector.
Tom made strange claims about the ancestry of Turkish Cypriots from the villages of Kaleburnu and Lurucina/Akıncılar.
YTC used these villages to illustrate how not all Turkish Cypriots speak Turkish. There are lots of excellent sources of information on this, but it seems Tom fell for Greek Cypriot propaganda, claiming these villagers had been full of “Greek Cypriot women who had married Ottoman soldiers”, or were “Venetian Catholic Cypriots” who had converted. The facts do not bear out either of these claims.
The Ottomans kept excellent population records, and the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots can easily trace their ancestral roots back to central Anatolia, and to cities such as Konya and Harput, the Black Sea region, to Lebanon, Syria and other parts of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkish families such as the Karaman’lar, Pasalar, Rejebogluari, Molla Emin’ler, Pasalar and Haji Resul Aga arrived in Kaleburnu roughly a hundred years after the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus.
Similarly, research by İsmail Veli, captured on the “Families of Lurucina” website, traces his home village’s history back by several hundred years, which again shows their roots from Anatolia. The population census of 1831 also supports Mr Veli’s findings.
YTC would never dream of telling anyone how they should identify — it is their personal choice — but equally it’s important we highlight the dangers of this deliberate campaign to degrade our identity and rights by erasing our ethnicity.
The problem affects the diaspora too, because we are discriminated by virtue of who we are. We cannot fly direct, trade or communicate direct with our TRNC motherland. We face challenges organising events or activities, including marriages and repatriation of our dead, if it involves North Cyprus.
Our fight for full equality is embedded in who we are and that is why we must never deny it. So we say it loud: Turkish Cypriot and proud!