By Enis Erdem Aydin
Cypriots on both sides of the island take issue with Turkish and foreign migration, the role of the Turkish military, political and economic domination, and a paternalistic attitude, according to a study that examined Turkish and Greek Cypriot perceptions of Turkey.
“Our relationship is portrayed as that between [Turkish] Cyprus, the spoiled child, and Turkey, the stepmother, who doesn’t want to look after the child but has to,” a Turkish Cypriot businesswoman said in the study conducted by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation.
According to Rebecca Bryant, from Middle East Technical University’s North Cyprus Campus and one of the researchers of the study, Turkish Cypriots are wary of the rise in the Turkish population on the island which they think could result in “loss of political will” and “cultural erosion”.
Compared to 140,000 Turkish Cypriots on the island, there are 190,000 citizens and non-citizens of Turkish origin.
The other concern is the Turkish government’s paternalist language and attitude towards the Turkish Cypriots, epitomized by Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek’s remarks calling Turkish Cypriots “family servants.”
“Respect towards the Turkish Cypriots including regulation of the relationship between Turkey and Northern Cyprus and ‘brotherly’ rather than paternalistic relations came out as suggestions to improve the relationship,” Bryant said.
Christalla Yakinthou, from the International Center for Transitional Justice and the other researcher of the study, indicated that in the background of Greek Cypriots’ view of Turkey stands the Greek economic crisis and uncertainty about EU’s future, the feeling of loss of Greek Cypriot culture and rising nationalism. These features were exacerbated due to Turkish economic growth and the natural gas stand-off between Turkey and Cyprus.
“The Greek Cypriot community carries a legacy of fear and mistrust of Turkey. Because of the depth of that legacy, it will take time, and a conscious effort, to change perceptions. At the same time, nuances are beginning to form in people’s understanding of Turkey as a country,” Yakinthou said.
According to the report, Greek Cypriot opinion shapers suggest creating channels of direct communication between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot community, for Turkey to implement trust-building measures and encourage Turkish and Greek Cypriot trade through the medium of Turkish Cypriot businesses.
The two communities’ ideas converged around the need for direct dialogue between Turkey and the communities and a revision of Turkish public diplomacy in terms of the language used by the government officials.
The two communities also envisaged a revision in the role of the Turkish military, including a reduction of troops on the island and decreasing the oversight over the Turkish Cypriot police force.
Niyazi Kizılyurek, a professor at the University of Cyprus, likened the Turkish Cypriots’ changing relationship with Turkey to Greek Cypriot’s relationship with Athens in 1960’s. “Greek Cypriots asked for respect, acknowledgement, freedom in political agency and brotherly relations and proved to Athens that they can be a free state,” Kizilyurek said.
He singled out “dignity” as an important medium between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots and questioned whether “Turkey could find a way involving dignity with its relations to Turkish Cypriots” which were an “invisible community”, neither seen by Turkey nor the Greek Cypriots.
Regarding Greek Cypriot-Turkish relations, Kızilyurek commented that the more contact there is between the two communities a more positive perception will result, and pointed out Greek Cypriot-Turkish economic co-operation as a “new factor which will grow”.
The report includes 50 extended interviews conducted with Turkish and Greek Cypriot businesspeople, civil servants, union leaders, civil society representatives, and journalists conducted in April and May.