Turkish Cypriots aspire to real independence from Turkey, TESEV report finds

Turkish Cypriots demand sovereign equality from the Turkish government, according to the findings of the report “Cypriot Perceptions of Turkey” prepared by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). The study, conducted by Rebecca Bryant of the European Institute of the London School of Economics and Christella Yakinthou from the International Center for Transitional Justice’s Cyprus Program, is based on 50 lengthy interviews with both Turkish and Greek Cypriot participants. The report aims to identify current perceptions of Turkey on both sides of the island, and reveals striking, if not unexpected, findings.Turkish Cypriot interviewees consistently expressed their discomfort with the perception that they are an extension of Turkey rather than an independent state. “On paper, the only country that recognizes the TRNC [the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC)] is Turkey, but in practice, when we look at that relationship, it is not governed by the usual rules of law and international diplomacy,” says a Turkish Cypriot in the report. Similarly, almost all Turkish Cypriot participants expressed a desire that “Turkey provide guidance without dominating.”

In addition to discomfort with the high level of dependence on Turkey, it seems that “uncertainty” regarding the status and future of their own society is a major issue for Turkish Cypriots. Uncertainty not only affects the status of their state, it also shapes their identity, according to the findings. The report states that “the rejection of the UN-sponsored plan and failure of the EU to ‘reward’ Turkish Cypriots for their own support led to a new and increasingly intense period of uncertainty.” As one participant, an editor of a left-wing newspaper on the island, remarked, “Turkish Cypriots have no voice in the Republic of Cyprus; they also have no voice in the Republic of Turkey.”

Moreover, the overall perception of the Turkish state and the current government in Turkey does not seem at all bright. “All interviewees agreed that Turkey pursues its own interests,” the TESEV report reads. One respondent from the Turkish part of the island argued that “the Turkish government does not understand Turkish Cypriots and does not make any effort to do so.” In supporting remarks, a journalist from the island said that “it is not important to them [the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] whether there are Turkish Cypriots on the island; what is important is whether or not their policies on the island are in Turkey’s interests.”

One striking finding of the report regards the future of negotiations between the two sides of the island and hopes for a resolution of its divided state. “Neither side is hopeful about a solution in the short term,” the report claims. Although there is a general belief in the need for Turkey to take steps in the matter, a “unanimous hopelessness about the negotiations” dominates perceptions of the problem, with the Greek Cypriot side seen as the real impediment to resolution among Turkish Cypriots.

The TESEV report also notes that “fears still shape the view of Turkey for Greek Cypriots.” The researchers, who reported “a great deal of reluctance among opinion-shapers to speak openly about Turkey,” remarked that for some Greek Cypriots too much liberalism in their perceptions of Turkey would lead to accusations of being a “traitor” to the Greek Cypriot side. However, with the growing economic power and development of Turkey, they do seem more eager to establish functioning relations with Turkey as a neighbor. Greek Cypriots, the report states, are “more concerned with the collapse of the economy in Greece than the role of Turkey in the future of the island.”

Ironically, while Greek Cypriots see Turkey’s growing economy as a potential opportunity, Turkish Cypriots are more concerned with the implications of developing a “Turkey-dependent” economy. As the manager of a media outlet in the KKTC commented, “Turkey should help us create a self-sustaining democracy and economy instead of sending us money.”

Turkish Cypriots, who are uncomfortable with the motherland/babyland rhetoric, seem to prefer a more “fraternal” than “paternal” relationship with Turkey, the researchers suggest. Accordingly, they ask for assistance and more concrete steps in good governance, increased democratization and mutual respect from Turkey. They want Turkey to respect the political will of the island, as they say they have observed a negative change in that respect in terms of the AK Party’s approach towards the KKTC.

The consensus prevails on both sides of the island that there will be no solution to the division, and that some version of the status quo is the most likely scenario for the future.

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