Newly-elected and holding near-dictatorial powers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the northern third of Cyprus his country has unlawfully occupied since a 1974 invasion will see him not have the same kind of fanfare that greeted him at home.
Some Turkish-Cypriots, who live a freer lifestyle than Turks, fear he wants to impose stricter religious laws and put his personal imprimatur where they live and as he has stepped up provocations against the legitimate Cypriot government, which he refuses to recognize while barring its ships and plans although it’s a member of the European Union he wants Turkey to join.
“Nobody here wanted him to win,” said Yasar Alpin, who was 24 when war split the Mediterranean island between Greek Orthodox Christians in the south and Muslim Turks in the north. “He wants to change our way of life, put our women in headscarves, tell us how to live,” The Guardian’s Helena Smith reported.
Turkish-Cypriots even often indulge in alcohol, going back to when the British were the Colonial rulers of the island before independence and clashes between Cypriots and their Turkish counterpart.
But still, they said they understand Erdogan’s power, as he has put warships off the coast in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where Cyprus has licensed foreign energy companies for oil and gas drilling research.
“We have to respect the result,” the self-declared Turkish Republic’s labour and social security minister, Zeki Çeler, told the newspaper in an interview, adding: “as long as they don’t interfere too much here.”
While Mustafa Akinci is the leader of the occupied area, it’s Erdogan who calls the shots and who effectively collapsed unity talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana in July, 2017 when he said he would never remove an army there and wanted the right to militarily intervene – invade again – when he wanted.
Erdogan has become increasingly autocratic after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt and failed coup against him in July, 2016 and he will be on Cyprus almost two year to the day of that.
Already on the occupied land, he has sent imams, created religious schools and the number of mosques is growing. He will open the biggest, the Hala Sultan mosque built on the outskirts of the divided Capital of Nicosia, with a capacity of 6000.
“Turkish Cypriots don’t want to be told how to live,” said Ahmet Sozen, who chairs the department of international relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Nicosia.
“They particularly don’t like the idea of a government questioning whether they should drink alcohol or practice religion,” he said. “And they are afraid that if Erdogan’s hand is strengthened, and Turkey becomes ever more authoritarian, by extension society here will become less democratic too. It is why a solution to the island’s division is so important.”