NICOSIA – Split since Turkey unlawfully invaded in 1974 and occupied the northern third of the island, Cyprus nonetheless has elected a Turkish-Cypriot to the European Parliament for the first time although his territory is not a member of the European Union.
Niyazi Kizilyurek, who teaches at the University of Cyprus’ Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies Department, ran for the Communist-rooted AKEL party that was the runner-up in the May 26 elections behind the conservative Democratic Rally party.
Kizilyurek told private TV station Sigma that he’ll represent Cyprus and its European citizens, irrespective of ethnic origin in the midst of rising tensions as Turkey has sent two energy vessels and a warship into the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to hunt for oil and gas.
AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou said the election of Kizilyurek, 60, sends a strong message to other EU nations that Cypriots want an end to their country’s division and want more EU help in peace efforts.
The last round of negotiations to try to unify the island fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove an army from the occupied land and wanted the right to militarily intervene again.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 but Turkey won’t recognize the legitimate government and bars its ships and planes while wanting to join the bloc and ramping up worries there could be a conflict after trying to stop foreign companies from drilling off the coast.
Reflective of how deep the divide remains, turnout was only 42.8 percent, showing most people didn’t care who was elected to the EU body and the waning hopes to bring the island back together again after 45 years.
Despite earlier opinion polls, the ar-right party ELAM didn’t manage to gain one of Cyprus’ six allotted seats at the European Parliament, even though it doubled its support.
“A Greek Cypriot party having a Turkish Cypriot running with it is unique in our history, but I want to appeal to all Cypriots,” Kizilyurek told the French news agency Agence France-Presse about his historic bid eight days before the election.
“It is the first time that Greek and Turkish Cypriots can vote together as we have ethnically divided voting … we are also campaigning together which is also unique,” he added.
Kizilyurek, a self-confessed European federalist, campaigned on both sides on a platform to reunify the island.
“AKEL is the only party representing Turkish Cypriots as equals, and backs the federal solution in Cyprus and the communities living together … we need to get back to negotiations as soon as possible,” said Kizilyurek.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)