NICOSIA — Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets on Aug. 3 to protest against what they say is Turkey’s attempt to mold their secular culture into one that’s more in tune with Islamic norms.
Some 1,500 mostly young people blew whistles and raised their hands in front of Parliament in the Turkish Cypriot part of the ethnically divided island’s capital, Nicosia. They were decrying the creation of a “coordination committee” that will fund, oversee and approve all youth sport and cultural activities.
Protesters from some 80 groups spanning the political spectrum charged that the committee’s hidden agenda is to instill a more Islamic way of life by funding cultural and sporting projects that will include religious elements.
The committee is headed by a Turkish national who has been appointed by the Turkish government and is “all about religion” and instruction about the Quran, Ottoman customs and the Arabic language, Turkish Cypriot lawmaker Zeki Celer said.
“Turkish Cypriots are more secular, we believe how we chose to believe and we don’t need any one to teach us how,” Celer, told The Associated Press.
Celer said he’s confident the Turkish Cypriot constitutional court will strike down the committee’s creation as unconstitutional in a decision expected Friday. He said specific constitutional articles stipulate that youth education and culture must be controlled by the Turkish Cypriot breakaway government.
A Turkish invasion in 1974 following a coup aiming at union with Greece cleaved the island into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are locked in complex negotiations aimed at reunifying the island as a federation.
Some Turkish Cypriots have voiced concern over what they perceive as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s more authoritarian line in the wake of last month’s coup that aimed to oust him.