by Athina Kariati and Ruyam Oztuna
While this article was being written, 10.000 turkishcypriots went on the streets against turkish intervention. A report will follow soon.
Ersin Tatar, the candidate of the traditional right wing nationalist party UBP won the elections of the 18th of October in northern Cyprus. With 51.69% to 48.31% defeated Mustafa Akinci, the social democrat president that was in office since 2015. Northern Cyprus is a semi-presidential democratic republic. The role of the president is mainly to negotiate the national question and represent the “state” abroad. The government is formed by the party that has majority in the parliament, while the president has (almost) no authority to the internal regime.
Since the opening of the checkpoints and the fall of Denktas, the major representative of Turkey’s interests in Cyprus, the intervention of Turkey was there but not to the extent of what was experienced this time. At the same time this year’s intervention from the turkish regime was not at all a “common secret”.
The negotiator of the national question today, is for the turkish ruling class very important to be left to the will of the turkishcypriot people. The discovery and drilling of natural gas in the Cypriot EEZ is of a big interest to the turkish ruling elite. Even though the negotiations are said to continue with the form of the meeting of 5 (3 guarantor powers and representatives of the two communities) Erdogan needs someone faithful to his side as the president/negotiator to the negotiations.
It was clear even from the beginning of the year that Turkey’s government wanted Akinci out. Last February, the Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu described Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci as «unreliable,» after the later said the prospect of Crimea-style annexation with Turkey was “horrible.”
Mustafa Akinci, the first president openly criticizing the turkish regime
Mustafa Akinci, a moderate social democrat, pro federation politician, was elected in 2015 with the biggest percentage that a president took in the elections, 60.5%, either in the north or the south (after Makarios and Denktas).
Akinci in 2015 run for the elections as an independent candidate, he comes from the leftist social democratic party TKP (Toplumcu Kurtulus Partisi – Communal Liberation Party), the predecessor of the social democratic party TDP (Toplumcu Democracy Partici – Communal Democracy Party) and was a well- known figure of peace and bicommunal collaboration through his term as a Mayor in north Nicosia. In 2015 he won the elections with the support mainly of the turkishcypriot left and trade unions. The traditional leftist party CTP (Cumhuriyetci Turk Partisi – Republican Turkish Party) then, had to take a pro-Akinci stance in the second round as the elections were transformed to a referendum on weather Turkey and the Turkish Army will stay on the island. Akinci was seen then as a symbol of federation, but also independence from Turkey. His victory was met with great enthusiasm both in the north and in the south. The first week after he got elected, he already moved into conflict with the turkish government to the point of calling for Turkey to cut their funding to north Cyprus.
At many instances he expressed his disagreement with the turkish government, something that no other president in the north dared to do ever before. Especially during the turkish invasion in Syria, he compared this invasion to the invasion in Cyprus, infuriating Erdogan.
After the negotiations in Crans Montana collapsed, the turkish and turkishcypriot elite started to propagate for a two state solution away from the decisions of the United Nations something that Akinci was not agreeing with. At that time the first “chosen one”, to represent the interests of the turkish ruling elite appeared to be the right wing, neoliberal Ozersai, the Foreign Afairs Minister, through the proposal of the turkish government, and agreement of Germany to start the negotiations between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Greece, southern and northern Cyprus. This was not accepted from the south, so the proposal collapsed.
Therefore the intervention of the turkish regime to take down Akinci was the only way out.
Turkey’s intervention in all fronts
Turkish intervention started openly approximately one week before the first round of the presidential elections. The Turkish government together with Tatar went through with the grand opening of the water pipe and the opening of the beach in the, occupied by the turkish army since 1974, area of Varoshi. These moves happened without the knowledge or approval of the parliament or the cabinet of ministers and against the decision of the High Election Committee that characterised them as infringement to the elections. Tatar and the turkish government ignored the decision and went on with the ceremonies, while BRT, the “national” news agency, that really belongs to the turkish army, made a live broadcast of both events.
The mainstream media in Turkey rarely deal with Cyprus. However this time, they were everyday making propaganda against Akinci. Turkey’s government officials went public with fake arguments, that Akinci is a representative of the greekcypriots, that he will sell TRNC to the greekcypriots, they even published a map that supported this lie.
It was reported that Turkish MPs came to Cyprus, and went from village to village, talking against Akinci, and making promises to those who will vote Tatar. These promises were said to be accompanied with a bribe of 3000 turkish lira to each voter, approximately 300 euros, or a bit more than the minimum wage.
At the same time, the turkish government granted the money that was promised since May to open a hospital for covid-19 patients.
The percentage that Tatar took, even with the added percentage of the rest of the far right, and centre right wing parties did not add up for a victory. Therefore the week before the second round, the pressure towards Akinci supporters was accelerated. Bosses threatened voters with redundancies, forcing Akinci supporters to post posts in support of Tatar on their social media. Even Akinci was threatened if he continued to run for the second round.
The fear campaign definitely influenced the result however the 48% that Akinci took to the elections is not a small percentage.
Akinci was the first president, even the first politician in office, to openly report being threatened by the turkish regime to resign from his candidacy. This was seen as a very brave act, as a will not to give up and was recognised as that from his voters. The second round of the elections took more than ever the character of a referendum pro and against turkish intervention. The results, even though negative, should not be discouraging. They show that half the population, even under pressure and threat, are still willing to give the fight for freedom of speech and expression, and more, for the reunification of the island with a federation.
Could Akinci solve the national question?
Akinci became once more the symbol of reunification and federation. After the elections he resigned from politics, but he was saluted from both communities as a politician of principle.
The biggest question however during the electoral campaign was whether Akinci, if he would be elected he could solve the national question or stop turkish interference and dependence.
The answer is no. Even if as a person Akinci was a bicommunalist, a pro federation politician, as a president he had to negotiate, representing the interests of the turkishcypriot and turkish ruling elite that is conflicting and uncompromised to that of the greek and greekcypriot ruling elites.
At the same time, we cannot see his role, and finally his defeat, outside of the context of the collapse of the negotiations in Crans Montana. From 2015 that Akinci came to power, the hopes of the people that the national question will be solved were great. The people supported the process actively with thousands going to the streets whenever the presidents were going to meetings for the negotiations. However the exploration for natural gas, and the fact that deposits were found in the southern EEZ changed the attitude of Anastasiades and the turkish army. One the one hand Anastasiades was flirting with nationalism, voting and accepting the celebration in the schools of the referendum to unite with Greece of 1950, and the negotiations stopped, while Turkey was sending its warships and drilling ships in and around the southern EEZ which also halted the negotiations. Therefore it is understandable that the people got disillusioned with the negotiation process and lost hope that Akinci can offer an alternative.
Turkish voters and the responsibility of the left
Many while analysing the results of the elections show the turkish voters (people with turkish origin that have acquired citizenship of the TRNC) as the reason why Tatar got elected. People from turkey, are in the majority the poorest layers of the society in the north, which makes them more vulnerable to bribery. At the same time, in their majority they are not integrated in the cypriot society, they follow turkish news and therefore it is more possible to be influenced by the propaganda. The last few years, and especially after Erdogan’s intervention against Africa news paper, the polarisation between turks and turkishcypriots is growing. It is cultivated by the far right party YDP, who characterises themselves as the party of the settlers, but unfortunately it is cultivated from parts of the left, when they insinuate that being against Turkey you are against turkish people as well.
Not all people with turkish origin always follow “the orders from Turkey” or the right wing parties. One evidence of that is the election of Akinci in the presidency in 2015!
The argument that turkish votes defined the result may be true. However this does not mean that the left is not responsible for this situation.
The task for the left is to approach these people, fight for their real, material problems, that make them vulnerable to bribery, include them and incorporate them in the cypriot society, otherwise they will always continue to be under the influence of the right, the nationalists and finally Erdogan’s regime.
Hope lies in the movements, collaboration and solidarity
Most of the bicommunalists and the left in north and south, after the announcement of the results of the elections got desperate that no solution to the national question will come, and that the forces of division have prevailed.
But the negotiators were never negotiating according to the will of the people. The interests that the negotiators represent in both sides is that of the ruling elites of the respective sides. What the negotiators couldn’t agree on, for so many years was the share of the power on the island. Now is the share and control of natural gas. The interests of the ruling elites cannot be compromised, the greekcypriot elite will always want to dominate, and the turkishcypriot elite will always want to have the turkish elite by its side for protection.
The solution, the reunification of the island can come only from the working people of both sides. They are the ones that don’t have anything to lose, and they are the ones that can find a compromise between them for any disputable issue, whether this would be land, property, or security, through collaboration, and solidarity. The 16 years of open borders and collaboration has proved that. It’s not just a few common cultural, social and also environmental organisations that have been formed during those years, collaborations not only for demonstrating the will for a solution in the demonstrations in the green line, but also for the future of Varoshi, for the common environment and its protection, for women’s rights, migrant rights and the list goes on. In this collaboration, these bridges, these movements lie the hope for a solution to the national question and peace.
Last year people from all these movements met again to stop the closing of the checkpoints. For the first time, with their force they opened the closed checkpoint in Ledras street. This is the movement that needs to revive.
On the 10th of November 10.000 turkishcypriots went on the streets, in a historically big demonstration against turkish intervention. These are the collaborators of the greekcypriots that seek peace, and its time to organise together through a common front of people living in both sides of the divide, but also in collaboration with the movements in Greece and Turkey, fight together against nationalism, fascism, corruption, for independence and peace, for a society for the needs of the working people and not the interests of the capitalist ruling elites.