Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Erdogan closing net on Turkish Cypriots



Esra Aygin

A series of Turkey-originated investigations and detentions targeting Turkish Cypriot academics and journalists have alarmed the public and caused fear that Ankara has now turned its authoritarian gaze here.

It has recently emerged that two Turkish Cypriot academics had been detained by Turkish police in the Istanbul and Izmir airports over the last couple of months, for signing an online petition by “Academics for Peace” in January 2016.

Turkey has investigated all 1,128 Turkish signatories of the petition, which denounced military operations against Kurds in the southeast. Four hundred of them have been expelled from Turkish universities, 148 are standing trial for ‘terror propaganda,’ and four have received jail sentences.

This is the first time however, that Turkish Cypriot academics working in Cyprus have been targeted. The police reportedly interrogated the academics, whose names have not been made public, charges were pressed against them and they were released pending the outcome of the trial.

In another development that sent shockwaves among the Turkish Cypriot community, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office brought two lawsuits against Afrika newspaper. Afrika, which is published in the northern part of Cyprus, had ran a front page article in January, criticizing Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, Syria, and calling it an ‘occupation.’ The publication had enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had called on his “brothers in northern Cyprus to give the necessary response.” The newspaper’s offices were largely destroyed the next day by an ultranationalist mob.

The developments have alarmed the Turkish Cypriot society, with a number of journalists and academics posting on their social media accounts that they are cancelling their trips to Turkey or taking alternative routes to travel abroad. Amid an ongoing discussion about whether or not Turkish courts have jurisdiction over Turkish Cypriots, many have taken the social media demanding an explanation from Turkish Cypriot officials. Their silence has been deafening.

“Turkish Cypriot intellectuals, journalists are standing trial in Turkey. We are all up next… Do you think that those, who branded half of their own people as terrorists, will hold back when it comes to Turkish Cypriots?... Those in government are silent… If you are not protecting the basic rights of Turkish Cypriots in that place called parliament, then what are you doing?” wrote Dr. Ayfer Yazkan Kubal in her column in www.gazete360.com.

Turkey has imprisoned hundreds of journalists, academics and civil society activists especially since the July 2016 failed coup for ‘puscists,’ ‘attempting to destroy the constitutional order,’ or ‘cooperating with and aiding armed groups.’ Hundreds of thousands of people have been detained, investigated or f fired for suspected ties with the U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses for being behind the coup. However, The AKP government is widely criticized as using the coup crackdown as an excuse to crash dissent throughout the country.

In a sign that whatever is happening in Turkey, will also happen in the northern part of Cyprus, police have recently begun to detain and interrogate people for possession of some books and songs. There are no banned books or songs in Cyprus.

“Police has been harassing people for possession of ‘banned books,’” wrote journalist Sami Ozuslu in Turkish Cypriot daily Yeniduzen. “When were books banned in this country?... To add insult to injury, one person has been detained in Famagusta for listening to Kurdish songs. When were songs banned in Cyprus?”, he added.

In fact, the Turkish ambassador in the northern part of Cyprus, Derya Kanbay, was very clear about Ankara’s intentions during a press conference earlier this month. Kanbay told journalists that they are having a difficult time going after Turkish Cypriots suspected of having ties with Gulen because terrorism is not defined in the laws of north Cyprus. This has so far limited the purge to Turkish citizens, who are handed over to Turkey upon detention. Kanbay also complained that Turkish Cypriot police can’t legally tap phones and said they had asked for certain legal amendments to make it easier for Ankara to pursue “opponents” in  Cyprus. 

It has become a custom for Turkish officials during their visits to the northern part of Cyprus to declare to Turkish Cypriots with pride that “Whatever we have in Turkey, you will also have.” Turkish Cypriots are now faced with the chilling reality that the bold promise will be kept. In every sense...