Feelings of mistrust (The Cyprus Weekly, 21 November 2015)
By Esra Aygin
The attack on several Turkish Cypriots by a group of young Greek Cypriot extremists and allegations that Greek Cypriot police stood by without intervening, has revealed deep-lying insecurities and feelings of mistrust among Turkish Cypriot society.
“At a time when we are making such a big effort for a solution, the biggest wound has been inflicted on the public’s psychology,” said Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci after Monday’s attacks. Many Turkish Cypriots, including those actively pro-solution, questioned or expressed concern about the viability of a future solution on social media, while right-wing circles felt vindicated in their arguments that peaceful coexistence with Greek Cypriots is not possible. And that EOKA also was initially a group of several hundred extreme nationalist students was circulated widely.
“Turkish Cypriots have deeply ingrained fears and insecurities in their subconscious stemming from being a minority and having gone through painful experiences because of that,” explained Academic Dr. Bilge Azgin.
“When this is coupled with the fact that this is not the first such attack, and nothing has happened to the perpetrators in the past, these fears surface and shake their confidence to its foundations.”
The attacks took place at several locations in southern Nicosia during protests by extreme nationalists- reportedly ELAM -against the 32nd anniversary of the unilateral declaration of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. Two Turkish Cypriots were injured and some Turkish Cypriot licence-plated cars were damaged in the attacks.
The fact that almost all of the protesters were high-school students and that the incidents took place during school hours raised questions about the school administrations and the education system.
There also are many allegations surrounding the response of the police to the incidents. Some of the Turkish Cypriot victims reported that the Greek Cypriot police stood by and watched without intervening. Some said they were turned away at a police station on grounds that the attacks did not take place in their area of responsibility.
Another Turkish Cypriot man, speaking on TV, said he was told by a police officer that he was “at the wrong place at the wrong time”. Former chief negotiator Kudret Ozersay wrote on Facebook: “The police refused to include in the deposition of one of the victims that the attack took place before the eyes of police officers. They also did not include in the deposition that the attackers were connected with ELAM and had ELAM T-shirts on, and told the victim that ‘they were just a bunch of stupid youngsters’.”
“I am scared,” former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat told the media. “If the Cyprus problem is solved but the attitude of the Greek Cypriot police remains the same, peace will not be viable. Because when they attack Turkish Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots will naturally attack Greek Cypriots. Where will these provocations take us?” There needs to be concrete action against the perpetrators for the feeling of trust and confidence to be restored, according to Azgin. “All the allegations have to be investigated and the rule of law has to be applied. Turkish Cypriots need to feel that there is not partial but full justice. Such attacks going unpunished create a sense that the perpetrators are protected on a higher level.”
Similar attacks in the past have, in fact, gone unpunished. In 2014, some 70 ELAM members stormed a conference in Limassol attended by Memhet Ali Talat, breaking window and doors and throwing flares in the hall. The only three members, who were charged, were released after the court found the police’s arguments to be unclear and vague. In another incident 2010, ELAM attacked a KISA festival in Larnaca and stabbed a Turkish Cypriot musician. No members of the far-right group were convicted.
“It is not ELAM or the far-right groups that cause the main concern,” wrote journalist Aysu Basri Akter. “It is the inaction of the police and the tolerance of the state as a whole. Not being able to trust the police, the justice system, the state only breeds mistrust and fear.”
The widespread feeling of mistrust all across the Turkish Cypriot society was one of the main things that led Assistant Prof. Dr. Umut Bozkurt at the Eastern Mediterranean University, and her friends to launch an online petition titled, “Time for ending fascist violence, time for peace in Cyprus!”the day after the attacks.
“We witnessed that even the most pro-solution people on the left were suddenly pulled into this deep sense of mistrust and fear,” Bozkurt said. “This was our main concern.”
The petition calls for the relevant authorities to take necessary legal steps to bring perpetrators to justice and compensate victims; investigate and prosecute those responsible for politically instigating the attacks; conduct thorough, impartial, and effective investigations into the specific circumstances of the attacks and the general social conditions that led to them; initiate a wholesale reform of the education systems including the revision of curricula, teacher training, civic education, and introduction of specific and effective reconciliation measures; and initiate a public discussion on the role of education in peace-building, reconciliation and coexistence in a federal Cyprus.
Education, and coming to terms with the past are the most important issues that need to be tackled, for a sustainable solution, according to Bozkurt. “So what if you imprison 15-16- year-old kids?” she questioned.
“We have to be looking into the system that created those kids. The education system should be subject to a full revision.
“It should have reconciliation at its focus. We also need to come to terms with our past wrongdoings, show that we find such incidents unacceptable and deal with our respective nationalist elements. Both leaderships avoided these difficult issues until now. But it is the time to start.”