The failed coup in Turkey, which Ankara argues was organised by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, and the ensuing crackdown has brought Islamic encroachment in the north and unregulated religious activities under scrutiny.
Political parties, civil society organisations and media are drawing attention to the increased number of mosques, Koran courses, religious schools and Islamic associations and charities in the north, and questioning their funding and method of supervision.
Turkish Cypriot officials have generally turned a blind eye to religious activities or organisations because they were closely intertwined with the north’s economy and politics.
United Cyprus Party BKP leader Izzet Izcan, in a statement said all kinds of cults have organised in the north and criticised those in power for not taking preventive measures. Turkish Cypriot Teachers’ Union KTOS also questioned the source of the funds flowing to religious schools in Cyprus.
“These activities funded by millions coming from unknown sources, have been going on before the eyes of security forces and politicians,” it said.
“Cults, illegal Koran courses and various other religious activities have had a free hand in this country for years now,” wrote journalist Mehmet Moreket.
“Nobody knows what is being done under the pretext of religion.”
“More mosques than schools are being built in this country. Do we need all these mosques?” asked retired Turkish Cypriot colonel Cenk Diler, in an interview to Havadis.
Rumours and speculation have run rife in the Turkish Cypriot community about alleged Gulen-funded hotels, casinos and universities situated in the north. Names are being circulated in daily conversations and social media, compelling a number of businessmen to make statements in an effort to clear their names. Some officials and journalists, in an obvious effort to pay homage to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party AKP, are publishing names and inviting Turkey to detain them.
Journalists and academics critical of the purge in the wake of the failed coup are easily being branded on social media as ‘Gulen supporters’.
“Some people are either trying to hurt their competitors by taking advantage of the chaos in Turkey or are in a petty attempt to look good to the government in Turkey by giving names of ‘suspects’,” said Huseyin Ekmekci, chief editor of Havadis.
The Gulen cult, like other Islamist foundations and associations, has been active in the north throughout the years and was supported by the Turkish embassy and other Turkish institutions or officials until it fell out with Erdogan about two years ago. The cult is said to have many student dormitories in the north.
“There definitely is a presence of Gulen-related institutions or enterprises here,” said Ekmekci. “But this does not mean that everyone involved in them took part in the coup or are terrorists.”
As Turkey imposes a state of emergency and suspends the European Convention of Human Rights, tens of thousands of security personnel, judges, government officials, school teachers, academics and journalists have been rounded up, while hundreds of schools and media outlets have been shut for alleged connections with Gulen. There have so far been no detentions in the north.
Huseyin Ozgurgun, the head of the Turkish Cypriot coalition, was in Ankara this week. “We are evaluating all information,” Ozgurgun told journalists during a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. “We will do whatever is necessary as soon as we identify anything suspicious. There are no concrete findings so far.” Developments in Turkey have, for the past two weeks, dominated media reports and daily discourse in the north, removing the ongoing peace process in Cyprus from the agenda.
UN envoy Espen Barth Eide, referring to the recent developments in Turkey, stressed that the window of opportunity may not be open forever. “The continuity of the current way of life on both sides of Cyprus is more likely to be ensured by a settlement than by the opposite.”