A controversy over last week’s Support for Democracy demonstration against the July 15 failed coup in Turkey has erupted in the Turkish Cypriot community, with accusations being directed at those who chose not to participate.
The issue seems to have created tension between the Turkish Cypriot coalition, which was among the organisers of the demonstration, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who did not attend.
The demonstration at Nicosia’s main Sarayonu Square last Friday was organised by the Platform to Support Democracy. The group is made up of the coalition National Unity Party (UBP) and Democratic Party (DP), some universities, as well many associations of Turkish origin. Former Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Kudret Ozersay’s People’s Party (HP) also declared support for the demonstration.
However, many political parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions and activists chose not take part in the demonstration, which they said had turned into an outburst of nationalism and show of loyalty to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A crowd of several thousand bearing Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags chanted Erdogan’s name, shouted Allahu ekber (Allah is great) and demanded capital punishment for the perpetrators of the failed coup.
There were also multiple reports in the media that pressure was put on employees in certain public institutions, local administrations and private universities to participate in the demonstration. Organisations and individuals not participating in the demonstration were labelled as ‘anti-Turkey,’ ‘anti-democracy’ and ‘pro-coup.’
Non-attendees hit back, however.
“Overlooking [AKP’s] bid to use the coup attempt to strengthen and protect its own authoritarian regime is unacceptable,” Dayanisma (Solidarity) said in a statement.
“Democracy movements are meaningful only when they are organised independently of the state, not by the state. This is exactly why this ‘democracy demonstration’ has nothing to do with democracy… This demonstration will serve the purpose of legitimising the authoritarian interventions of AKP, which is carrying out a widespread purge,” it said.
Criticism and accusations were very much focused on Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci, who did not attend the demonstration. A number of journalists and politicians questioned why he was not there, while the crowd chanted, “Where is Akinci?” during the demonstration.
Akinci’s supporters say these accusations are groundless, underlining that he was the first Turkish Cypriot official to condemn the coup attempt on the night of July 15, shortly after it began. Akinci appeared on multiple television channels throughout the night, calling on Turkish people to embrace the democratically-elected government.
Huseyin Ozgurgun, the head of the Turkish Cypriot administration and his deputy Serdar Denktas, who led the Support for Democracy demonstration, did not make any statements until late afternoon the next day.
“It took the coalition partners 20 hours to wake up and make a statement,” wrote journalist Ali Kismir on www.gazete360.com.
“You gentlemen, who were smiling before the ignorant that shouted ‘Where is Akinci?’… Where were you when there was a coup attempt? Why did you make your first statement 20 hours later? Why did you keep silent until then?”
“Those who would have been the first to salute the military if the coup had been successful are now trying to give a democracy lesson,” wrote chief editor Huseyin Ekmekci of Havadis.
“Akinci was the first to react against the coup that night. He didn’t say ‘I better wait and see who wins tonight… Yes there may be many people in this county, who need a democracy lesson. But Akinci would not even be the last on that list.”
Akinci made a statement the day after the demonstration noting that he openly opposed the coup attempt from the moment it began.
“A lot of false accusations and defamation takes place during times like this,” he said. “Some people, because of their personal and political ambitions, see such times as an opportunity to defame others… The antidote of this is to adhere strictly to democracy and rules of law.”