121 Turkish Cypriot exceptional citizenships handed out in just one day, and that does not include other naturalisations
By Esra Aygin
Four political parties and a trade union have sued the administration in the northern part of Cyprus for arbitrarily handing out ‘exceptional’ Turkish Cypriot citizenships, and are asking the court to review a provision that gives the ‘council of ministers’ the authority to grant citizenships “whenever it deems necessary”.
Most exceptional citizenships are granted based on this provision, by a motion of the ‘ministry of interior’ and a decision of ‘council of ministers’. Citizenships given in this manner are published in the official gazette, which almost every day carries a list of people – mostly of Turkish origin – who were granted Turkish Cypriot citizenship because they live in the north, or have made investments, or even because they visit the island often. On October 21, for example, a total of 121 individuals were granted citizenship, according to the official gazette.
A few months ago, the Turkish architect of the controversial Külliye – an Islamic government complex – that is being financed by Ankara was also granted Turkish Cypriot citizenship, prompting an uproar among Turkish Cypriot architects.
The lawsuit against exceptional citizenships was filed by the Social Democracy Party TDP, Social Liberation Party TKP, United Cyprus Party BKP, New Cyprus Party YKP and Turkish Cypriot State Workers Union Çağ-Sen at the High Administrative Court against the Turkish Cypriot ‘council of ministers’ and the ‘ministry of interior’.
“If we win, this will serve as a precedent for thousands of other citizenships given in the same manner, says lawyer Öncel Polili. “Citizenship means the equal distribution of a country’s sovereignty among its citizens. And it should not be this easy to distribute this country’s sovereignty.”
Polili explains that they are also asking the court to review the legal provision that authorises the ‘council of ministers’ to give citizenship “whenever it deems necessary”.
“This provision gives an open-ended, unclear and unpredictable authority to the council of ministers,” says Polili. “It is open to exploitation.”
If this provision is annulled, the council of ministers will no longer be able to give arbitrary citizenships Polili clarifies.
However, these exceptional citizenships are only the tip of the iceberg. Under the current law in the northern part of Cyprus, anyone, who has been living there legally for at least five years – in other words – has five consecutive working permits, is entitled to receive citizenship as long as they don’t have a criminal record. Citizenships given in this manner are not published in the official gazette, and their number is unknown.
Repeated calls by opposition parties and civil society organisations to the current National Unity Party UBP, Democratic Party DP and Rebirth Party YDP coalition to disclose how many individuals have been granted citizenships because they have been on the island legally for five years, have fallen on deaf ears.
According to journalist Serhat İncirli, at least 50 people per day are granted Turkish Cypriot citizenship in this manner. This number does not include the exceptional citizenships granted by the ‘council of ministers’.
“Three Turkish civil servants have been appointed to the ‘ministry of interior’ by the Turkish embassy to speed up the citizenship application process,” İncirli wrote earlier this week in the Daily Yenidüzen. “Those, who rule Turkey, have a special policy to change the demographics here.”
It is known that Ankara has been piling up the pressure on the Turkish Cypriot administration to give more citizenship to people of Turkish origin and in a speedier manner. The controversial “Economic and Financial Cooperation Protocol”, signed between the north and Ankara back in April has a provision on the easing of the granting of Turkish Cypriot citizenship to Turkish nationals.
“With the aim of enhancing mutual cooperation, legislative arrangements will be made to ease the conditions of naturalisation,” the provision stipulates.
During a recent visit to the island, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also promised to make it easier for Turkish nationals living in the northern part of Cyprus to get Turkish Cypriot citizenship.
In its 2021 Report on Turkey, the European parliament calls on Turkey to refrain from action altering the demographic balance in Cyprus.
The citizenship issue is sensitive for the Turkish Cypriot community, who already feel like a minority in their own country in the face of a growing Turkish population that is increasingly determining the outcome of elections.
“Citizenships are being granted to people, who have no sense of belonging to this country whatsoever, just like that just because they will vote in a certain way,” says TDP head Mine Atlı. “The political will of Turkish Cypriots is under a serious attack.”
Senior researcher Mete Hatay of PRIO Cyprus Centre, who has done extensive research on the population and population politics in Cyprus, estimates that already 40 per cent of the total number of voters in the northern part of Cyprus are of Turkish origin. This percentage is an important factor especially in the elections for the Turkish Cypriot leader, where even one vote can be decisive.
Turkish Cypriot authorities have historically been criticised for arbitrarily distributing Turkish Cypriot citizenships with political considerations, especially during election periods. In fact, according to a PRIO Cyprus report titled, ‘Is the Turkish Cypriot population shrinking’ by Hatay, statistics indicate a clear increase in the number of the persons, who acquired Turkish Cypriot citizenship during election years.
In 2004 for example, when former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s Republican Turkish Party CTP came to power, it cancelled a decision by the previous right-wing ‘cabinet’ to grant citizenships to 1,600 individuals in one sitting right before elections.
However, according to political analysts, the policy of easing the granting of Turkish Cypriot citizenship to Turkish nationals, is targeted towards the elections in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party AKP has historically done worse among the people of Turkish origin in Cyprus than it did in the mainland in every election since 2014, when the Turkish diaspora gained the right to vote.
The issue of citizenship is sensitive also because it is directly related with who will or will not be entitled to become citizens of a possible future federal Cyprus.
“As long as the Cyprus problem remains unresolved and the northern part of Cyprus remains outside international law, the population will continue to increase uncontrollably,” underlines journalist Sami Özuslu. “And maybe one day, the issue of who is the majority and who is the minority in Cyprus, will be reversed. Maybe the Turks will claim that they are now the majority on the island, and will want to hold a plebiscite to unite with the motherland. Maybe we will witness a demand for ‘reverse-Enosis’ in 50, 60 years.”