Turkey’s Foreign Policy Blindness

One of the key successes in foreign policy is local knowledge, particularly in areas a state hopes to work in, where they are engaged in war or which they are occupying. Even local knowledge over cultures within one’s own borders is essential if national policies are to be successful.

But the more one looks at the Cyprus problem, and in particular the north of Cyprus, which is described as a “subordinate authority” to Turkey, the more one can observe a certain short-sightedness in Turkish foreign policy.

Over 35 years, Turkey has transported tens of thousands of its own citizens to the north of Cyprus believing it would boost the “Cyprus Turkish people”, but has in fact made some spectacular errors of judgment in its policy.

Firstly, the Turkish settler community in northern Cyprus does not form one whole, rendering the idea that Turks can simply top up an existing Turkish population, a myth. Settlers are far from an homogenous entity, consisting of Alevi Turks and Kurds, Alawites and Nusayris from Hatay, Sunni Arabs from South Eastern Turkey and mostly Sunni Kurds who between them speak Kurmanji, Gorani and Sorani.

Besides the Turkish Sunni settlers, there are Laz from the Black Sea region and Bulgarian Turks and Pomaks. It would be naïve to assume that each was not consciously aware of their own distinct cultural identity – in fact, as naïve as it would be to deny their existence.

Secondly, if the intention to transport  these settlers to Cyprus was to change the demographic character in favour of Anatolians to control Cyprus and replace the Turkish Cypriots as a political force, then it is destined to fail.  Why? While first generation settlers may be easily bribed to vote UBP, after reunification, the north will enter the EU and gerrymandering will be illegal. Furthermore, educated second and third generation settlers will put their own interests first rather than old national ties. Many will eventually become Cypriot, breaking the umbilical cord with mother Turkey altogether and reducing Turkey’s influence further.

This is not unusual, as geography is not in Turkey’s favour. A stretch of 40 nautical miles separates the island and the settlers from Anatolia, forcing settlers there to mix with the islanders and to follow local lifestyles and thinking. After the wall of shame has fallen, the settlers will become a minority as they will be forced to share their daily lives with an additional 850,000 Greek Cypriots and other communities in the south who will cross freely into the north.

Thirdly, sudden population transfers are never a good idea. The result of the mass number of settlers in the north that now outnumber Turkish Cypriots 2:1 and the recent announcement that 15,000 settlers will gain citizenship in December is causing many in the Turkish Cypriot community to feel threatened.

In reaction to feeling “conquered”, there is now a growing radicalisation of Turkish Cypriots and a rise in Turkish-Cypriot nationalism. Quite the opposite to Ankara’s intentions, the growing settler population is actually pushing Turkish Cypriots closer to the Greek Cypriots for the first time in decades.

While political parties may tiptoe over the issue in the north for fear of upsetting our bigger neighbour, Turkish Cypriot trade union groups are now up in arms, vowing to internationalise the issue in Brussels, which will do Ankara no favours for its bid to join the EU or for garnering Turkish Cypriot support for a settlement. It would be wrong to underestimate the power of Turkish Cypriot trade unions. After all, they are not political parties that can be elected and then forced out of office; trade unions exist continuously and every elected representative of the ‘TRNC’ has to work with them to avoid trouble.

Historically, Cypriot trade unions, as we saw in the 1920s, have played a pivotal role in mobilising Cypriots and are more political active, and more capable of marshalling support than political parties. Worse, although Minister Ersin Tatar is right that Turkey bankrolls the ‘TRNC’, equally strong, trade unions can cripple the north’s economy, as we saw with strikes at the north’s Ercan/Tymbou Airport that left hundreds of British Turkish Cypriots stranded.

The trade union protests are the tip of the iceberg of Turkish Cypriot discontent over the ongoing population transfers. With inter-communal relations worsening in the north, it is abundantly clear that the settlers are possibly less integrated with Cypriot there than the Turkish Gastarbeiter are with Germans in Germany.

How did this situation occur? Without glorifying imperialism or even proposing it as a model, it cannot be denied that the British, a small nation, maintained an empire one fifth of the world’s territory not by military/naval might alone, but by local knowledge. The Foreign and Colonies Office developed an in-depth understanding of the areas it occupied around the globe. Whether in India, Africa or Central America, the Colonies Office knew everything there was to know about tribes in Papua New Guinea; their political structures,culture, religion, values and history for which they showed a certain dignified respect.

The occupying British knew which tribes were at war and with whom, and whomt hey would likely form alliances with. To complement this intelligence gathering process that supported the formulation of appropriate foreign policy, British university scholars, archaeologists and linguists were permitted to carry out research in these areas, becoming the first to publish dictionariesi n tribal languages spoken or the first to document anthropological and ethnographic information about the peoples they encountered.

Despite the obvious pitfalls of imperialism, nobody can deny the British (for their reasons especially) granted recognition to diversity everywhere and drew as much knowledge from it as possible.

By contrast, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, which now has ambitions to make Turkey into a regional power and even to make Turkey a player in Africa, has made no effort to understand diversity within its population let alone the Turkish Cypriot minority it now occupies. The Turkish Cypriot community of Cyprus that took 430 years to develop and evolve is regularly patronised as a “Baby homeland.”

Its vernacular is ridiculed and its community members are told to be ‘grateful’. In its communications with the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey still sees them as a ‘victim’ and treats the community like a patient who hasbeen sectioned in a hospital and loses his/her rights to decide anything for him/herself.

Consequently, Turkey’s continuous interventions in northern Cypriot life are increasingly perceived as patronising by independent-minded Turkish Cypriots and when combined with transfers of more settlers it is viewed as hostile.

The movement of settlers before a “quick solution” may be Turkey’s way of continuing to control the northern part of Cyprus post-settlement, but may backfire as it will likely cause complications in the ongoing peace process as we have seen with the trade union protests.

As migrants in the south eventually integrate with Cypriots, the sheer number of settlers, the fact that no effort has ever been made to integrate them to Cyprus and the assimilation policies ordinary Cypriots wrongly blame them for, will hinder the necessary natural process of integration of settlers and the indigenous Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.




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Lecturer, Ionian University, author
written by Dr. William Mallinson, September 28, 2009 

Alkan Chaglar, this is the first frank and informative article I have read about the problems engendered by Ankara’s massive ethnic manipulation and stifling of the old and original Turkish Cypriot community, which is descended as much from janissaries as from ordinary Anatolians, and which is in some respects closer to the Greek Cypriot community than to some of the new ‘invaders’.Your article, by describingthe various differences, not only between the original Turkish Cypriots and the settlers, but between the different types of settler, is illuminatimng and intelligent, thankfully lacking the usual government-inspired trash produced by party-political designer academics.

Some horrid questions must however be asked: could Ankara’s assisted immigration programme actually lead to the end of the original Turkish Cypriot community?

Second, can unification take place without Britain and the US insisting that Greece and a putatively unified Cyprus must first agree to support Turkey’s (unrealistic) application for full EU membership? This is what the foundation agreement of the Annan Plan was about, and what even the whole plan was about.

Lastly,let us remember that (real) Turkish Cypriots enjoyb the same rights as Greek Cypriots: Social Security, Republic of Cyprus passports and ID cards etc.

Thanks again for such a good piece. Who are you?