At a seaside café in Kyrenia, I recently spoke with Tansel Fikri, who served as a minister several times, a senior diplomat and a devoted fighter struggling for the dignity and partnership rights of his people and the sovereignty of Cyprus.
He has long worked to make Cyprus’ voice heard overseas, particularly in London, where he served many years as Turkish Cyprus’ representative.
Young Turkish Cypriot generations don’t understand or are not even aware of the immense difficulties the previous generations had to endure. As a Turkish Cypriot living in Turkey, having the opportunity to explain our perspective of the Cyprus issue to diplomats of other countries for the past 45 years was so precious for late President Rauf Denktaş that even though I was like a son to him, he, without any hesitation, rejected each time the government suggested a senior position for me. “To be a freedom fighter, you do not need to hold arms. The pen is mightier than the sword. I need you in Ankara,” he used to say.
Fikri said that once due to his personal efforts he was invited to a reception hosted by a senior member of the House of Lords. It was apparently a gathering of a rather small group of lords and some diplomats. “I was like a black man among whites. It was impossible not to see me and my wife. Soon after, a senior person approached me and asked who we were in a rather polite manner. The moment I said I was the Turkish Cypriot representative in London, he said: ‘How have you made it here? Who invited you?’ He was shocked. The Greek Cypriots, however, always had such opportunities, and they were communicating and explaining their views to others through official channels,” he said.
Indeed, that is one of the many things that have happened in the past many decades since the collapse of the partnership state, the Cyprus Republic, in 1963 following Greek Cypriot greed to turn it into an all-Greek territory united with Greece (enosis). While the Turkish Cypriot government had almost no opportunity to get itself heard by the international community, it made sure not to raise young generations developing enmity towards Greek Cypriots. Apart from the “Museum of Barbarism” depicting cold-blooded atrocities committed against Turkish Cypriots, anything that might be considered as hatred or enmity towards Greek Cypriots was removed from textbooks. But Greek Cypriots continued saying in churches and schools that “the best Turk is the dead Turk” and how “drinking Turkish blood” can be a heroic action.
Only recently the Greek Cypriots removed a huge graffiti on the wall of a military barrack in the heart of Nicosia that ridiculed Turkish Cypriots. Well, I must agree that the huge Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags on the Five Finger Mountains (Pentadactylos) might be equally offensive for Greek Cypriots. But perhaps only when Greek Cypriots agree to make peace with Turkish Cypriots and there is no longer the need to demonstrate that only the northern part of the island belongs to Turkish Cypriots, those flags will be taken down.
When and how can there be a Cyprus deal is the crucial question we need to ask if we genuinely want a resolution. There can be no Cyprus deal of any sort unless Greek Cypriots agree that this island is not a Greek island but a place shared by the two ethnicities, languages and religion. There can be no resolution unless they don’t see that it is not only the U.K. – who still has two sovereign bases on the island — and Greece that have strategic interests in the country. Cyprus is of great strategic interest for Turkey too. How will there ever be a resolution if Greek Cypriots do not come out of their centuries-old delusion that they are the masters of the island and the Turks were just tourists that came to the island 500 years ago but forgot to return.
The two peoples of the island lack confidence and the ability to develop a shared vision. To achieve progress the Greek Cypriot mindset needs to change.