Yeraltý Notlarý, 14 Mart 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

Struggle for survival with human dignity...(*)

The Greek Cypriot woman at the head of the women studies department of a prestigious college turns around and says to her friends:

`I wonder why Sevgul is still alive? Why didn’t they kill her still?`

For her, if you speak in the north, you must be killed… It’s automatic in her mind… There are many `myths` about the north in the south and vice versa… She does not know that there are thousands of other ways of `punishment` for expressing your ideas openly in the north. She is a beautiful woman doing research but fails to understand what sort of conditions prevail in the northern part of the island. Not because she is a bad person but simply because she lacks experience of living and struggling and trying to survive with human dignity in this part of the world…

She has a comfortable life: she has never been persecuted, her phones never tapped, her letters never opened. She has never been followed by intelligence officers and when she goes abroad, no one broke into her room, searching her luggage and leaving a card torn into two to show her `they have been there`…

She’s never received death threats, `last warnings` from the Grey Wolves, never been the target of big manipulation campaigns in the newspapers of the regime…

She hasn’t had her photo printed on the front pages of extremist papers calling on the Grey Wolves to `finish with her`… She was never thrown out of her job, not because she did something wrong but because she expressed her ideas…

All of this because she happens to live in the southern, not the northern part of the island…

She sits in her nice, comfortable office, doing research, arranging conferences but cannot go beyond the walls in her mind to try to see what’s been happening in the same country…

Many Greek Cypriots I speak to think that Turkish Cypriots want to join EU because they want to get rich! If you don’t have the experience of living under an autocratic regime, you fail to see the wish of the masses in the north: democracy, freedom, a life with human dignity… Peace and a future…And of course prosperity… Going into EU for Turkish Cypriots does not mean just `economics` - it has deeper reasons…Foremost I think, it is to be able to have a future on the island – since now, there is only `uncertainty` about what will happen tomorrow – Will the checkpoints close? Will you emigrate? Will your children come back? Or stay abroad forever? Will there be new conflicts? Or not? Will your house be bombed? Or not? Nothing is `certain` in this part of the island since the regime likes you to live on the edge, never being certain of your future… According to the phsychiatrist Mehmet Chakici whom I have interviewed, `This can be the worst for human beings: living under uncertainty is the most stressful way of life and in fact Turkish Cypriots have one of the highest rates of heart failure and cancer in the world…`

When thousands of people were demonstrating in the streets last year with EU flags, they were saying: `This country is ours, we must rule it ourselves!` People were fed up with the interventions from Ankara, they were fed up with an intransigent Denktash, they were fed up with living under `uncertainty` for the future. The youth were emigrating to other countries, not wanting to come back to the island since they saw no future here. Mothers were in the street, grandmothers, old men, students, kids with placards that they wrote at home and brought it to the demonstrations.

Ankara’s policies of constantly sending `new citizens` had turned Turkish Cypriots almost into a minority in their own country. Turkish Cypriots could not be the head of the Turkish Cypriot army – always a general was appointed by Turkey and Turkish Cypriots could not be a general in their own army! Head of the central bank was always appointed by Ankara… The Turkish Cypriot police force was not under the command of the Turkish Cypriot civilian government, it was under the command of the General Staff of Turkey. `Economic packages` were sent to northern Nicosia to be implemented, whether suitable to Turkish Cypriots or not, this did not matter.

Ankara intervened in different ways in the daily lives of Turkish Cypriots: elections was one of them. Remember the time when Denktash and Eroglu were competing against each other? There was to be only the `first round` of the elections… Both failed to get the majority of the vote but there was never a `second round` of voting since Eroglu was made to resign from candidacy. At a dinner with journalists, Eroglu had said that 42 intelligence officers who came from Ankara were following him… There were rumors that he was put under surveillance – he had to stay at the Jasmine Court Hotel, not being able to go back to his own house… At that time, Ankara did not want any contestant against Denktash and Eroglu had to pay the price… Many Turkish Cypriots, afterwards felt `defeated` - they were calling on live TV programmes and saying `I want my vote back!`

When Akinci was critical of the military stationed in the north and tried to bring police under civilian control, he also had to pay a price. He had formed a coalition with Eroglu’s party and tried to put forward ideas of democracy… Ankara didn’t like these ideas…One night Eroglu’s residence was bombed and he dissolved the coalition with Akinci.

Last elections thousands of `new citizenship` were distributed – if you are from Turkey, the procedure of becoming a citizen of the northern part of our island is that you need to go through your own Embassy and get a paper of `clearance` of some sort. While Erdogan and Gul were making statements that there would be no intervention in elections, `new citizenships` were being issued by the thousands… It wasn’t just Eroglu and Serdar Denktash’s coalition – if these thousands of people did not have `clearance` from their own embassy, they could not become citizens… Again Ankara carried the responsibility of changing the demographic structure of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Many officials sent from Ankara to Cyprus were telling us that `We were not Turk enough, not nationalistic enough, not religious enough!` Instead of accepting that we were coming from different cultures even though with strong historical ties, we were being told that we were the `lesser people!`

We were being told what to do, how to live, how to act! Even our summer holidays were considered `too long` by Ankara and a law was passed and they have shortened the summer hours!

A few years ago, the Press Attache of the Turkish Embassy told me `Who do these trade unionists think they are? They have such demands! How can you have such demands?!` Again she failed to understand that Cyprus was a different country, it was not part of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots could have different demands and different struggles…

These and similar things were on the minds of thousands of Turkish Cypriots who were demonstrating in the streets last year and of course the regime saw that unless they opened some checkpoints, soon these thousands of people would be bringing them down with their own hands… So there came the partial opening of the checkpoints on the 23rd of April last year… This was the power of thousands of Turkish Cypriots who demonstrated for peace, democracy and human dignity on this island…The opening was like a fresh breath of air – thousands of people from both sides started moving all around the island and myths created over time started crumbling… `Meeting the other` was no longer a `taboo`…

All of these are not about `Turkish Cypriots` or `Greek Cypriots` - it’s about humanity… It’s about struggles for survival with human dignity on this island…

We need to see what’s happening on both sides of our island if we want to control our own fate, our own future… We can’t afford to make generalizations and accusations – the only thing we can do is try to understand each other so that we can build a future together… We can’t afford to jump to conclusions about each other – we need to go beyond the walls in our minds not to just see but also to feel the others…

Sartre once said `To know does not mean that you feel it…` We have to have both: We need to know but also feel…This is a necessity if we want to control our own destiny as Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots…

(*) Published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 14th of March, 2004

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