Yeraltý Notlarý, 23 Mart 2004

Sevgül Uludað

 

So how about the `settlers`?(*)

`Settling population` to the land they took has always been the policy of the `conquistadors`: whether it was Latin America or Ireland the policy did not change. And it did not change much in Cyprus either. Turkey, after 1974 started settling its own population on the island…

They came from everywhere: from remote eastern Anatolia to the Black Sea area, from big towns like Istanbul, Adana, Izmir to far away places – even from Bulgaria…

THEY ARE NOT ONE GROUP

But when we say `settlers` we assume that they are one group of people. Let me tell you that they are not! There’s lots of diversity among what we call the `settlers`. Some of them are here since 1974, settling and having kids, getting married with Turkish Cypriots, most of them trying to adapt to the Cypriot culture.

AKOVA AND BAFRA

Even though some `settlers` have integrated with Cypriots and changed their way of life to suit the islanders’ culture like throwing away the headscarves of women, some have insistently lived in the `ghettos` created for them. In the village of Akova (Ipsos) in 1974, the `settlers` found Turkish Cypriot women’s way of dress `insulting` for their culture and decided to move to Bafra (Vogolida)… Some remained in Akova and live together without conflict with Cypriots. But when you look at the election results, while `settlers` in Akova village have given a considerable number of votes for the opposition parties defending peace and membership to EU, in the village of Bafra (Vogolida), the `settlers` have declined to do so…The majority of the `settlers` in the Karpaz area are still under the `control` of the regime…

SHOES FROM THE COMMANDER!

A visit from a commander to distribute shoes to kids, a visit by the ambassador or the `civil defense organization` would be enough to `convince` them to vote this way or that… There are many stories about how the military, together with the official beurocrats of the embassy have visited `settler villages` in the past, calling the `muhtar` to swear on the flag and the Quran that not even one vote would come out of that village for the opposition parties, otherwise the whole village would be sent back to Turkey!

When they have a problem in a village in this area if they can’t solve it with local authorities, they go straight to the Turkish Embassy for help. So the ties and structures are there even though this started changing since in the last elections, a considerable number of `settlers` for the first time voted for parties defending a solution in Cyprus. They too are `hostages` and some of them want a solution because they are tired of `uncertainty`…

MISERY OF THE ILLEGAL LABOUR

There is also a huge number of illegal labour: according to trade unionists their number may be around 30-40 thousand. They come to work with very low wages, with no social security, living and working in construction sites or whatever job is available. A lot of work accidents happen and some of them die in such accidents. Their lives are miserable… Even if the employer takes a work permit for them to stay and work, a law bans them from getting trade unionized or organized in any form of organization.

`THE FLUCTUATING POPULATION`

There are also other groups which I would call a `fluctuating population` - 10 come and 20 go and then 30 come and stay for a few months and then 25 go, maybe to come back again. No one knows how many they are. No one knows the actual population of Turkish Cypriots or the settlers. All information about such things is a `state secret`!!! But when you walk in the streets, go to supermarkets, open your TV to listen to news or when you are stopped by the police for a traffic control, you see it: the numbers are tangible and visible. TV news presenters, those who work in the services sector, cleaners, gardeners, workers are from Turkey. More than half of the police force are made up of `settlers`. Estimates are that there are at the moment around 80 thousand Turkish Cypriots living on the island and maybe around 100 thousand settlers but these are all imaginary – as I said noone knows the exact number…

If we look at the first group of people who were settled in Cyprus we see that they are also against the illegal labour coming from Turkey. Many of these workers working illegally have taken their jobs away and couple of times they have demonstrated in the streets against the illegal labour…

`HOSTAGES` OF THE REGIME

I interviewed the settlers back in 2002, going round the villages from Ipsos (Akova) to remote Karpaz area, from Kyrenia to Famagusta…This was the first series of interviews that ever appeared in the Turkish Cypriot press and it was called `The faces we see but the voices we don’t hear…` They appeared in Yeniduzen newspaper on the 22-27 April 2002.

It had taken me more than one and a half months just to arrange these interviews. In each village I was going to do an interview, I had to find someone to introduce me to the `settlers` so they would be comfortable to talking to me: it wasn’t easy… Just like Turkish Cypriots, they too were `hostages` of the regime in the north – whoever spoke or expressed a different opinion other than the `official line` would be punished. The punishment differed: from being threatened to not being able to take credit from the banks, from not being given a job to being sent back to Turkey…

`I HAVE NOWHERE TO RETURN TO…`

At the beginning of 2002 while doing interviews with university students I had come across Yasin, whose story had affected me. He was studying law at the university. His parents came from Turkey but he was born in Cyprus. He told me, `They tell me I have to go back to Turkey but I can’t… I went there and did not feel that it was my country. I was born here, I grew up here, I study here, this is my country… When they say `Go back`, I have no place to go back because I have no other country to go back to…`

It was sad because this generation of settler children were crushed between the two cultures: Turkish Cypriots were telling them `You are not a Cypriot, you are not one of us` and their parents were telling them `Beware! You are turning into a Cypriot! You are forgetting your own culture!` They could not please anyone! And they had no place to go…

STORY OF OKTAY YAMAN

One of the most interesting interviews I did was the one with Oktay Yaman. He was a progressive person while in Turkey – he was engaged to a Turkish Cypriot girl before 1974 and got married with her in 1975. He started working in a chicken farm and when he tried to get the workers there to get unionized he was sacked. Since he was from Izmir he said it was easy for him to adapt to his new surroundings – the Aegean culture is not so different from Cypriot culture he went on to say, but there were similarities as well as cultural differences. He settled in Akatu village… Here first Turkish Cypriots from the village of Tatlisu in the south had been settled. But Tatlisu is close to Larnaca in the south and people from that village were not used to working in the fields but rather in factories. They left the village (now renamed Tatlisu) to go to settle in Bellapais – immediately the `settlers` in the village sent news to their villagers in Turkey that there were empty houses to settle in. Oktay Yaman remembers that whole villages came by themselves to settle in Akatu by their own organization!

`YOU MUST REMAIN AT LEAST 5 YEARS`

At other places I spoke to like Karpaz, it was clear that Ankara had organized them to come… They were offered land, wages, animals provided that those who come to settle would remain at least five years in the north, otherwise they would lose everything they had been given… Imagine the Black Sea area back in 1974, how remote it was but even in that area, civil servants had gone to coffee shops to announce that those who wanted to be settled in Cyprus could do so with the above conditions.

`MESSENGER FROM THE EMBASSY!`

Oktay Yaman told me of how Eroglu’s party always tried to divide the `settlers` as `those from Konya area`, `those from the Adana area` etc. and they would `negotiate` with the `leader` of that group for votes in elections. Oktay Yaman was in the opposition and became the mayor of Tatlisu in 1986. He spoke of the interventions of the regime in elections in 1990 and how he refused to listen to these… In 1990 he remembers some `messengers` coming to him and saying `The Turkish Ambassador sends his regards and asks you to vote for Denktash!` He explained to them why he could not… He got threatened… He remembers the type of threats he got while he was consistently working for peace and democracy on the island: one day a car passed and tried to crush his feet. He says that after 1990s the regime got more organized to have more `control` over the `settlers`…

SOLUTION WITH A HUMAN FACE!

Life is not static… People grow, change, move from one idea to the next, they observe, they see EU on the horizon… So do the `settlers`… They were brought to the island in contradiction to the Geneva Convention with the aim of changing the demographic structure of the island. No one is contesting that. They have been used against the expression of the will of the Turkish Cypriots throughout the 30 years they have been here. But they also started changing and a considerable number of them wanting peace and a solution on this island. `Settlers` are also human beings with problems, difficulties, families, kids… Perhaps we can learn to `treat` them in a human way rather than talking of them as though talking of a bag of potatoes to be shipped back! There could be many creative solutions to the `settler` issue like what Lithuania did with their `Russian settlers` while joining EU… Whatever solution we find it should have a human face where both Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and what we call the `settlers` can feel comfortable with…

(*) Article written by Sevgul Uludag and published in ALITHIA newspaper on 21.3.2004

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