Lobbying for Turkish Cypriots rights.
By Ismail Veli
I first observed the power of lobbying at the age of 17 during the Yom Kippur war between the Arabs and Israelis in November 1973. As a result of the six day war in 1967 the Israelis almost seemed invincible. The sudden attack on Israel in 1973 by the Arabs caught Israel completely off guard. Israel was up against a different kind of Arabic army than they had experienced beforehand. They realised that they could win ten wars and still be vulnerable. One defeat could mean the ending of their state.
The Jewish diaspora went into overdrive. I was eager to see how things developed. I bought at least 2-3 newspapers a day and watched every news channel possible. Every angle and opinion was important. It was in the Guardian newspaper that I read about an American Jewish function that was hurriedly organised to lobby and collect funds to help finance the Israeli war and diplomatic effort. Many of the most distinguished Jewish businessmen with congressmen, senators etc were in attendance at the New York function, each attempting to outdo each other in donations for the Jewish cause.
I was amazed that over 300 million dollars was collected in just one night. Even by the standards of today that is an astronomical figure. The Jews lobbied and received massive support from the American politicians present. The first thing that crossed my mind was that the international Jewish community could not have been more than 17-18 million, but with that kind of powerful support, influence and determination, going up against them needed some doing. One does not need to support the Jewish point of view to understand their single minded dedication to what they believe to be right. So what does all the above have to do with Cyprus.
I believe a lot. We all know that on a smaller scale the dedication of the Greek Cypriots (GCs) to their cause and their selfless donations of millions of dollars to lobbying each year has up to this point won them many friends. Donating money and effort to win certain MPs, paying their expenses to Cyprus and ramming their point of view across by taking them to the border to show the evil conquering hordes of Attila. The loss of their ancestral homes, the injustice of a little power at the mercy of Attila on invading and occupying an island that was peaceful and did no wrong are words and events we as Turkish Cypriots (TCs) have seen and read over and over again.
So how have the political parties and TCs in general reacted against this ceaseless and never ending lobby and propaganda machine by the GCs. Frankly not too much. The amount spent on PR, international media advertising and in particular lobbying by the TRNC or the TC business community is so negligible as to make it almost invisible. This indifference by the political establishment in North Cyprus beggars belief. Every day we hear about the injustices of the embargoes on our people, everyday we listen to our politicians complain about the world knowing and doing nothing to help us overcome this problem, the rhetoric is for equality, and recognition of TC rights. When it comes to political rallies in Cyprus we see thousands turn up, with a mind boggling array of banners, flags, advertising and wide media attention, which must surely cost an immense amount of money.
What about the TCs in London? frankly the vast majority spend little or no time to effective lobbying. Ballos (parties) are plentiful, music and entertainments are held in abundance to support our cause, but after the food and drink, people go home, talk about the cause and do little else. Even rallies in Trafalgar attract at most a couple of hundred people, sadly the speakers usually speak in Turkish which no passers-by understand, a few brag about unity and patriotism but never lobby their MPs, MEPs or even bother to write a letter to these people to argue our case. Preaching to the converted is no more than an ego trip for most. I was once challenged as to why I was not carrying a flag, when I responded that true patriotism requires lobbying against injustice against the decision makers, and promoting the positive aspects of our culture and legal rights, his response was ”What for, they know we are right, why should I waste my time”. Sadly this gentleman was actually the head of a TC NGO for over 20 years.
The divide between the diaspora and TCs in Cyprus seems to be widening inexorably to one of ‘them and us’. The TCs in North Cyprus view the diaspora as patriots from a distance who have no right to lecture to anyone, after all did they not choose to leave the island for a better life and abandon their homeland. What right does the diaspora have in, lecturing or interfering on how the economy or a negotiated settlement in Cyprus develops. The Diaspora on the other hand feels that their cousins in Cyprus see us as simply cash cows. Invest in Cyprus, buy property, pay or do national service, take our holidays back home but mind our own business on everything else.
It seems that this attitude from both sides has now reached a point where the 2-3 generations born abroad care little or nothing about what happens ‘back home’, as they see a system based on partisan and corrupt management, who have no idea of the outside world other than believing that everyone in the world are having a cushy time while the ‘poor’ TCs are struggling to survive.
In view of their legal obligation to national service heavy spending in Cyprus and demands of support from all political parties in the TRNC, especially on anniversaries of national and religious days, the diaspora argue about the democratic right to a vote at elections or at least representation in the TRNC parliament. After all some argue that the Italians who left their country in the 1940s, or earlier are eligible to vote in General elections in Italy, so what makes us any different. The cousins ‘back home’ reject this out of hand. They argue that with so many TCs abroad local problems and issues can only be decided close to home. One surprising aspect of the diaspora’s demands is that they have never organised a strong committee to establish how many TCs can or will vote from abroad, who they will elect to represent their rights in the TRNC. For example not a single TC individual has come forward or been elected as leader of the UK TCs to argue their point of view. The argument is simply put forward that they want voting rights etc. Confusion, lack of organization and mistrust from Cyprus and abroad all play their part in the growing divide.
The few who do spend time and money in attempting to lobby are simply burnt out and fed up with the apathy from North Cyprus, while the TCs in Cyprus are simply fed up of 50 years of isolation that have helped destroy what little confidence they have left. The mistrust in our own political ineptitude is at a low level, and it’s becoming clear that they no longer believe a settlement will be reached anytime soon. One issue that seems to unite all TCs however is the application of the GCs to the EU to accept Hellim/Halloumi as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) which if accepted will have disastrous consequences for the TCs limited export revenue with heavy reliance on this product. It’s strange that with decades of dispute the latest Greek move on Hellim has the potential to enrage and divide the two people on the island irreconcilably.
In the meantime the diaspora’s confidence in North Cyprus has dipped immensely, and it seems the attitude of all sides is ‘‘WHO CARES AND WE ARE FED UP. WHATEVER WILL BE WILL BE” Que sera, sera.