When we learned of a simple event of joy and patriotism taking place in a North East London council ward, little did we expect it would unearth deep rooted racism that extended into a local authority and with the daily news reports of claimed institutional racism in UK sport it is surely time when the current UK government should take this issue seriously and deal with the huge and long lasting Cyprus problem which many previous UK governments over the years have swept under the carpet.
A prominent member of the Turkish Cypriot diaspora summarised in his email of protest to Labour Council Leader, Grace Williams the thoughts of many others.
“Dear Waltham Forest Councillor Grace Williams,
It has been brought to my attention that you have been discriminating against Turkish Cypriots and I’d like to ask under what expedience do you think it is ever alright to deny a people their right to identify with their own native homeland?
That is my flag, my identity, and my rights are NOT negotiable! Your comments were absolutely deplorable! Councils have for years reached out to diverse communities, celebrated their cultures locally, twinned with their home towns and more. Why should Turkish Cypriots be excluded? Even if you don’t agree with the raising of the TRNC flag (tens of thousands in the United Kingdom loved it), what you did yesterday was totally unacceptable, your statement was blatantly racist! We Turkish Cypriots will NEVER accept being treated like second class citizens!!!
What this means is this:
Yesterday’s events highlighted the Council at its finest and – thanks to you – also at its very worst.
For a public body to display the national flag of the TRNC was not just a historic first for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, but also the United Kingdom. It reflected the very best of our British values: inclusivity, friendship, tolerance and respect. It highlighted that this Council recognises the diversity within the borough and treats all on an equal basis.
However, instead of the TRNC flag remaining displayed until the end of the day, as required, it was taken down following complaints from anti-Turkish racists and to whom you kowtowed and acquiesced. The fact that you caved in to such racist pressure was disappointing enough, but the statement from you, and who I’m stunned to say, you are the Labour Council Leader, beggars belief.
You said you “apologise for the offence caused by the raising of the flag of Northern Cyprus” essentially putting the feelings of Greek Cypriots before those of thousands of Turkish Cypriots in the borough. You also announced a ban on the TRNC flag ever being flown by the Council, with zero consultation. Do the views of your Turkish Cypriot origin citizens not matter?
Moreover, the Council has no problem flying the flags of unrecognised nations such as Tibet, but it has a problem with the national flag of the Muslim Cypriot Turkish community? Why?
You further justified this disgusting rhetoric by stating, and I quote, that it is a “disputed territory”, but where does that start and stop being applied by your offices?
Need I also remind you that the reason the Cyprus Problem exists is because the entire island is disputed. The Greek Cypriot administration does not recognise the TRNC. It is officially recognised as the “caretaker government” of the ROC, based on the pretence of “Justice of Need”, although that is up for interpretation, and it – along with its allies – regards itself as the legal and legitimate government of the ROC.
If that was true, the Cyprus Problem simply would not exist!
And something here that is definitely not up for interpretation is the fact that the TRNC does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration. The TRNC does not recognise the ROC post 1963. The TRNC does not recognise the Greek Cypriot occupation of the ROC circa 1963. Meaning, the entire island is disputed, not just one part.
Does that mean you will also refuse to raise the flag of the ROC, which has not legally, legitimately or constitutionally existed circa 1963? And which has been illegally, illegitimately and unconstitutionally occupied by the Greek Cypriots – at gunpoint, and with great misery and sorrow being dispensed on the Turkish Cypriots in the process – circa 1963?
Turkish Cypriots are already subjected to appalling levels of discrimination because of the unjust embargoes on their historically, de facto and de jure sovereign territories on their native homeland of Cyprus. Their fundamental human rights are undermined in every sphere of life.
And, at a time when we are living through unprecedented levels of Islamophobia, our own Council Leader seeks to further vilify this Muslim community and treat them as second class citizens in their own borough by banning their flag and apologising for the offence their existence and identity causes!
It is racism of the worst order and it must be condemned!
I urge you to either withdraw your appalling racist statement and issue an immediate apology to Turkish Cypriots, or step down gracefully!
There will rightly be more fury to come from others in the British Turkish Cypriot community when they learn of what has transpired and they will rightly want answers on how, in the heart of diverse London, such a wonderful day was marred by such awful decision making.
It is vital to hold a full investigation into the events surrounding and leading up to the removal of the flag, before the agreed time of removal.
From what one of the organisers was told by Council staff, it is clear there has also been foreign political interference, as the Greek Cypriot High Commission in London were among those pressuring the Council into removing the TRNC flag. Such interference is contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as foreign diplomats must “not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”
I will be joining the organiser in contacting the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to press for urgent action on this. This is the United Kingdom and we will not tolerate such undue influence and interference in our domestic affairs.
So please be under no illusion about the seriousness of your blunder, Mrs Williams, and please do not mistake this as anything but necessary condemnation warranted by your own errors and shortcomings.
I strongly implore you to provide a palpable and reasonable response as soon as you can.
There are also petitions and discussions lighting up all over calling upon your resignation.
This is not to be dismissed as just something small.
A British Citizen, Turkish Cypriot, and child of a survivor of the Turkish Cypriot Genocide”
Photo courtesy of Sonya Karafistan and video courtesy of Kıbrıs Postası