Can Europe Make It?

Turkish paternalism in Northern Cyprus

Turkey's relationship with Northern Cyprus is akin to a controlling father disciplining its errant son, and this has affected its attitude to a Cyprus settlement as well.

Sezen Yaraş
1 September 2014

‘Child land’ - which is the unofficial name of Northern Cyprus in Turkey - is the first place where Erdogan visited abroad as the 12th president of Turkey. This corresponds to a year before Erdogan’s promise of his ‘term of mastership’ about Turkey’s support for economically self-sufficient Northern Cyprus expires. Mastership is used to refer to the period of Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s rule after the 2011 elections, when Erdogan’s 3rd period of prime ministership started. “The period of masterships should also be reflected in Cyprus,” he said. 

Different voices from the cabinet have ended up with contradicting and confusing messages about the possible reflections of "mastership" in the island. Instead, they should really be clarifying what is meant by such stress on the reflection of mastership for Cyprus. Egemen Bagis, the former minister of EU Affairs, who had indicated that “unfortunately the TRNC had been seen as the little motherland for many years” and underlined their ideal of ensuring sustainable economy and prosperity in the Northern part had also declared that “we will tie Northern Cyprus to Turkey if necessary”.

Besir Atalay, Turkey’s deputy prime minister responsible for Cyprus affairs, in his message about the 40th anniversary of the partition of the island, also stressed the attachment of Northern Cyprus to the ‘motherland’. The project of transporting water to the island from Turkey had been mentioned both as serving the need for increased self-sufficiency in Northern Cyprus and as strengthening the ties with the mother land.

All these contradictory framings of AKP about its approach to the Cyprus issue might be interpreted as a distinct type of paternalism in terms of Turkey’s relationship with Northern Cyprus in the post 2011 period. The dominance of paternalist references within this approach of ‘mastership’ is obvious. However, it involves certain divergences from the previous paternalist approaches of the Turkish state to the ‘child-land’. Rather than its protection from the enemies through the presence of Turkish soldiers, or stressing protection and support for the island if a settlement that guarantees their equal status in the island cannot be accomplished, this has been a term when resolution of the issue has been more been on the agenda.

Stress on Turkey’s fatherly role has not decreased but has taken a different shape. This time, the mother land will not just feed and protect the child land. Its new role is assisting the child in its growing up as a confident, self-sufficient member of the region. Thus, rather than just being a protective father, what AKP makes references to is its targeting of a strong son who has attained his majority as a recognized actor and get rid of its status as the ‘occupation zone’, which will also be beneficial for the overall economic and political envisionings of the father. The ‘child land’ in return is seen as an important ally that has important economic and political resources itself which will serve for Turkish interests.  This can be exemplified by the case of natural gas that had been discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean which, as Turkey envisions, might serve for Turkey’s being a critical actor as the energy transit hub between Central Asia, the Southern Caucasus and Europe. 

Still, the child land is expected to grow up to represent the values of its ancestors. This paternalism has been characterized by distinct policies that stress the ethnic and religious commonalities between Turks of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. In his meeting with Turkish Cypriot journalists, Erdogan said that “Northern Cyprus is Muslim. We shouldn’t hesitate to be proud of this and make it more prevalent. We should also be more interested in increased religious education and mosques. When Ahmet Davutoglu, the former minister of foreign affairs became the prime minister, his statement that he would continue the ‘restoration movement’ of the AKP also culminated in certain discussions about the role of Islam in Turkish politics in general and its reflections about the Cyprus question in particular.

Another characteristic of this term of paternalism is that any criticism about cultural, economic and political framework introduced by the ‘master’ is perceived as threatening the overall envisionings of the father about the future of the main and ‘child’ land. The Turkish government’s reactions about the street protests against AKP’s economic policies included a very familiar nationalist language affirming similar themes from the pre-mastership period, such as blaming foreign enemies for trying to sow seeds of discord between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. Erdogan called them besleme (person who is provided with food and works as a servant).

Cemil Cicek, the former minister responsible for Cyprus affairs, blamed the Turkish Cypriots for not using the funds from Turkey effectively, which, he argues, makes the criticisms of the protestors unacceptable. The head of the council that was monitoring the funds from Turkey, Halil Ibrahim Akca, was appointed as the ambassador despite criticisms from different Turkish Cypriot political parties, which also causes certain confusion about how the mastership period is to differ from the former approach of the mother land.

Former minister of foreign affairs, Davutoglu, who is critical of the status quo and who had been behind the scenes of the Annan Plan, has become the new prime minister. Together with Erdogan - who is expected to play an active role similar to a semi presidential system - AKP’s role in the Cyprus issue, with the aim of ending years of ‘deadlock politics’, is an expected outcome of this new period of mastership. Still, the patriarchal style about the issue in question can be interpreted as providing good enough reasons to doubt that the settlement of the Cyprus question will be managed in a way that the Turkish Cypriots will be perceived as Cypriot citizens of the European Union rather than royal children of Turkey.

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