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Independence struggle continues in occupied Cyprus

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In Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Oz Karahan points out the barbed wires in the buffer zone. “These were put here temporarily to distract the world from the real invasion,” he says. For him and many others, the real invasion is the settler colonialism practice by Turkey after the beginning of the occupation in 1974, writes Natalia Marques.

“The illegal settlement policy of Turkey in Cyprus is a war crime and a crime against humanity according to the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute and the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity of the United Nations,” says Karahan, who heads the Union of Cypriots, the most vocal movement against Turkish occupation in Cyprus. It is fair to say that the movement’s successful international activities are one of the main reasons that progressives around the world are aware of Cyprus and its effects on peace in the Levant today.

Karahan is one of the most prominent figures in Cyprus for his ideas regarding Cyprus and world politics. Because of this, he has been blacklisted and declared persona non grata by Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We do not fight for peace in Cyprus, because there is no war here between Cypriots,” says Karahan. “We do not fight against the so-called division, because Cyprus is not divided. These terminologies and false perceptions are used by the imperialists in order to hide what they have done to our homeland. Cyprus is an occupied country that has been used as an unsinkable aircraft carrier by five foreign militaries. That is why we fight for liberation against the imperialist occupation.”

Today, anger towards Turkey is rising because of the economic catastrophe it has caused in the occupied northern parts of the island. Turkish Cypriots, who make up only a small percentage of the population in the occupied territories, are European citizens. That is why they can easily observe that their standard of living is lower compared to their Greek Cypriot compatriots living in the free southern parts of the island.

“Turkey has succeeded in making the [Turkish Cypriot] economy dependent on itself by putting its own currency, the Turkish lira, into use instead of the Cypriot lira”, says Hare Yakula, who is an activist with Mesarya Women's Initiative, an organization that campaigns for women’s and LGBT+ rights. “With the so-called ‘republic’ established in 1983 to cover up the occupation regime, Turkish-speaking Cypriots are isolated from the world, have to cope with international unrecognition, and experience major obstacles in their cultural, artistic and sports activities.”

Contrary to common misconceptions, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” was not declared by the regime in the occupied territories in 1974. As Yakula says, it was declared in 1983 by the US-backed military junta that was ruling Turkey at the time. This decision also caused Turkish Cypriots to be isolated from the world.

“I am a Turkish-speaking Cypriot independent film director and I cannot do my job freely in this land,” says Kamil Saldun. He and his partner, Sholeh Zahrei, are well known in the Cypriot community. Their works have received awards from the most prestigious film festivals around the world. The films they make are unique, because they frequently examine social issues in Cyprus in both the Cypriot Greek and Cypriot Turkish languages.

“Turkish-speaking Cypriot independent artists, writers and journalists, whose freedom of expression is restricted, are blocked and attacked,” says Saldun. “Today, even the education system in public schools is controlled by Turkey, where Cypriot identity is clearly intended to be eliminated.”

The social, cultural and economic oppression against Turkish-speaking Cypriots that Turkey has perpetrated since 1974 clearly has only one reason. Turkey sees the ultra-secular and unique identity of Turkish Cypriots as the biggest threat to its existence on the island.

“While Turkey has been transferring people to the country systematically since 1975, it has been interfering with Turkish Cypriots' right to vote and seek elected office by forcing this population to be citizens,” says Halil Karapaşaoğlu, who is a poet, activist and conscientious objector.

Since no political organization other than the Union of Cypriots has officially called on the international community to not recognize elections in Turkish-occupied Cyprus specifically due to the settler colonialism in the occupied territories, the world continues to turn a blind eye to this serious issue. The Community Leadership elections, which should be open only to Turkish Cypriots who are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, are left to the initiative of the occupation regime. And since the occupation regime encourages illegal settlers to vote in this election, today Turkish Cypriots lost their only international representation and seat at the negotiation table for the settlement of the Cyprus issue under the auspices of the United Nations.

“The hegemony created by Ankara in the cultural and economic field turns into political hegemony over the population it brings,” says Karapaşaoğlu. “In addition, they continue to migrate people in order to create a sterile Turkish and Muslim culture, and they are trying to Turkify and Islamize the local population according to the standards they have determined.”

Other than liberating their island from occupation, Cypriots also have to decide about the system for the common homeland they want to live in. For Aziz Şah, who is an activist and respected journalist at the Avrupa newspaper, the answer is clear: “A unitary Cyprus, free from foreign armies, weapons and NATO bases, and where ethnic, religious and class borders and walls do not exist.” Even though Turkey’s “federal Cyprus” plan is still in negotiation, both the 2004 referendum and current polls show that the majority of Cypriots agree with Şah and his desire for a “unitary Cyprus”.

The newspaper that Şah writes, Avrupa, is considered one of the most important media outlets in Cyprus. The chief editor of the newspaper, Şener Levent, is the number one enemy of the Turkish government on the island. Since its establishment, the headquarters of the newspaper has been bombed, shot at and attacked by illegal Turkish settlers many times.

“The settler colonialism carried out by Turkey in Cyprus is not a coincidence; on the contrary, it is an extermination policy designed to keep Turkish Cypriots under control as a minority in the north and to prevent Greek Cypriot refugees from returning to their homes and lands,” Şah says. “The showpiece negotiation process, which has been under the auspices of the United Nations for more than half a century, is nothing but the approval of the partition of Cyprus.”

It has been 48 years since the occupation of Cyprus began. We must not forget that the oppression that Turkish Cypriots face is also a crime against humanity according to international law. Today, unfortunately, the vision of most Cypriot political parties and organizations may not go further than the barricades that were put on the island almost half a century ago. Only a very small number of bilingual Cypriot organizations are able to destroy those barriers and reach the world to share their message. And it is the duty of the international community to hear the righteous and consistent voice of these forces and support them. Not only for Cypriots, but for humanity.

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