Turkish Cyprus underwhelmed by polls 

Turkish Cyprus underwhelmed by polls 

Turkish Cyprus headed to the polls yesterday (Sunday) in a parliamentary election that has failed to generate enthusiasm among a largely disillusioned electorate.

Elections in the unrecognised entity of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are traditionally dominated by the territorial dispute with the Greek Cypriots.

With no solution in sight, the campaign has centred around enduring issues like corruption, nepotism, citizenships being given to Turkish mainlanders and their grip on the entity.

The giant Hala Sultan mosque (pictured) in Nicosia is due to open this year and is now by far the biggest mosque in the eastern Mediterranean. It has been seen as symbolic of Ankara’s tightening grip over northern Cyprus.

The mosque will be able to accommodate 3,000 worshippers, many of whom will be mainland Turkish settlers brought to the island in the 1970s as part of efforts to “Turkify” the north.

Turkish Cyprus has a functioning parliament and state institutions but was only recognised by Turkey when it declared independence in 1983, formally leaving the Republic of Cyprus.

Esra Aygin, a Turkish-Cypriot moderate from the inter-communal lobby group, Unite Cyprus Now, said: “The mosque represents the change in lifestyle and culture that Turkey would like to impose on us. It is very important that the forces of reconciliation do well if [President Mustafa] Akinci’s hand is not to be weakened and further mistrust avoided.”

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a Greek-inspired coup with the Turks saying they were acted in accordance with a treaty of guarantee signed when the Cypriot Republic was founded in 1960.

The region is an “occupied part of Cyprus”, according to the UN Security Council.

Turkish Cypriots are regarded as some of the most liberal Muslims, with many drinking alcohol, attributed to British colonial rule. The majority dislike the idea of women wearing headscarves and quip that they would only attend mosques for funerals. Increasing Islamisation has therefore been met with caution.

Talks in Switzerland in July to reunify Cyprus failed despite efforts by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Political parties in the north usually shape their campaign platforms around their approach to the dispute but the results of the Greek Cypriot presidential election at the end of the month will have far more influence in the dispute.

Turkish Cypriots worry that policies aimed at promoting a resurgence of Islam could block attempts to reunite Cyprus.

Northern Cyprus survives on aid from Turkey and has limited options for direct foreign trade.

There are no direct sea or air links beyond Turkey.

“The north of Cyprus is practically and psychologically a sub-government of Turkey,” said Ulas Baris, a Turkish-Cypriot analyst.

“Therefore, although some parties try and campaign for certain policies with a good will, it is Turkey that economically controls the north of the island and intervenes in the politics here either directly or indirectly,” Baris told Al Jazeera.


Hala Sultan mosque in Nicosia. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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