By Esra Aygin
As Turkey seems to be rapidly slipping into a single-party autocracy in the wake of a failed coup, the future seems ever more uncertain for a handful of Turkish Cypriots, who are watching the developments in dismay.
Tens of thousands people have been detained and suspended, hundreds of schools are being closed, all 3 million civil servants and all academics are banned from travelling abroad, tens of media outlets have been shut down, and a state of emergency has been declared in Turkey in response to the coup attempt last Friday.
“My biggest fear is that Erdogan may become even more authoritarian,” said International Relations Professor Dr. Ahmet Sozen, who underlined there have been increasing signs of Erdogan’s illiberal and authoritarian tendencies in the last three years.
“He may use the failed coup as a justification to further curb Turkish democracy and fundamental human rights and freedoms. This would take Turkey to much worse, much darker days.”
Observers agree that the northern part of Cyprus, which is economically dependent and politically and administratively under the heavy influence of Turkey, is certain to be affected by the developments in Turkey. Exactly how, is difficult to tell just yet.
The facts that Turkish citizens are not required to possess passports to enter the northern part of Cyprus, that the Turkish Cypriot police and fire department is under the Turkish military’s control, and that the religious activities in the north have largely been unregulated make the place even more vulnerable.
So far Some 60,000 people have been detained or suspended, including 103 generals and admirals – a third of the military’s high command, judges, prosecutors, soldiers, police, civil servants and private school teachers.
Some 1,577 university deans have been asked to resign. Civil servants and academics have been banned from travelling abroad and those abroad have been told to return home.
Erdogan has also said he would consider reinstating the death penalty for the ring leaders of the failed coup, while one of his top aides suggested the government may make it easier for the civilians to obtain firearm ownership licences “to defend themselves against coup attempts”.
Regardless of what direction Turkey decides to go, developments, which are completely outside the control of Turkish Cypriots, will inevitably have a huge impact on the north.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci stated that the important duty awaiting Turkey now is to show the world that it fulfils the requirements of being a state where rule of law prevails. “The best response to an illegal and anti-democratic attempt would be to remain within the limits of law and democracy,” said Akinci.
Although there have been no detentions or operations in the north where the state of emergency does not apply, reportedly investigations will soon be extended to the military and institutions in the north.
Three of the generals arrested in Turkey in the wake of the coup attempt were officials who had served in top positions in the north, including Adem Huduti, the former commander of the Turkish Cypriot army.
Turkish Cypriots felt caught up in a fight that does not belong to them on the night of the attempted coup, when prayers known as ‘sela’ were recited at around 2.30 am in a number of mosques simultaneously with the mosques in Turkey.
Sela, which is normally recited during funerals and special religious occasions, is said to be a call to arms for the Islamic community when issued at other times.
A group of about a hundred people, bearing flags, chanting “Allahu Akbar” and beaming prayers from loudspeakers have been gathering outside the Turkish Embassy in Nicosia every night since the first sela on the night of the abortive coup.
They are protesting against the Cemaat – the network of followers of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by the Turkish government of being behind the attempted coup.
“I don’t understand why this demonstration is taking place,” said researcher Mete Hatay from PRIO Cyprus Centre. “Turkish Cypriots have nothing to do with cults, sects or Cemaat. Cemaat was brought to Cyprus by the official Turkish institutions themselves.
“And as everybody knows, Turkish officials have always been complaining that the secular Turkish Cypriots were never very accepting of the Cemaat.”
Former Turkish MEP Ozan Ceyhun, who is known to be close to the Turkish Presidency, acknowledged that Turkish Cypriots are not a part of the crackdown, but said nevertheless that the investigation would be extended to the northern part of Cyprus.
“It is known that Gulen has ties in north Cyprus among the military, business world and civilian institutions,” Ceyhun told a Turkish Cypriot TV channel.
“But this has nothing to do with our Cypriot brothers. This is Turkey’s issue.”
Reports that the crackdown will soon be extended to Cyprus must have alarmed certain circles as municipal workers in the village of Galatia (Mehmetcik) in the Famagusta district found some 150 books written by Gulen along with broken computer hard drives and USB ports set on fire at a nearby dump site.
The jaw-dropping developments since early hours of last Friday have once again shown how vulnerable the status quo of Turkish Cypriots is and how they are bound to drift in winds that sweep Turkey unless the island is united under a federal umbrella.