Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Cyprus - the island where being just a Cypriot isn’t allowed

Esra Aygin 

I was very disturbed and disappointed when I received a form from my child’s school asking for, among other things, the religion and ethnicity of my child. I was also to choose which ethnic minority group my child belonged to. The asterisk on these questions indicated that this information was required by the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus.

Not only were these questions difficult to answer for reasons I will try to explain, requiring such information is against EU law. Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council openly states that the processing, including collection of personal data including ethnic origin and religion is prohibited and can only be done with the subject’s consent, or by providing anonymity.

By requiring these personal and private data on a form where the child’s and parents’ names are openly stated, the Ministry is neither asking for consent, nor providing anonymity and thus, is openly in violation of EU law.

Coming to the difficulty of answering these questions… My children, as children of atheist parents, have grown up to this day, knowing that there are a number of religions in the world, but mom and dad don’t believe in any of them. They also know that they are free to choose in the future, to believe in a religion or not to believe at all, but this is a totally personal matter, which only depends on what they feel in their hearts. Who am I to assign or not assign a religion to my children?

And ethnicity… What ethnicity are my children? Cypriot - since my ancestors as far as I can go back are all from Cyprus? Does the fact that the Republic of Cyprus will not give them Cypriot citizenship because they are children of a mixed marriage make a difference? Does the fact that they are Cypriots denied of Cypriot citizenship make them non-Cypriot? Should I try European? Or Turkish? And to be honest, what are we really? In an age when mixed marriages are so common and DNA tests are rewriting the family histories of millions of people, being required to ‘choose’ an ethnicity for my child feels ridiculous to say the least. ‘How did my friend answer this question,’ I wondered to myself. ‘What ethnicity did she write for her beautiful children of a Turkish Cypriot mother and a Greek Cypriot-British father?’ How about my Panaman-Cypriot friend with an Italian husband? ‘What did she write?’ And my Turkish friend with a German-Turkish Cypriot wife? …

And the ethnicity question didn’t end here. I was also required to indicate which ethnic minority group in Cyprus my child belonged to. I had only four choices: Turkish Cypriot, Armenian, Maronite and Latin. I have brought up my children telling them that they are Cypriots. Nothing else…  Just Cypriots! So now, just because a civil servant feels like it, I have to classify my child into an ethnic minority?
And I wish this was the only problem with this question. Obviously, the form was not after the numerical ethnic minorities in Cyprus, where there are a significant number of British, Russians, Sri Lankans, Pilipinos etc. It was after the constitutional minorities – those stipulated in the constitution of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus – Maronites, Armenians and Latina. With one exception though... Turkish Cypriots were conveniently added to the constitutional minorities in this form. (The Republic of Cyprus was formed in 1960 based on a power-sharing agreement between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Maronites, Armenians and Latina are stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus as minorities of the Republic)  

When I reacted against this form by posting it on social media, many friends complained that they had to choose between being a “Greek Cypriot” and a Turkish Cypriot” on their driving license documents and other official papers. How do children of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriot parents feel? Where do they fit themselves in? How about Turkish Cypriots, who stayed in the south after the division of the island with their Greek Cypriot neighbors and cannot speak a word of Turkish? How have we forced them to categorise themselves? How on earth did we fail - to this extent - to overcome the divisions imposed on us and build a state and institutions that accept and promote “Cypriotness”? How have we been terribly discriminating against, and worse, ignoring the existence and identity of so many people, who just feel “Cypriot?” Do we really have no space in official documents for Cypriots, who do not feel purely Greek Cypriot or purely “minority” Turkish Cypriot or purely Maronite, Armenian or Latin? Why can’t we just be Cypriots in this country?


Turkish Cypriots are losing their identity

By Esra Aygin
With the failure of negotiations aimed at finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, and in the absence of any real prospects for a federation, the most likely path awaiting the Turkish Cypriot community seems to be assimilation and integration to Turkey.
Although a segment of the community is advocating that Turkish Cypriots could protect their identity and culture by ‘cleaning their house’ many observers deem this unlikely.
“Only a federal solution would enable Turkish Cypriots to protect their identity,” said International Relations Professor Ahmet Sozen.
“The failure of the process means further demographic, economic, political, religious, social, and cultural alteration of the north. The Turkification and Islamisation of north Cyprus will – before long – be complete.”
Besides the ongoing demographic change through the granting of dozens of Turkish Cypriot citizenships weekly, mushrooming hotels and casinos in the hands of Turkish capital, and increasing socio-cultural pressure, recent developments are causing special concern as they directly affect the youth.
The change in the education curriculum in Turkey, which entails the exclusion of Darwin’s theory of evolution and inclusion of creationism; reduces emphasis on Ataturk and teaches jihad, has alarmed Turkish Cypriots, as these changes will most likely also apply to the schools in the north.
The high-school curriculum in the northern part of Cyprus is harmonised with Turkey and Turkish textbooks are used in schools to enable Turkish Cypriot students to take the Turkish university examinations.
Public education in the north is taking new shape, as Turkey seems to be increasing its direct involvement through the Turkish embassy in Nicosia.
The Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union (KTOS) made a statement recently saying that the embassy is in effect running the public education through a number of personnel in various departments of the education ‘ministry.’
The union also argued that the embassy is planning to appoint supervisors and education experts to the ‘ministry’; and special education experts and child psychologists to schools from Turkey.
In fact, it was revealed that a recent controversial school excursion to Turkey was organized by the ‘embassy personnel.’ The traditionally secular and moderate Turkish Cypriots were shocked to watch a footage from the school excursion, which showed children separated into groups according to their gender – some girls wearing headscarves, being exposed to religious propaganda and preaches. It was reported that the children were called for prayers, taken to religious sites and girls were banned from wearing shorts.
When Turkish Cypriot Secondary School Teachers Union (KTOEOS) demanded an explanation from the education ‘ministry’ about the excursion, it was Tamer Ozdemir, a Turkish embassy official appointed to the education ‘ministry’ as a ‘project coordinator,’ who shockingly responded.
“Of course you are frustrated, because our visit was not to Greek Cypriots. It is obvious you don’t have half the love towards your own race, that you have towards a community that murdered your fathers, mothers and siblings,” Ozdemir lashed out.
“The plane is ours, the money is ours. Certainly we are not going to ask you. Continue the rage because such projects will continue.”
Yeniduzen newspaper reported that Semattin Ozturk, the ‘youth and sports advisor’ at the Turkish embassy was also directly involved in the school excursion.
“The current AKP policy is to impose their ideology on Turkish Cypriots,” wrote journalist Sami Ozuslu in Yeniduzen.
“Turkish Cypriots, who were not nationalist enough for those in Ankara in the past, are now, not Muslim enough. The basic aim is to turn the community into a real Islamic society. We are on the red line.
If Turkish Cypriots also lose their ‘secular’ and ‘modern’ character, I believe there is no future beyond that.”
Concerns about the conservatism and Islamisation of the Turkish Cypriot community has led to repeated emphasis on “secularism” recently by a number of officials including Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, some political parties, trade unions and journalists.
The Unions Platform, which includes some of the biggest trade unions in the north, including the teachers’ unions and civil servants unions, made a statement earlier this week, saying there is an effort to transform the Turkish Cypriot community through the education system. “We are faced with a kind of social engineering,” the Platform said.
There has been a significant increase in the number of mosques, Quran courses and religious activities in the north in recent years.
Media reports of underage children participating in illegal religious lessons run by the mosques are frequent, and the controversial Hala Sultan Theology College, ruled illegal by the High Administrative Court, continues to operate. Although the ombudswoman found mandatory religious school lessons to be in violation of the principles of equality and freedom, there is no sign of change.
Another uproar in the community caused by a new ‘religious hotel’ built for women in hijab has died out, and the new rage is about religious hymns broadcasted from loudspeakers at the Ercan (Tymbou) airport to send off a group on pilgrimage organized by the Turkish embassy.
“Although theoretically, cleaning the house sounds possible, it is very difficult for Turkish Cypriots, if not impossible, to overcome the prevailing system and all these forces at play,” said Sozen. “So unfortunately, the path is very clear.”