“Here’s what I think”: The Kızılyürek Controversy

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"Here's what I think": The Kızılyürek Controversy 1

The Sunday after next we are heading to the polls for the European Parliament elections. I know I’m a politics nerd and I eat this stuff up, but these elections are particularly interesting. First of all, the British ones the Thursday before could be among the most important in that country’s recent history; their fate inside or outside the European Union could be swung either way based on what happens there. Over here, too, we have a particular point of interest and apparent controversy, and his name is Niyazi Kızılyürek. 

"Here's what I think": The Kızılyürek Controversy 2
Tom Cleaver

Mr Kızılyürek is a political scientist, columnist, and professor at the University of Cyprus. He is a Turkish Cypriot, and he is a candidate for ΑΚΕΛ. At least as far as I’ve seen, he has been their most publicised candidate, and the one which has provoked the most of a reaction. I’ve probably seen his face somewhere every day for at least the last month and a half, whereas in contrast I don’t know any of the other five from Adam. Whoever they are, I have no intention of voting for them, and I have no intention of voting for Mr Kızılyürek. I will explain my reasons for this in due course, but before that I must address the elephant in the room that is the apparent controversy surrounding his candidacy. 

If you couldn’t tell from his name, Kızılyürek is a Turkish Cypriot. This, in addition with ΑΚΕΛ’s unashamed marketing of this for electoral gain, has caused outrage in Cypriot politics. The word “treachery” has been thrown around like it’s going out of fashion (and I can assure anyone worried that at least in the sphere of Cypriot politics it most definitely is not), and Kızılyürek’s candidacy has become the talk of the village. 

territory cannot speak, nor can it vote

The crux of the controversy is that Kızılyürek and ΑΚΕΛ seem to be promising representation to the Turkish Cypriots in this move. Many people have taken this as giving “a voice to the occupied territory” but this is simply not true in my opinion. Territory cannot have a voice; the ground cannot speak, nor can it vote. Despite all the arm-waving and anger, Kızılyürek’s candidacy doesn’t actually change much, in fact. Turkish Cypriots who are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus could always vote in elections, wherever they may live. What it does do, however, is give some of those voters a figurehead and an explicit reason to vote in Republic of Cyprus-based elections, possibly for the first time in half a century.

Explicit representation of Turkish Cypriot citizens of the Republic of Cyprus is perfectly legal and perfectly valid, as is explicitly marketing towards them in order to win their votes. They are, of course, citizens of this country, and form a small but not inconsiderable part of the electorate. Kızılyürek is no product of any invasion or anything like that, in fact he’s older than the Republic of Cyprus itself, and works at the University of Cyprus. I’m sure that we wouldn’t for one moment be accusing the University of Cyprus of treachery for hiring him, however.

the clutching of pearls has been astonishing

Sure, it is true that Kızılyürek has been saying one thing in the north and another everywhere else, promising explicitly to represent Turkish Cypriots while there, and running advertisements with the slogan “Our voice in Europe” up there, while south of the green line pledging himself to represent all voters of the Republic of Cyprus. He admitted as much in a television appearance last week on “Μεσημέρι και Κάτι”, but saying two different things to two different crowds to try to keep everyone happy is what politicians do. It’s not treachery to do that, even in the north, because the people he’s promising to be the voice of are Cypriot citizens. He has every right to be “their voice” as much as they have the right to one in these elections. I also cannot for the life of me see how any of this could possibly be viewed to “legalise the occupation” as some have been saying, although I’m sure enough people will be quick to tell me once they’ve read the title. In simple terms, it is not treachery to want to represent the interests of Turkish Cypriots in the Republic of Cyprus, for reasons that are too blindingly obvious for me to waste column inches on.

Furthermore, I have no interest in the other small “controversies” which have erupted around Kızılyürek over the past weeks. The clutching of pearls that has been going on over a quote from a book he wrote has been astonishing, especially given that first of all in context what he wrote is actually true, and secondly is a subject about which he as a university professor with a PhD on the specific thing he was writing about probably knows an infinite amount more than anyone who got their feelings hurt by it. Additionally, I couldn’t care less if he has a Turkish passport or not. It makes no difference to his ability to legislate or to his ideology.

ΑΚΕΛ would all but do away with the EU altogether

I have and will continue to be a fierce critic of ΑΚΕΛ and in their own words I have “used this column to attack them” on occasions, but I am of the opinion that they should be applauded for putting Kızılyürek on their ticket. While it may be true that they have only selected him in order to energise Turkish Cypriots to vote and therefore increase their overall vote share, in my mind including Turkish Cypriots in the political conversation and creating opportunities for them to hold public office is a good thing. Doing more of this will help to break down the metaphorical barriers between the two communities which have caused and perpetuated the Cyprus Problem, and promote the cooperation that will be necessary if we are going to solve it.

However, as I have already stated, I have no intention of voting for Kızılyürek, even if I think his candidacy is a good idea. Voting for him based purely on the fact he is a Turkish Cypriot would make me or anyone else who’s thinking of it almost as bad as the people who are going to vote against him for the same reason. My reason for not voting for him is that his party seems to have destruction as its only vision for the European Union. ΑΚΕΛ is a member of GUE/NGL, a far-left sect with little influence and seemingly an even littler amount of policies. What can be found in ΑΚΕΛ’s official line seems to wish to tear up the Treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon, which would all but do away with the European Union altogether. Of course, they have no idea what they would do instead, the people who peddle these sorts of “ideas” never do. It’s mindless populism which, in my opinion, is a far bigger issue for one to have with Kızılyürek than his election strategy or the fact that he is a Turkish Cypriot

CTP members should be voting for ΔΗΚΟ given the viewpoints they share with each other

A truly progressive vote in these elections would be for the S&D group, the socialists and democrats of the European Parliament, who want to create a more equal Europe by providing more aid to those who most need it, and protecting and enhancing human rights of Europeans, immigrants, and refugees, all within the structures of the European Union such as the treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon which already exist and are working, and are valued by the S&D group. Cyprus’ largest S&D group member is ΔΗΚΟ, who have this year selected some competent, eloquent, and educated candidates such as Marinos Mousiouttas, Costas Mavrides, and Katerina Christophidou who with their more cooperative and progressive stances as regards to the European Union would be more productive members of the European Parliament should they be elected, which of course would be beneficial for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike.

In addition to this, CTP, the Turkish Cypriot political party with which many of Kızılyürek’s potential voters are aligned, is in fact an observer party of the PES, the international political party from which in part the S&D group is formed. This means that in reality, CTP members and supporters wishing to express their economic and European viewpoints should actually be voting for ΔΗΚΟ at these elections, given the viewpoints that they must share with each other in order to be within the same international political alliance.

To conclude, therefore, a vote for Niyazi Kızılyürek is not an act of treachery against the Republic of Cyprus, nor is an advert calling him “our voice in Europe“. However, Turkish Cypriots and Cypriots of all backgrounds looking for their voice in Europe may be better served by offering their vote elsewhere.

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