Here’s what I think: Akıncı and Syria

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Here's what I think: Akıncı and Syria 1

Mustafa Akıncı has earned himself the wrath of Turkey in the past few days with a cautionary message about the latter’s opinion-splitting military operation in Syria which began last week. After being criticised for his silence on the issue up to a point, he decided to put out a statement urging for dialogue rather than bloodshed. Unfortunately for him, however, this tone did not sit well with the leadership in Turkey nor with the ascendant nationalist politicians here in Cyprus, and he now finds himself in a spot of bother politically.

Here's what I think: Akıncı and Syria 2
Tom Cleaver

For what it’s worth, I saw Akıncı’s statement as pretty vanilla. Given some people’s reaction to it you would have thought he had cursed Erdoğan’s mother, but having read various summaries of the statement (which was de-publicised before I had the chance to read it), I found that Akıncı’s words were sensible and inoffensive. It is true that no matter what the motives of Turkey’s operation in Syria, it will cause bloodshed. Turkey of course has a right to try to keep its neighbourhood in order, and it could be argued that the situation in Syria as a whole can hardly be made worse. However, it is not wrong to state that military operations cause bloodshed and that this one is no different, which is effectively what Akıncı said.

However, Akıncı’s vanilla statements were enough to bring about the rage of Turkey’s current leadership and its fans here in Cyprus. President Erdoğan kicked it off, saying that Akıncı must “know his limits” and, among other things, that he hopes that “the people of northern Cyprus will give him the lesson he needs”. Where Erdoğan leads, the Turkish Cypriot right wing follows, and before you could blink Kudret Özersay had also put out a statement condemning Akıncı, and Ersin Tatar had started calls for Akıncı’s resignation.

Akinci not falling in line is jarring to the turkish hierarchy

Why, then, if his statements are so vanilla, have they created such outrage? The first reason is unity. Almost the entirety of Turkish society has presented a united front in support of this operation. Sports teams have been saluting in celebration, famous personalities have been voicing their support over social media, and politicians of almost all colours have declared their unequivocal support. For Akıncı, the leader of the piece of land that would not exist were it not for a different Turkish military operation, to not fall in line is particularly jarring to the Turkish hierarchy.

The creation of a united front “at home” is essential to keeping support up for a war; as anyone knows the last thing a government wants is to be fighting internal political battles at the same time as an external war. Akıncı didn’t condemn the war as many abroad have, but he went enough the grain enough to attract the attention and the wrath of the rest of the ruling classes.

i’m pretty sure erdoğan does not really care about cyprus

Furthermore, for his opposition in Cyprus this is an opportunity to further weaken Akıncı’s position. With a solution to the Cyprus Problem looking as far away as ever, the right wing has found itself in the ascendancy in northern Cyprus, and could hold a near monopoly on power should Akıncı lose the presidency. Manufacturing outrage against him, therefore, is politically expedient in the basic sense, and one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Now, I’m not for one minute stating that both the right wing in Turkey and northern Cyprus are thinking about those two things, but in this case and others it is true that their objectives overlap. I am pretty sure that Erdoğan does not really care either way about Cyprus so long as the leader of its turkophones is not undermining him, and equally I cannot imagine Özersay losing sleep over events in northern Syria, albeit his political positions lean more on the idea of a strong Turkey.

Akıncı, meanwhile, has not backed down. Kurdistan, therefore, is a hill he would be willing to die on, and could itself be a politically expedient one for him. Next spring’s presidential elections are set to be the most brutal since the death of Rauf Denktaş and will pit the pro-Turkish right against the pro-reunification left in a last chance-saloon scenario for the latter.

if akinci goes, any hope for reunification may go with him

If Akıncı goes, any last remaining hope for reunification of Cyprus may go with him as any pro-Turkish leadership would most probably seek to entrench ties with the island‘s neighbour to the north into near permanence, and with that the division of the island. Should Akıncı win the election, however, the ball will be firmly in the court of the Greek Cypriots to try to find a reunification deal, given that it would be the fourth time that the Turkish Cypriots will have effectively voted for reunification.

The full consequences of Akıncı’s actions are yet to be felt, yet could prove an important moment in the story of this island. It could be said that problems in the world have caused us problems at home.

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