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    Turkish: The other language of Cyprus as a solvable problem

    This is the first time I write in the Greek Cypriot press, while as far as the Turkish press is concerned, for the first time, I raise this vital issue through my Greek writings, because Turkish-speaking citizens have no more time to waste on the legally justified but politically unrealistic and unlikely to materialize in the near future empty attempts to become Turkish. EU language.

    Turkish

    According to the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish is one of the two official languages of Cyprus, along with Greek, while at the same time, along with Luxembourgish, it is one of the two European languages that have not yet been formalized, although it should be an EU language. The main reason why granting Turkish-language status to the EU has been delayed is that the Turkish government has moved away from a solution that would reunite Cyprus under the EU umbrella.

    In order for Turkish Cypriots, whose social status is destroyed by the colonial policy of their “adoptive-homeland”, Turkey, to continue to exist as part of the Republic of Cyprus, concrete and feasible steps are needed in certain areas for Turkish, their “adoptive-mother-tongue”. This is also a necessity for Greek Cypriots to keep alive the ideal of a united Cyprus.

    Some practical improvements should be considered before Turkish is recognised as an official language of the EU or at least as one of the privileged minority languages of the EU, as is the case in the other three Member States, including Greece. To this end, new arrangements can be made in the EU funds for language, education, media and culture transferred to the Republic of Cyprus, taking into account the specific situation of the Turkish language. Thus, the grievances of Turkish Cypriot citizens due to the exclusion of the Turkish language from the EU and many other sectors in the Republic of Cyprus can be partially overcome.

    It is surprising that some of our dear political friends of Turkish Cypriot origin, who hold positions in the EU, who, among other things, went to Brussels to support the use of the Turkish language, are not bothered today by the lack of safety signs in the language of Turkish Cypriots in buildings in the south, by the lack of signs in hospitals and first aid, the lack of direction signs at Larnaka airport and the absence of announcements in Turkish about the countless Turkish Cypriot citizens using Cypriot aircraft, and that they do not take initiatives within the Republic of Cyprus on these issues that they can solve more easily using their positions. This is because the issue of Turkish as an official language of the EU falls within the competence of Regulation No. Amendment No 1 adopted by the Council of the EU is a complex issue that depends on the course of the Cyprus problem and relations with Turkey.

     

    4515132167800206 MEHMET YASHIN PORTRAIT PHOTO copy

    Mehmet Yasin.

     

    Grotesque incidents

    As a poet, writer, academic and man of culture representing Cyprus on international platforms, I must say that while my country is a member of the EU, I have not only faced difficulties due to the fact that my written language, Turkish, is not considered an EU language, but I have also experienced events that make you smile. On 26 April 2004, The Guardian, under the headline “Let’s meet our new European relatives”, solicited articles from the authors of the 10 new EU Member States and presented Cyprus with my own article. There, I mentioned the problems created by the fact that Turkish is not considered an EU language and the paradox of being a Turkish-speaking Cypriot writer and at the same time introducing Cyprus to Europe. But we don’t have to go that far: On November 26, 2022, at the Tokyo Festival of European Literature, which was held with the contribution of the EU Commission, I was invited by the Deputy Ministry of Culture, which took a step forward for a poet writing in Turkish to represent Cyprus for the first time alone at an international meeting. In front of other EU writers in Japan, I had to mix Turkish, which is not an EU language, with English and Greek.

     

    On the occasion of many international meetings such as these, I had to take initiatives for the place of the Turkish language in the Republic of Cyprus and in the EU. Between 1997 and 2001, I signed a five-year contract with the Brussels unit responsible for Cyprus’ EU accession process and managed a series of projects including publications, translations, poetry readings, academic conferences, which brought together the languages and cultures of all Cypriots and connected them to Europe. To this end, I worked with the Brussels bureaucrat M. Combescot, who was responsible for the B2 level agencies. The position of Turkish, one of the official languages of the Republic of Cyprus and one of the literary languages of the Cypriots, in the EU was then a matter of debate.

     

    Adopted mother tongue

    I used the term “step-mothertongue” in the book Step-Mothertongue: From Nationalism to Multiculturalism Literatures of Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, a collection of speeches at a conference I organised as part of the aforementioned EU programme in 1997, when I was a lecturer at Middlesex University, London. This reference book has not yet been translated into Greek, although it is a textbook in some countries and Italians have introduced the term “step-mothertongue” into the literature as “matrignalingua”. However, a contract has been signed with an Athens publishing house for a book entitled Cosmopoietics, which contains my analyses of the adoptive-mother tongue, language and Cypriot literature. We owe this to the programme established by the Republic of Cyprus for the translation of works by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot authors between Greek and Turkish. The Greek-Turkish translation and publishing programme, currently managed by the Deputy Ministry of Culture, is a good example of how to solve the problems of Turkish representation, which I will deal with here.

    The articles I have seen in the Cypriot press, especially in Turkish-language newspapers, with headlines such as “Demonstration held in Brussels to make Turkish the language of the EU”, “A letter was written to the EU authorities for the recognition of the Turkish language”, etc. They give the impression of political propaganda rather than a solution. It is believed that the recipient of the photographs taken in Brussels to create the view that “something is being done about Turkish” without doing anything, is not the EU, but Turkish and Turkish Cypriot public opinion. However, the preparation of concrete and practical proposals for steps that can be taken in a short period of time to make room for Turkish and their presentation to the Republic of Cyprus is the highest priority, the most logical and the most fruitful way forward.

    With the Bloody Christmas of 1963 and the Occupation of 1974, the position of the Turkish language in the Republic of Cyprus was seriously damaged and it is necessary to exchange views with those who have been particularly affected, both at the level of experts and at the level of civil society organisations representing them. For example: Turkish Cypriot writers, publishers, members of the press – young Turkish Cypriot professionals who have the qualifications and rights to work in EU institutions but do not speak Greek well, Turkish Cypriot lawyers and secretaries who complain about language problems in official documents, offices and courts, Turkish Cypriot workers and their trade unions working in the South, Turkish Cypriot experts and academics who cannot find a position in teachers, research institutes and libraries due to lack of knowledge of the Greek language; cultural activists working to preserve, collect and record Turkish Cypriot publications and various archival materials, etc. related to Turkish Cypriots.

    Can the statements of certain people with political positions in favour of the establishment of Turkish as the language of the EU be credible, without listening to the problems faced by all social strata of the Turkish Cypriot community because of the Turkish language, without asking them for reports with proposals for solutions, without contacting the people who are most interested in the problem? such as journalists’ and teachers’ associations, writers’ and publishers’ associations, educational institutions and many other cultural institutions? Can one rely on sound but empty promises based on using this problem for personal political propaganda rather than producing results?

     

     

     

    Personal interest

    Needless to say, as a Cypriot professional poet and full-time writer who has been writing in Turkish since the 1980s, I am keenly interested in the field of Turkish language in the Republic of Cyprus and the European Union. When I was twenty years old, in 1988, during the presidency of George Vassiliou, I raised this issue during my visit to the President and in subsequent meetings with his advisers. In the early 1990s, I met again both in Nicosia and Brussels as a Cypriot poet, writer and man of culture.

    In those years, I was told in Cyprus that “the Greek Cypriot side was in favor of Turkish becoming an EU language, but other European countries and EU authorities hesitated, because Greek was already an EU language.” I remember there were discussions that if Turkish was one of the EU languages, the unit to be established for the adaptation studies should be within the University of Cyprus and the budget and organisation should be supervised by the Republic of Cyprus. The strongest objection to this came from the administration of Rauf Denktash.

    The Turkish authorities, although using the issue for propaganda purposes, did not want Turkish to become an EU language, not through the Republic of Turkey, but through the small Turkish Cypriot community and its “Turkish Cypriot language”, at the initiative of the Republic of Cyprus, which it did not recognise. Turkey’s policymakers seem to be a long way from realizing that Turkish as an official language of the EU will offer great opportunities for their country’s social development. However, since the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the EU no longer exists, it is obvious that Turkish can only be an official language of the EU because of the Republic of Cyprus.

    On the other hand, knowing full well that no one in the EU, including the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities, wanted to make Turkish an official language of the EU before a political settlement, the Greek Cypriot authorities, as President Nicos Anastasiades did in 2016, sent several letters to the then Dutch Foreign Minister and President of the Council of the EU Bert Kunders. reiterating the call to “make the Turkish language the EU”. The Bert Koenders, on the other hand, in his official reply of 12 April 2016, as President of the European Council, noted the following: “I understand the necessity and importance of Turkish to be one of the official languages of the EU after the reunification of Cyprus and I will be happy to start the preparatory work between the European Commission and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.”

    But when peace talks in Cras-Montana failed in 2017, Turkey abandoned its federal solution position. Not only the southern half, but also the northern half under the de facto occupation of Turkey, began to make absurd demands such as “recognition of a separate sovereign Turkish state” in Cyprus, which is considered as a de jure territory of the European Union, without asking the Turkish Cypriots.

    What I find difficult to understand is why some politicians in both Nicosia and Brussels, who are advocates of a federal Cyprus, keep repeating this issue, knowing that it is impossible to make Turkish the language of the EU in the current circumstances. Are they doing this to create a positive image and gain popularity among Turkish and Turkish Cypriot public opinion? Or are all these quirks made with the knowledge of certain Greek Cypriot parties with which they are affiliated, and which, although often reluctant to take risks when it comes to specific political practice, perpetuate the rhetoric of “Turkish Cypriots are our brothers”?

    A recent incident has made it more difficult for me to understand the true purpose of these futile efforts for the Turkish language from abroad. Because it led me to the conclusion that some gains could be achieved as far as the Turkish language is concerned, if efforts were concentrated within our country and if they approached the authorized bodies of the Republic of Cyprus with specific and feasible proposals covering specific areas.

     

     

     

    Rejection of applications

    At the end of 2022, I submitted for the first time to the Deputy Ministry of Culture the rejection of the applications of the translators of my books, due to the fact that the Deputy Ministry of Culture provides funds only for the translation of Greek works into foreign languages. For a quarter of a century, those who tried to translate my books into many languages had received no contribution, because Turkish was not included in the “Programme for the Translation of the Republic of Cyprus into Foreign Languages”. Finally, when the Albanian translators who translated my book not from Turkish, but from Greek, also did not receive a contribution, they attached to the envelope a letter in support of the objection they had prepared. On that occasion, the translation programme was amended to state that “works by Turkish Cypriot authors written in Turkish and translated into Greek will also be funded”. Of course, it is not enough to finance a work originally written in Turkish through a Greek translation. But it is a new step taken by the Republic of Cyprus in good faith.

    With this latest development, I realized that if some clear proposals are presented that can be implemented under the current political conditions, they can be taken into account by the Republic of Cyprus. However, some of our political friends of Turkish Cypriot origin, who are in Brussels saying ‘Turkish must become the language of the EU’, have shown no interest in this issue at home, despite calls from writers from their own community. In the end, it was not them, but fellow journalists from Greece who helped me get in touch with the officers of the Deputy Ministry of Culture.

    In the current impasse of the Cyprus problem, especially in the recent period when Turkey is trying to eliminate the cultural existence of Turkish Cypriots, our demand should be limited to the linguistic and cultural rights of Turkish Cypriots. This is because it is in the interest of Turkey, with its 85 million inhabitants, and the 7 million Turkish-speaking inhabitants of EU countries to make Turkish an official language of the EU, and they will probably seize far more EU opportunities than the Turkish Cypriot community when Turkish becomes the official language of the EU. Therefore, it is necessary to enlighten Turkish public opinion on this issue, to publish in the Turkish press the information that Turkish will become an official language of the EU through the Republic of Cyprus and in this way to ensure their support for the reunification of Cyprus with a just and permanent solution. Furthermore, we know from 25 years’ experience that it is difficult to take serious steps to make Turkish an EU language without contacting the Turkish authorities in one way or another.

    We should also remember that the EU announced in 2004 that Turkish could receive the status of an official language if Cyprus were reunited. Indeed, if Turkish is to be given as an official language of the EU as a gift to Turkey through the Turkish Cypriots, it seems more appropriate that even a Cypriot like me, whose very existence is related to the Turkish language, should at least go hand in hand with a just and permanent solution for the reunification of Cyprus.

    I say “still” because, as a citizen of the Republic of Cyprus, I am deprived of the rights enjoyed by my colleagues who write in Greek, not only in terms of access of my works to a wider audience, but also in terms of livelihood, since I make a living mainly from the copyright of my books and my work as a poet-writer. This topic is therefore important not only for the assessment of my 40 years as an author, during which I have published more than 20 books, which have been translated into various languages and represented Cyprus in many countries on all five continents of the world, but also for the protection of economic rights. which are essential for the survival of people who are in the same situation as me.

     

    I would prefer such an important issue to be addressed in Nicosia in order to find real solutions, rather than being used as a vehicle for individuals to make a personal career move from Brussels to Ankara on their behalf. In the short term, it would be better to discuss with the relevant people and organizations how and in what areas improvements can be made in order to open the space for Turkish and resolve the issue within the framework of the Republic of Cyprus.

    It should also be noted that this is a fundamental right of the citizen and of man that goes beyond intercommunal talks or ‘bicommunality’. In this respect, it cannot even be linked to steps of “cultural rapprochement”, but it would be a reassuring step towards rapprochement.

    I believe as a Cypriot poet and writer who writes in Turkish, it is primarily the Republic of Cyprus that is expected to represent me as a Cypriot poet and writer writing in Turkish, both in cultural outreach activities and in opening space for the Turkish language in Cyprus, a member of the EU. Even if intercommunal talks continue and cultural committees are created on the basis of “Bicommunality”, it is more realistic and legitimate for me to expect my rights to be protected not by Ersin Tatar, who was not elected by the Turkish Cypriots, but at least by Nikos Christodoulides, who was elected as the President of the whole of Cyprus under the 1960 constitution recognized by the EU. Like many Turkish Cypriot culture people who support a solution within the framework of an independent Republic of Cyprus instead of the separatist state in the north, which is a preliminary step towards annexation to Turkey, I cannot expect support from the “TRNC”, even if I write in Turkish.

    The “TRNC”, which is propagated in the world and founded for Turkish Cypriots, not only does not represent the Turkish Cypriot community, but also works to erase its cultural identity and eliminate its social existence among the settlers sent from Turkey. Especially since after Mustafa Akinci, for the first time in the history of the Turkish Cypriots, an administration was established that is a complete puppet, the expectation for the protection of Turkish Cypriots by the Republic of Cyprus has increased.

    Moreover, during the “presidency” of Mustafa Akinci, it became impossible to support the Turkish Cypriot language, literature and culture. In 2018, I went to his office and proposed works of language, literature and translation and started a cultural organization for the protection of Turkish Cypriot works. Mustafa Akinci’s team supported the projects with sincere enthusiasm and sent me an official letter of approval. However, since their budget was tied to a new entity called the “Turkish Embassy Assistance Committee” and Turkey stipulated that they could support literature and culture only with the “TRNC Promotion Fund”, they could not assist supporters of a united Cyprus like me, especially those who openly criticized the Turkish occupation.

    However, during the period of Mehmet Ali Talat, when there was hope for a solution within the EU, the culture of the Turkish Cypriots was not so much oppressed by Turkey. That is why, when Mehmet Ali Talat was the leader of the Turkish Cypriots and his party in power, they received various advisory services from me, even though the “no buts…” was known. My stance on the reunification and demilitarization of Cyprus.

     

     

     

    The new political situation

    At this new political juncture, the Greek Cypriot authorities must realise that there is no official Turkish Cypriot interlocutor to whom they can turn for the language, literature and culture of the Turkish Cypriots in the north under the rhetoric of “Bicommunality”. In recent years, high-ranking TRNC positions, which are presented as legitimate for the Turkish Cypriot community, have been occupied by groups appointed or sent directly with the intervention of the Turkish government, operating with hostility and hatred against the interests of Turkish Cypriots. More important than the fact that in the eyes of the international community the offices in the administration are not so legitimate, is the reality that they have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the Turkish Cypriot community, including the most nationalists. Therefore, it is now more urgent than ever for the Republic of Cyprus to represent not only the Greek Cypriot community but also its founding partner, the Turkish Cypriot community.

    This representation should not remain on paper, but should be implemented through legal arrangements and organisation. An ad hoc committee could be set up to conduct studies on how to give space to the Turkish language and recruit consultants. Another urgent need is the archiving of objects of Turkish Cypriot language and culture and their incorporation into Cypriot culture as a whole. In this regard, from 2006-2011, when I was teaching intermittently at the Department of Turkish Studies of the University of Cyprus, I worked on projects prepared with the participation of many postgraduate students and young writers, but which did not receive any support from the then Ministry of Education and Culture, nor from official academic institutions and media. The search for opportunities to open doors to international organisations for such projects for the Turkish Cypriot community can also be considered in the context of Turkish language initiatives.

    This is because the Turkish Cypriot community has no international institutional representation. Various old Turkish Cypriot institutions, such as Evkaf, Department of Education, municipalities, professional associations, private educational institutions, cultural institutions, public and private museums, etc. They have lost their autonomous function due to increasing Turkish intervention. Most of the alternative educational, cultural, literary, etc. Civil society organisations are unable to function effectively due to political pressures and financial constraints.

    Almost all language and cultural programmes that receive international funding from sources such as the EU and the UN are based on ‘bicommunality’. Important issues, such as the representation of the Turkish language, which is a constitutional and fundamental right, in the Republic of Cyprus are bypassed due to the lack of EU funding. At this point, we should first of all ask the EU authorities:

    Does the fact that Turkish-speaking citizens, one of the country’s official languages, do not have access to the reference and information publications of EU member Cyprus, which are printed only in Greek with official support, does not hinder the right to information? Does not the exclusion of Turkish as a publishing language and the absence of references to 500 years of cultural history and literary sources in encyclopedias, anthologies and reference books published in Greek under names such as “Republic of Cyprus, Cyprus, Cyprus” in the context of Greek culture create cultural discrimination?

    By defending the common homeland rather than partition, it is dangerous to absolutize “bicommunality” even in art and academia and bring it to the point of building the cultural and intellectual foundations of two separate states. Moreover, the cultural level of Cyprus is degraded by the promotion of ahistorical literary and artistic products only for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to appear side by side. The inscription of “Greek Cypriot – Turkish Cypriot” in everything to the extent that it is not possible to prepare a multi-communal literary selection, music or painting collection, as in a normal European country, is close to turning into an essentialist identity politics. As I said on CyBC’s “Biz=We” show a few months ago, “bicommunality can only be explained by real international politics, so that it makes sense. Otherwise, like so many other things on the island, it’s absurd.”

     

     

    In the globalized world of 2023, like other EU citizens who do not allow their fate to be linked to the fictitious identity of an ethno-religious community, I cannot accept being held hostage by Turkey or being treated as a second-class citizen in Cyprus because of an imaginary “Turkish Cypriotness”. The existence of the Republic of Cyprus as a whole with its different languages and communities must be respected. I hope that the views and wishes I have expressed will contribute to positive steps being taken.

     

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