Erdogan chilled by frosty welcome from Turkish Cypriots
Most secular community in Muslim world opposed Turkish president’s opening of huge new mosque
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan reviewing a military guard of honour with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the divided city of Nicosia on Tuesday. Photograph: Andreas Manoli/EPA
Following his inauguration as Turkey’s executive president on Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not receive the hero’s welcome he had anticipated when he arrived on Tuesday in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.
He was met at the airport by Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akinci and supporters while Turkish Cypriots demonstrated elsewhere against his presence on the island.
A 21-gun salute resounded across north Nicosia as Erdogan arrived at the presidential palace where he met with members of the government, dined with Akinci, and took part in a press conference before returning to Ankara ahead of his flight to Brussels for the Nato summit.
His stay here was chilly as well as brief. The majority of Turkish Cypriots oppose his re-election and transformation of Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance into an executive presidential model with no checks on his power.
The most secular community in the Muslim world, Turkish Cypriots also reject his drive to convert them into conservative, devout Muslims through the building of mosques and religious schools.
Turkish Cypriots protested and politicians and officials threatened to boycott a ceremonial opening during Erdogan’s visit to the massive, four-minaret $13 million Hala Sultan mosque, a scaled-down version of a monumental Ottoman mosque in Turkey.
Symbol of might
Hala Sultan rises above the sun-seared fields along the highway between north Nicosia and the port of Famagusta, a symbol of Erdogan’s might. Turkish Cypriot mosques are generally modest, stone-built structures with red tile roofs and single minarets wearing pointed hats.
Their numbers diminished to 130,000 by emigration, Turkish Cypriots feel overwhelmed by 30-35,000 mainland Turkish soldiers, more than 185,000 settlers, thousands of Turkish students attending colleges and universities and scores of mosques and gambling casinos.
Since Erdogan cracked down hard on dissent in Turkey, Turkish Cypriot politicians and newspapers have become the sole independent voices in the Turkish-speaking world to decry his policies. Progressive parties, trade unions and individuals urged him not to come to Cyprus.
The teachers’ union demanded more schools instead of mosques; the journalists’ union condemned Erdogan’s silencing of opposition media and jailing of journalists.
Erdogan’s visit coincided with a fresh effort by the UN to restart reunification negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. Pre-empting the push, he made it clear he was the ultimate decider for the Turkish Cypriots and would not permit open-ended talks and allow Turkish Cypriots to be harmed by a peace deal or reduced to a minority in a Greek Cypriot majority state.
His visit came only days before the July 15th anniversary of the 1974 coup against president Makarios by the Greek junta and the Turkish invasion and occupation of the north, which began on the 20th.
The island was divided, hundreds from both communities were killed, Greek Cypriots living in the north became refugees in the south, and Turkey compelled Turkish Cypriots to reside in the north.