The sale by Turkish Cypriot businessman Asil Nadir of his Kibris media group to a firm allied to Turkey’s ruling party has given president Recep Tayyip Erdogan a major media asset in his drive to assert full control over northern Cyprus.
The group contains the widely-read daily Kibris, the English-language Cyprus Today newspaper, and a radio and television station. Nadir announced to readers that the paper would “remain true to [its conservative, nationalist] principles”.
Commenting in opposition daily Yeni Duzen, Cenk Mutluyakali wrote: “Within the process of Turkifying half the island, the media had always been one of the bastions that had not been conquered.”
Turkey occupied northern Cyprus in 1974 following a failed Greek coup against president Makarios. Turkey has since settled 181,000 of its citizens in the north. They outnumber the 145,000 Turkish Cypriots.
Nadir (81), fled Britain for north Cyprus to escape trial for false accounting and theft from his heavily indebted textile company, Polly Peck, which collapsed in 1991. A decade later he returned to Britain where he was imprisoned for 10 years. He was deported to Turkey in 2016 to serve out his sentence but was released as soon as he arrived.
The sale coincided with news that Turkey, which has 35,000 troops in the north, is building a naval base in an area set aside for a national park by the European Union. At the same time, Turkish minister for defence Hulusi Akar called for recognition of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised only by Ankara. Speaking at an event marking the 39th anniversary of the TRNC’s declaration of independence, he said Turkey would stand “by our Cypriot [Turkish] brothers and will continue to do so.”
Many Turkish Cypriots say Turkey’s goal is annexation. This concern was demonstrated in September when they protested over the construction of a €155 million government complex in Turkish-held Nicosia. Turkish Cypriot prime minister Unal Ustel countered opponents of the project by saying it will strengthen TRNC institutions and not lead to annexation. He accused protesters of exhibiting “separatist attitudes”, favouring reunification with the Greek Cypriot south in a bicommunal, bi-zonal federation which has been adopted by the international community.
Turkish Cypriot concerns were deepened by the signing in April of an economic protocol providing for a loan of €240 million in exchange for conditions – rejected by Turkish Cypriots – which impose limitations on freedom of expression, weaken civil society, and promote the role of Islam.
Turkish Cypriot politicians, trades unions and civil society organisations have increasingly come under pressure to refrain from engaging in politics while journalists and activists critical of Ankara have been threatened with prosecution and banned from entering Turkey.
Former Turkish naval chief Cihat Yayci has called for criminal prosecution of Turkish Cypriot individuals and institutions “acting against the [TRNC], Turkey and Turkishness”.
Ankara stepped up control of the TRNC in 2020 with the presidency of Ersin Tatar who, along with Erdogan, has rejected federation and insisted on the “two-state solution” involving recognition of TRNC independence before resuming negotiations with the Greek-Cypriot majority EU member republic.