by Nikos Moudouros
Ali Bulaç, a Turkish Islamist intellectual, cited in a characteristic way the traditional perception of the way political Islam faces Cyprus, through his own column in ZAMAN newspaper, by mentioning the following: “The reason why the Turkish intervention in Cyprus caused a huge wave of enthusiasm would be explained to me a little later by an elder uncle from Halepi…the most important of all was that for the first time after 300 years the Muslim world would manage to grab a piece of land, even a small one, from the hands of the Christians”.
According to the above, conquering a small part of land “taken from the hands of the Christians” constituted a matter of honor to the rivalry of these two completely different worlds, as these were formed in the perception of the Turkish political Islam. However, in order to better understand today’s strategy of the Justice and Development Party concerning Cyprus, this strategy should be placed in a right historical context. The de-coding of the policy followed in the northern part of Cyprus, demands an even at least brief de-coding of the AKP’s worldview as this has been affected and formed by the end of the Cold War, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 and the neoliberal restructuring.
After almost eleven years of governance it is now clear that the AKP demands a new international world order which will reflect the 21st century new balances. Behind the AKP’s will for a new reading of global balances, lays the belief that the West does no longer constitute the dominant political and economic center of the world. According to this thinking, 21st century’s world is marked by the shift of trade, industrial production and consequently part of the capital from the West to the East. This change in its turn affected a deeper ideological understanding of “national geography”, defining a new framework for regional activation of Turkey.
We could claim that according to the AKP this is about a procedure which regenerates the “greatness” of the Islamic world which now claims with more pretensions its positions in the global competition. Ibrahim Kalın, chief adviser to Prime Minister Erdoğan, claims that Turkey backs up this very own questioning of the up to today West-centered reading and interpreting of the world. Now, says Kalın, there is a new Turkish history which must be promoted in the region. This historical understanding requires the creation of a new “geographical imagination”, such that would demolish the traditional concept of borders. Kalın is for once more enlightening: “The best way to protect the national state is to act as if it does not exist, to respect the borders of others as well as yours, but also to operate as if they do not exist”.
Thereby the effort of creating a Turkish-Islamic area of influence, a geopolitical field, of which Turkey will ensure its integration to the global economic structure is revealed. Turkey as a kind of a “commercial state” and with the machine for promoting its goals being Islam and the economy, seeks to become a leading force in the continuous “commercialization” of a large contiguous area. Turkey seeks to export its own model of modernization to the Arab-Muslim world transforming itself at the same time to a representative of a separate international (Islamic) block demanding integration to what was up to today perceived as the Western capitalist world. So Turkey is in a constant search for finding ways of facilitating neoliberal modernization in a large region considered to have historical and cultural ties.
Within this theoretical framework, therefore, we ought to look briefly into the reconstruction and reproduction of the policy that the AKP follows in Cyprus and more specifically in the Turkish Cypriot community. The first and easiest identification focuses on the party’s targeting as it is recorded in the three pre-election and government programs for the years 2002, 2007, and 2011. From the position for “a solution of the two sovereign communities on the basis of the Belgian model”, in 2002, there is a clear shift towards emphasizing the need for “maintaining the balance in the Eastern Mediterranean and enhancing the TRNC” in 2007 and 2011. So what is the underlining orientation of the AKP’s reconstruction policy in the northern part of Cyprus?
“The period of craftsmanship should also be reflected in Cyprus”, the Turkish Prime Minister confessed to the Turkish Cypriot journalists paraphrasing in this way the main slogan of the election campaign of June of 2011 in Turkey. Cyprus and specifically the northern territories have been transformed to an “input field” of the Turkish-Islamic modernization. The ultimate goal is replacing the “old regime” of structures in the northern part of the island with a new order which will be represented by different political actors in another ideological framework. Therefore “craftsmanship” in Cyprus constitutes the “Cypriot dialect” of the ideological and political characteristics of the AKP. That is the marriage of Islamic religion with the neoliberal management.
The implementation of the plan for the creation of “Erdoğan’s Cyprus”, as it was judgmentally criticized by the Turkish Cypriot journalists, is going through a comprehensive reconstruction of the structures of the northern part of Cyprus in a way that it is not about a simple, technocratic economic change. On the contrary it is about a comprehensive reconstruction that would touch all the hitherto prevailing “inner reality” of the Turkish Cypriot community.
The former ambassador of Ankara Şakir Fakılı, in 2010 had stated: “Today the TRNC looks the way Turkey did at the beginnings of 1980…Loss-making state enterprises and the slow-moving bureaucracy constitute barriers against the private sector. In the way that Turkey has overcome these obstacles so does the TRNC have the power to overcome”. The symbolism insurmountable: The Turkish Cypriot community should go through the same path of neoliberal reforms which in Turkey began during Özal’s ruling but peaked and stabilized during Erdoğan’s government. Besides, as evidenced by several reports of Turkish business associations, Turkey’s new social reality cannot co-exist with the continuation of an obsolete development model with state intervention in the northern part of Cyprus.
The practical reflection of building a new regime in the northern areas of Cyprus, are the economic protocols that is in other words, the “new form of government”. Among the main objectives is to reduce funding deficits, the drastic reduction of public servants, the final withdrawal of the state from the production, and the encouragement of the private capital to invest.
An important clarification: The funds granted by Ankara to the northern part of Cyprus are not decreased but on the contrary they are increased but they change orientations (201 million dollars in 2001, 600 million dollars in 2009 and are expected to reach 1.2 billion dollars in 2014-2015). One of the consequences of the implementation of the above is to increase the presence of the Turkish capital along with all its manifestations. Business groups are flooding the tourism, constructions and energy sector. They introduce different institutions from Turkey like the Investment Advisory Council, while a renewed activity on the part of the major business associations of Turkey is also noticed.
In the same context, an “unknown” development to the Turkish Cypriots is evidenced: The involvement of the so called Islamic capital which is expressed through efforts concerning a Muslim type of tourism and entertainment, Islamic brotherhoods, and religious education.
Thus the economic transformation in recent years is also accompanied by a cultural-ideological transformation, the epicenter of which is the Islamic religion. Erdoğan cited in a comprehensive manner the conscious choice for developing such a strategy among the Turkish Cypriots, saying: “North Cyprus is a Turkish and Muslim country. We must be proud for these features and promote them. At the very time when the Greek-Cypriot side shows such devotion to the Church, we should be more aware of our cultural identity by building more mosques and enhancing religious education”.
Therefore we are witnessing a comprehensive “social mechanic” strategy. The reinforcement of the Islamic activity among the Turkish Cypriots on the one side is reflecting the change concerning the composition of the population. But on the other side, it is a planned ideological intervention of conservative change that accompanies the foundations of the new political regime under construction.
At this point, to the surface raises the second major observation on the developments regarding the dialectical relationship between the new structures constructed and Islam.
According to the political program adopted by the Turkish-Cypriot right wing leadership, namely the National Unity Party (UBP), the renewed structures of the state play an important role to the elevation of Islam as a component of the political framework. These structures should attempt to “normalize” the strengthening of religion in an admittedly secular community, and at the same time they should work with any new political factors that will emerge, so that the ideological transformation will take place “peacefully”. Measures initiated in the above context are: the construction of an Islamic building complex in Nicosia that will include a Theological School, the creation of a Theological School in the “Near East University”, Koranic courses and the creation of a department responsible for Islamic Theological education issues in the Ministry of Education.
This process is neither peaceful nor smooth. It is mainly characterized by rifts and conflicts. The effort to protect the secular character of the community is better reflected by the organized teachers, the trade union movement and the progressive political parties. But it is a fact that the resistance to the Islamization gathers a wider support. Protests by the Turkish Cypriots are not an isolated incident that occurred in a particular coincidence. On the contrary it is an expression of opposition to today’s Turkey, which appears dynamically depending to its organizational and ideological formation.
The reactions of the progressive Turkish Cypriots on this issue are important since they prioritize the protection of their Cypriot identity, questioning the new framework of the Turkish hegemony. In this sense they refuse legalizing the existing relations of the community with Ankara and therefore they proclaim the limitation of Turkey’s role in the very own history of Cyprus.
These reactions should not be underestimated by the Greek Cypriot community. Neither should they be understood as an “internal Turkish Cypriot matter”. The protests must be understood within a Cypriot context, must be evaluated in their Cypriot environment and must constitute a new field of creative dialogue for the democratic renewal of the relations between the two Cypriot communities.
Nikos Moudouros is a graduate of the Turkish and Middle-Eastern Studies Department of the University of Cyprus. He obtained a postgraduate tile from the University SOAS of London and a PhD from the Turkish and Middle-Eastern Studies Department of the University of Cyprus. He worked as a special advisor to the Cyprus Republic Presidency on Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot affairs. His research interests focus on the modern history of Turkey, as well as the history of the Turkish Cypriot community. He is currently teaching as a special scientist at the Turkish and Middle-Eastern Studies Department of the University of Cyprus, offering courses round issues such as the modern Turkish political Islam, Kemalism and the bourgeois class in Turkey. He is the author of the book “The transformation of Turkey. From the Kemalist domination to ‘Islamic neo-liberalism’”, by Alexandria publications. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at: @NikosMoudouros
 Ali Bulaç, “Kıbrıs için savaşmak”, newspaper Zaman, 14 July 2010.
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