The Invisible Minority
“Ohh you’re Turkish? You’re so lucky, Turkey is so beautiful. So do you like, go to Turkey every year?”
“I’m not from Turkey. So, no.”
“But you’re Turkish, where else are you from?”
“Oh I didn’t know Cyprus had Turkish people there. I thought it was Greek.”
*frustration level: +17%*
I’ve grown up having this conversation with numerous people all my life and three main frustrations always come out of it; 1) Cyprus ISN’T just Greek 2) I’m NOT from Turkey and 3) not all of us Turks return to our motherland every single year.
Ever heard of a race called Turkish Cypriots? If you have Turkish Cypriot friends you might have, and if you are a Turkish Cypriot yourself you definitely would have. However, if you’ve never encountered a Turkish Cypriot, you might not even know we exist.
Turkish Cypriots remain an invisible minority. We are not a recognised state. We are barely a recognised race. In the eyes of many, we are not even legal. To the rest of the world, bar Turkey, we ‘illegally occupy’ the northern part of the island, and too often, the term Turkish Cypriot is followed by the word ‘settlers’. We may have settled in the North just as the Greeks settled in the south, but by no means are Turkish Cypriots settlers. Cyprus is, and always was, just as much Turkish as it is Greek.
The lack of recognition we are faced with every day, and the constant snubs we receive from the western world and all of its allies bring a deficiency in solid identity amongst Turkish Cypriots. We’re not white, but we are not black or brown. No matter where I go I’m a foreigner; I don’t fit in Britain because I’m not English, I don’t fit in Turkey because I don’t originate from there, and I don’t fit in North Cyprus because I’m a second generation Brit. So where do I belong?
I suppose technically, if you want to look at it through how I class myself on applications, I am White British. Often however, we are harshly reminded that we will never be treated equally to our Caucasian counterparts. We are refused recognition, denied of equal treatment, and tirelessly treated as intruders. We are classed as Middle-Eastern or Muslim when talking about negative events, but all other times, we are labelled under the umbrella term of ‘Turkish’. Despite Cyprus being a small island and Turkish Cypriots only occupying one third of it, while making up for only around 18% of its population, highlighting the title ‘Cypriot’ is highly important, not because of patriotism, though we are patriotic people, but because Turkish people and Turkish Cypriot people possess two totally different cultures.
Us Turks have telepathic powers; we can always sense and identify the other Turks in the vicinity, whether it’s a shop, a pavement or a train, and you can always tell the difference between a mainland Turk and a Cypriot Turk. A lot of our grandparents migrated to England while the island was part of the British Empire seeking a better life with better opportunities and to get away from rising tensions. Most of this migration took place in the 50s and 60s, with more mainland Turks joining in the later years. London was the most popular destination point for this migration, with the majority building their lives in North London, most notably Haringey and Enfield, and South London, most notably Lewisham and Southwark. In recent years, mainland Turkish and Kurdish migration has surpassed Turkish Cypriot migration and these populations probably outweigh the Turkish Cypriot population, making North London the area in which the majority of Turks live. North London Turkish Cypriots seem to live a somewhat different life to those of us on the southside of the Thames, but while there may be a North-South London divide, one thing is clear; whether you’re from North or South London, all Cypriots stand united for our cause in fighting for recognition and independence. However, unfortunately, we often get nowhere because the world favours Greece, and the Greeks are opposed to the recognition of Turkish Cypriots. Turkey is the only country that recognises North Cyprus as a separate Turkish state, but the majority of the world are not Turkey’s allies so why would they do anything in the Turks’ favour?
The island was a harmonious mix of Turks and Greeks living amongst each other, sharing common values and morals, and identifying with a pretty similar culture, from the food to the music to the way of life. Tensions were always high, but 1974 is when tensions reached their climax. Western media will tell you that Turkey decided to invade the island one day and Greece retaliated. This is not true. Of course I recognise my own bias, and the bias of those who have told me their recollections of the war but it was in fact the Greeks who craved a cleansing of the island.
Here’s some background history for you: Cyprus became part of the British Empire on lease from the Ottoman Empire, but not long after, Greek populations desired the removal of the British rule and a union with Greece, known as Enosis. This Enosis campaign was then led by Archbishop Makarios of the Cyprus Orthodox Church and Colonel George Grivas, who was the head of EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kuprion Agoniston translation: National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) in 1955. Their aim was to attack government and military institutions and prepare civilians to demonstrate against British power. After just short of a year of bombing government buildings across Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, Makarios was exiled to the Seychelles, though it didn’t stop EOKA in their mission for Enosis. An agreement was reached in London 1959 for Cyprus to become an independent republic but the following years were not peaceful, with tensions and violence rising between the Turkish and Greek communities. 1974 brought a Greek military coup, similar to that of Enosis, with aims to unite Cyprus with Greece. This is what led to the ‘Turkish invasion’, which was actually a saviour mission, the war and the ultimate split of the island into the recognised Republic of Cyprus and the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The UN have been permanently stationed between the two sides in a peacekeeping mission since 1964, and No Man’s Land remains untouched since. Nicosia is the last divided capital city in the world.
You’ll hear all about how Turkey ‘invaded’ the island and massacred the Greeks, about how our soldiers raped their women and destroyed their villages. And don’t forget all the cuss words and racist insults under the sun. No war is ever one sided. The harsh reality is that the Greeks were raping, mass graving and torturing the Turks just as much as the Turks did to the Greeks. There are no saints in war. Turkey actually acted lawfully and it’s about time they stopped getting all the blame for defending their people.
See, while the majority of people brand Cyprus as a party island of the same class as Magaluf, Malaga, and Malia, there’s a whole hidden history that gets overlooked and ignored. Yes, Ayia Napa, Phaphos and Limassol are all party destinations where you might find your typical group of young Brits chanting their way down the street just as you might in Malia, but Cyprus is more than just it’s South side and Greek occupation.
When we describe ourselves as the invisible minority, it’s not because we don’t matter enough to demand visibility, it’s because we don’t matter enough to the rest of the world for society to understand our true history and officially recognise us as an individual state. Hell, we’re not even a legal minority in the rest of the worlds eyes.
Despite being labelled as ‘illegally occupying’ the Northern part of the island, and remaining unrecognised, it would seem that as the years have gone on, North Cyprus has experienced major change, to the point where I don’t even like visiting anymore. We are being exploited for our low population, our education facilities, our nightlife, amongst many other things. I used to enjoy being unknown. Having a motherland that was untouched by the West, unknown by Western populations. You used to be able to visit North Cyprus and see no one but Turkish Cypriots, whether they lived there or were on holiday there, visiting their motherland alike. It was a privilege to have something that was ours, somewhere where it was as if time had stood still and modernisation didn’t exist. No giant buildings blocking views, no franchises gracing the corner of every street, and no hustle and bustle. A community left alone; no religion imposing on us, no capitalism forced down our throats, no multicultural infiltration. Now, there’s a university on every plot of once-empty land with all the international students that come with it, there are mosques on almost every street, housing and hotel developments blocking the sea view, migrants from all different races and all the clubs you could imagine. And I don’t mind all of this if it’s going to help the island’s economy and status, but my point is, if we are being exploited for our beautiful beaches, our harrowing history and accommodating community, we should at least be a recognised state.