Why I Refuse to Fly to Cyprus via the South

Demel Mehmet

Oh how I long for that unbreathable heat to slap me in the face as soon as I step off the plane at Ercan Airport. How I miss the feeling of being in my home away from home. Dare I say I even miss hearing the nasally voiceover from a Turkish Airlines air hostess welcoming us aboard.

I have never travelled to North Cyprus via the South, and I probably never will. I’ll take the few extra hours in journey time, the rush to catch our connecting flight and the heart warming excitement of landing straight into your motherland over a quicker journey and cheaper flights any day, for I’ve heard far too many horror stories. From people reciting the discriminatory verbal abuse they faced, telling the tales of the sheer frustration of not being allowed to cross the border, to the unjust confiscation of their personal belongings, not to mention being forced to listen to the whole spiel about how the North is ‘illegally occupied’, these recollections are enough to convince me to not venture where I’m not wanted.

Many people will assure me that they’ve never faced any discrimination as Turkish Cypriots landing in the Republic of Cyprus. They’ll tell me that it’s worth saving those few extra pounds and couple of hours and they’ll try to convince me, and themselves, that by flying via the South and driving across the border, they’re not funding the Republic of Cyprus. Supposedly, their money is only going to Wizz Airlines, who have just made Larnaca Airport their 28th base, expanding their (South) Cyprus operations by 60%, or British Airways or EasyJet or whoever else continues to discriminate against Turkish Cypriots and chooses to fly to the South only. By no means am I hating on anyone who flies via the South. There are many reasons as to why flying via Turkey is an inconvenience, whether it be the waiting around, almost missing the connecting flight because the security screening lines are too long, or because you/your relatives are disabled or elderly, I get it, and I think it’s fine. What I don’t understand is the insistence from these people that their money is going to anyone but the Republic of Cyprus. For those who seem so intent on trying to convince others, and themselves, that their hard-earned money isn’t contributing to the government of the Republic of Cyprus, consider this:

All airlines must pay fees to the airports at which they are landing. These fees are broken down to cost per passenger, landing fees, parking fees, power supply fees, down to pre-conditioned air fees, to name a few. The airlines must pay the airports these fees in order to operate in that destination. Hermes, a Greek Cypriot company, own and run Larnaca and Paphos international airports under a 25 year BOT (build-operate-transfer) agreement with the government of the Republic of Cyprus. A BOT contract is a model used to finance large projects, developed through public-private partnerships. These are normally large scale, greenfield infrastructure projects that would otherwise be financed, built and operated solely by the government. Under a BOT agreement, the public entity (the RoC government) grants a concession to a private company (Hermes) to finance, build and operate a project for a 20-30 year period, hoping to earn a profit. Once the term of the agreement has reached its end, the project is returned to the public entity (the RoC government). This means that the RoC government granted a concession to Hermes to finance, build and operate the airports for 25 years. There is a 33% government concession fee on Hermes’s revenue, meaning that Hermes has to pay the government 33% of their income (which subsequently forced Hermes to increase their fees and consequently come under fire a few years ago). Thirty-three percent of your money funds the Republic of Cyprus, debunking the myth that your money is only going to Wizz Airlines, or British Airways or EasyJet or whoever. My point being the claim that by choosing to fly via the South doesn’t fund the RoC is indeed a false one.

To address the other argument so commonly used when justifying flying to the South, return flights from London to Ercan cost on average £338 in the peak of the school summer holidays (August). Flights from London to Larnaca on the same day cost an average of approximately £313 (skyscanner.net). Unless, of course, you let flight prices dictate the length of your holiday, in which case you could just pay £60 per flight via the south. Combine that with the taxi fare or petrol cost used in a rental car to cross the border, and the London to Larnaca route proves to be no better financially.

There is, however, the obvious difference in journey times. The journey time from London to Larnaca is approximately 4.5 hours, while London to Ercan takes around 6.5 hours due to the stopover in Istanbul.

Ercan Airport

Those extra two hours can make all the difference, but when spent disembarking, browsing Duty Free and boarding your next flight, those two hours are nothing. While I can admit the requirement to change planes in Turkey can be very long and frustrating, part of me doesn’t really mind it. I say that as a 23 year old, relatively healthy girl with no children. To elderly and/or disabled travellers, this can make the world of difference, but for fully able travellers, I don’t believe there is any feasible excuse for flying to North Cyprus via the South.

The hassle of the stopover has been used as an excuse for years and years, yet the disembarkation requirement was only introduced by the UK Government in 2017. Prior to this, we could stay on the plane and wait for other passengers to board in Turkey, which, yes, is still inconvenient and long, but is a small price to pay to avoid complications with Greek Cypriots. It was recently exposed during a campaign run by DFNCyprus (short for Direct Flights to North Cyprus) that the disembarkation requirement when flying to Ercan is due to pressure from the Greek Cypriot administration, who the UK government are obviously so very eager to please. In going around this issue of disembarkation, getting on with flying to Larnaca and crossing the border, which can only continue to happen for as long as the Greek Cypriot administration allows, and ignoring the severe discrimination that we as a community receive from the UK Government, we are in fact telling them that it is okay to treat us like we don’t deserve equal rights, that it is okay to treat us as second class citizens, that it is okay to bow down to the tantrums of the Greek Cypriot administration every time they throw their toys out of the pram, like a parent who can’t cope with the spoilt brat they nurtured their child into. One could assume that the preferential treatment of our Greek Cypriot counterparts is due to the presence of the British air bases in the South, meaning that the UK Government politically wouldn’t be able to get away with treating the recognised Greek Cypriot community in the same way they treat the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot community.

DFNCyprus was formed and launched to combat this issue. With an interim goal of removing the disembarkation requirement and an overall aim to lobby the UK Government for direct flights between the United Kingdom and North Cyprus, the group was inspired by Kadir Kanizi’s UK Parliament petition calling for the same. This group of like-minded British Turkish Cypriots of all ages and professions have been voluntarily devoting their time and efforts to help garner more signatures for the petition and to let the UK know why direct flights to Ercan Airport are legally, politically and morally necessary. We are continuously urging you to sign the petition and send a pre-written letter to your local MP in order to get the issue of direct flights to North Cyprus discussed in Parliament.

Whether the lack of direct flights is due to ‘security concerns’ or is indeed because of the Chicago Convention, as recklessly exposed by Wendy Morton in response to Fabian Hamilton as part of DFNC’s letter writing campaign, it is another key element blocking Turkish Cypriots from equal rights. The ignorance of the UK Government and the lack of accountability we allow them to take is the very reason we are in this position. Dianne Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, the borough which houses the oldest and largest Turkish Cypriot mosque (Shacklewell Lane Mosque), making the borough a hub for the British Turkish Cypriot community, exhibited the perfect example of ignorance in her poorly thought out, recycled response to DFNC’s letter writing campaign, where she demonstrated that she did not read her constituent’s letter, nor did she understand the Cyprus Problem – an issue dismissed and community ignored.

Okkupied is a proud member of DFNC, sharing the same beliefs and desire for justice and change. Perhaps if the 300,000+ Turkish Cypriots living in the UK shared the same drive and attitude, our community might not have been left behind. In giving money to the Republic of Cyprus and reassuring the world that we need our Greek Cypriot neighbours, we are proving that we are the lesser human, dependent on the RoC and simultaneously disrespecting our ancestors who fought for our right to remain in our motherland.

Perhaps you do manage to spend less money on the journey and maybe you don’t get subjected to racial discrimination at the airports and borders, and if this is the case, I say you’re a lucky one, because the harsh reality for a lot of British Turkish Cypriots is not this. It is a shame that we continue allowing the UK Government, as well as others, to racially discriminate against us and we say nothing about it, we do nothing about it. We are the reason that our struggle is unknown, yet we are very quick to complain about our situation. Flying to the South might not even be in the question if we all banded together for once and actually fought for our common aim. In the meantime, please make wiser choices that actually benefit the TRNC, or do your research before making certain claims in attempt to defend your choices

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Oh how I long for that unbreathable heat to slap me in the face as soon as I step off the plane at Ercan airport. How I miss the feeling of being in my home away from home. Dare I say I even miss hearing the nasally voiceover from a Turkish Airlines air hostess welcoming us aboard.

I have never travelled to North Cyprus via the South, and I probably never will. I’ll take the few extra hours in journey time, the rush to catch our connecting flight and the heart warming excitement of landing straight into your motherland over a quicker journey and cheaper flights any day, for I’ve heard far too many horror stories. From people reciting the discriminatory verbal abuse they faced, telling the tales of the sheer frustration of not being allowed to cross the border, to the unjust confiscation of their personal belongings, not to mention being forced to listen to the whole spiel about how the North is ‘illegally occupied’, these recollections are enough to convince me to not venture where I’m not wanted.

Many people will assure me that they’ve never faced any discrimination as Turkish Cypriots landing in the Republic of Cyprus. They’ll tell me it’s worth saving those few extra pounds and couple of hours. And they’ll try to convince me, and themselves, that by flying via the south and driving across the border, they’re not funding the Republic of Cyprus. Supposedly, their money is only going to Wizz Airlines, who have just made Larnaca Airport their 28th base, expanding their (South) Cyprus operations by 60%, or British Airways or EasyJet or whoever else continues to discriminate against Turkish Cypriots and chooses to fly to the South only. By no means am I hating on anyone who flies via the south. There are many reasons as to why flying via Turkey is an inconvenience, whether it be the waiting around, almost missing the connecting flight because the security screening lines are too long, or because you or your relatives are disabled or elderly, I get it, and I think it’s fine. What I don’t understand is the insistence from these people that their money is going to anyone but the Republic of Cyprus. For those who seem so intent on trying to convince others, and themselves, that their hard earned money isn’t contributing to the government of the Republic of Cyprus, consider this:

All airlines must pay fees to the airports at which they are landing. These fees are broken down into cost per passenger, landing fees, parking fees, power supply fees, down to pre-conditioned air fees, to name a few. The airlines must pay the airports these fees in order to operate in that destination. Hermes, a Greek Cypriot company, own and run Larnaca and Paphos international airports under a 25 year BOT (build-operate-transfer) agreement with the Republic of Cyprus government. A BOT contract is a model used to finance large projects, developed through public-private partnerships. These are normally large scale, greenfield infrastructure projects that would otherwise be financed, built and operated solely by the government. Under a BOT agreement, the public entity (in this case the RoC government) grants a concession to a private company (Hermes) to finance, build and operate a project for a 20-30 year period, hoping to earn a profit. Once the term of the agreement has reached its end, the project is returned to the public entity (the RoC government). This means that the RoC government granted a concession to Hermes to finance, build and operate the airports for 25 years. There is a 33% government concession fee on Hermes’s revenue, meaning that Hermes has to pay the government 33% of their income (which subsequently forced Hermes to increase their fees and consequently come under fire a few years ago). Thirty-three percent of your money funds the Republic of Cyprus, debunking the myth that your money is only going to Wizz Airlines, or British Airways or EasyJet or whoever. My point being, the claim that choosing to fly via the south doesn’t fund the RoC is indeed a false one.

To address the other argument so commonly used when justifying flying to the South, return flights from London to Ercan cost on average £338 in the peak of the school summer holidays (August). Flights from London to Larnaca on the same day cost an average of approximately £313 (skyscanner.net). Unless, of course, you let flight prices dictate the length of your holiday, in which case you could just pay £60 a flight via the south. Combine that with the taxi fare or petrol cost used in a rental car to cross the border, and the London to Larnaca route proves to be no better financially.

There is, however, the obvious difference in journey times. The journey time from London to Larnaca is approximately 4.5 hours, while London to Ercan takes around 6.5 hours due to the stopover in Istanbul. Those extra two hours can make all the difference, but when spent disembarking, browsing Duty Free and boarding your next flight, those two hours are nothing. While I can admit the requirement to change planes in Turkey can be very long and frustrating, part of me doesn’t really mind it. I say that as a 23 year old, relatively healthy girl with no children. To elderly and/or disabled travellers, this can make the world of difference, but for fully able travellers, I don’t believe there is any feasible excuse for flying to North Cyprus via the south.

The hassle of the stopover has been used as an excuse for years and years, yet the disembarkation requirement was only introduced by the UK Government in 2017. Prior to this, we could stay on the plane and wait for other passengers to board in Turkey, which, yes, is still inconvenient and long, but is a small price to pay to avoid complications with Greek Cypriots. It was recently exposed during a campaign run by DFNCyprus (short for Direct Flights to North Cyprus) that the disembarkation requirement when flying to Ercan is due to pressure from the Greek Cypriot community, who the UK government are obviously so very eager to please. In going around this issue of disembarkation, getting on with flying to Larnaca and ignoring the severe racism and discrimination that we as a community receive from the UK Government, we are in fact telling them that it is okay to treat us like we don’t deserve equal rights, that it is okay to treat us as second class citizens, that it is okay to bow down to the tantrums of the Greek Cypriot community every time they throw their toys out of the pram, like a parent who can’t cope with the spoilt brat they nurtured their child into.

DFNCyprus was formed and launched to combat just that. With an interim goal of removing the disembarkation requirement and an overall aim to lobby the UK Government for direct flights between the United Kingdom and North Cyprus, the group was inspired by Kadir Kanizi’s UK Parliament petition calling for the same. This group of like-minded British Turkish Cypriots of all ages and professions have been voluntarily devoting their time and efforts to help garner more signatures for the petition and to let Britain know why direct flights to Ercan Airport are legally, politically and morally necessary. We are continuously urging you to sign the petition and send a pre-written letter to your local MP in order to get the issue of direct flights to North Cyprus discussed in Parliament. Whether the lack of direct flights is due to ‘security concerns’ or is indeed because of the Chicago Convention, as recklessly exposed by Wendy Morton in response to Fabian Hamilton as part of DFNC’s letter writing campaign, it is another key element blocking Turkish Cypriots from equal rights. Okkupied is a proud member of DFNC, sharing the same beliefs and desire for justice and change. Perhaps if the 300,000+ Turkish Cypriots living in the UK shared the same drive and attitude, our community might not have been left behind. Our ancestors didn’t die for our island, die for our rights, die for us, for us to allow others to push us out and treat us like we aren’t also human.

Perhaps you do manage to spend less money on the journey and maybe you don’t get subjected to racial discrimination at the airports and borders, and if this is the case, I say you’re a lucky one, because the harsh reality for a lot of British Turkish Cypriots is not this. It is a shame that we continue allowing the UK Government, as well as others, to racially discriminate against us and we say nothing about it, we do nothing about it. We are the reason that our struggle is unknown, yet we are very quick to complain about our situation. Flying to the south might not even be in the question if we all banded together for once and actually fought for our common aim. In the meantime, please make wiser choices that actually benefit the TRNC, or do your research before making certain claims in attempt to defend your choices.