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So is the Aegean one big Cordonne Sanitaire? Turkey has an issue with North Cyprus (KKTC)

February 17, 2011

Following the carnage and fallout of an Erdogan quote has gotten to be far less fun than it used to be. And although he has come out with one of his triumphs of speechwriting and positioning by being one of the first world leaders to call for Mubarak’s makat, he’s also stewed himself into trouble with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (from hereon out: KKTC).

The Cyprus Mail is probably a bit overblown in their coverage; I don’t think that the naming of Halil Ibrahim Akca as Ambassador to KKTC is going to cause some insolvable dissolution between Turkey and Cyprus’ concrete half. But the story shows the inherent weirdness of their relationship.

Ever since the Turkish, erm, Police Operation in 1974, the mainland republic  has sponsored KKTC, something most readily seen in KKTC’s foreign relations. Still, Turkey likes to keep up the appearances of KKTC as an independent state, except for when they don’t. Ask Kazim Kazim for more information.

Pictured: Imperialism Imperialism

The current issue is a representation of this weirdness: KKTC’li civil servants and others demonstrated against the public sector austerity measures pushed by Turkey. Demonstrations were, by all counts, moderate and tame by Aegean standards. No outraged students or that sort. Erdogan then demanded the arrest of demonstrators, and the KKTC government refused. Erdogan’s next step? Sending the man who created the austerity measures out to become the new Ambassador.

The KKTC government had the chance to reject Akca as ambassador, but they did not. Because, well, what does it serve them to get their only benefactor even more upset? KKTC was just strongarmed by the Great Democrat.

I’m not interested in whether Erdogan or the Ankara establishment had the moral right to do this. According to them, KKTC was being petulant and needed a snub to be put in their place. The above-linked Cyprus Mail article has lots of good background, much of which goes along the “[m]ost Turkish Cypriots feel like Aborigines on a reservation,” sentiment espoused by one Turkish Cypriot professor, Erol Kaymak. The subservient, in a term, and being served.

What is more interesting to me is Turkey’s burgeoning PoMo Empire. The Turkish Republic has kept along KKTC as a pet project for three decades now, trying to keep it separate and as much “better” as the EU-sponsored (Southern) Cyprus as possible. It’s fighting a losing (but fascinating) battle there, but KKTC is very much the gem of the Republican regime. It is almost an indelible mark of Turkish politics now…one cannot extricate AKP from it: they worked to bring KKTC into the Organization of Islamic Countries in 2004.

Property Rights in Disputed Cyprus (and my previous, though short, stint at ICG) besides, Turkey has also worked hard to create a political sphere of influence in its – and I use this term fully tongue in cheek – near abroad. Turkey has long cared about the Azeri exclave of Nakhichevan nearly as much as the Azerbaijani’s themselves. The confusion of Sandzak can be mentioned by itself and representative of Turkey’s reach into Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well. I wrote a few months ago about Turkey’s reach far and near as a series that may be worth review.

I could hardly assert that Turkey is working towards empire in the American, Chinese, or Russian 21st Century concept, let alone in a British 19th Century sense. But the current KKTC conflict lays open some tropes that could be used as future data points. It’s a rift that bears peeking at, particularly for opponents of the AKP.

Erdogan’s heavy-handed treatment of dissenters has become par for the course, but has been accepted in a country where the economy is improving and things can be seen to generally trend towards sunshine. But as long as the authoritarian streak is kept in the domestic sphere, there is little anyone internationally can do but tut-tut. But once dissent comes from abroad – and not only that, but the nominally Muslim abroad – then a salvo can be fired somewhat more honestly at the AKP.

If one buys the concept that KKTC is an independent country, I think this may be the first gripe AKP Turkey has had with a foreign, Muslim, country. If one only says that KKTC is an accessory to the Turkish Republic, then Turkey cannot play so coy with the EU. It must take far greater responsibility in resolving Cypriot traction then “expressing concern” and the like.

While seemingly only a blip on the international news radar, it is a tremendously big deal in Turkey. Not only for Turkey-KKTC relations, but for the future of AKP. And if AKP is going to dream of being a leader of the Muslim World however it is viewed, they have to have a more coherent view of what sort of leadership they will run. Anything that smacks of colonialism will be spat out quickly by the ones AKP Turkey is trying to impress internationally. It may give their domestic opponents an opening to exploit.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 18, 2011 10:46 am

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