Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Turkish Cypriots reject Ankara's conservatism

Significant portions of the Turkish Cypriot community continue to adhere to Kemalism and the secularism principle.

The second-largest community in Cyprus is experiencing new turbulence because of the Turkish government's conservative policies on the island's northern half. Turkish Cypriots are responding to the oppressive policies being supported in the north half of Cyprus by Ankara's officials.

Because of the views advanced by the new Mufti of Cyprus on the status of women in contemporary society, some segments of the Turkish Cypriot public opinion have recently engaged in open conflict with the "Ministry of Religious Affairs." Turkish Cypriots showed up in Nicosia on Monday night against the conservative worldview that is being imposed on them by Ankara.

In recent years, the debate over conservative principles is just one of several issues plaguing the Turkish-Turkish Cypriot community axis. Beginning in 2023, an "explosive combination" was created in the northern portion of Cyprus because of Turkey's interference in the internal affairs of Turkish Cypriots and their economic impasse.

"Marry and reproduce"

On the Turkish-Turkish Cypriot community axis, the new confrontation erupted when a few days ago, the new head of the "Ministry of Religious Affairs,” who was appointed last time and received the citizenship of the internationally unrecognized "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC) within a short period, made statements about the place of women in modern society.

Prof. Dr. Ahmet Unsal presented the concept of the "acceptable wife" and her duties at a seminar organized in Famagusta. According to the Turkish Cypriot opposition press, Unsal addressed the female audience with the slogan "marry and reproduce".

In the conference hall of the historical Famagusta Polatpasa Mosque, the Turkish professor stressed that "When a girl finds a match, it is necessary to marry him immediately without waiting" since Islam orders people to "marry and multiply".

"Some people get married, years go by, and still no children; why?" wondered Prof. Ünsal, who added: "(They say that) We have a cat! No, the reason for getting married is to reproduce, to procreate. Not pleasure! People marry to multiply. Therefore, a woman has to respond to her husband's invitation to bed. Her needs will be met. Allah loves His married servant more than His single servant. Allah's least favorite thing is divorce."

Prof. Unsal also explained, from his peculiar point of view, the roles of man and woman in a relationship: "A married man has to take care of his wife; if you can't, don't get married. You cannot work by saying life is shared. Women work for men. Men also must pay for housing, clothing, and health expenses. (The wife) should stay away from all men other than her husband. She has to protect her chastity. She will (also) protect her husband's property.”

Turkish Cypriots' powerful reaction

The Turkish theologian's positions on modern women came in the shadow of Ankara's interventions in the internal political affairs of Turkish Cypriots. In the recent period, Ankara first unilaterally closed the chapter on the federal solution to the Cyprus Problem, which has the international community's support. Then, it intensified its interventions in Turkish Cypriot politics. The conservative Turkish government supports conservative, nationalist Turkish Cypriot politicians who align with its line.

The Turkish Cypriot opposition disapproves of Ankara's recent choices in Cyprus. In addition, it reacts in high tones to the conservative worldview exported by the Justice and Development Party government in Cyprus. This stance was apparent in the new coordinated response to Professor Unsal's remarks. "I read the pieces published by Ahmet Unsal, a Turkish national appointed as the Head of Religious Affairs. He has issues with even the most fundamental human rights, particularly civil unions. He went above and beyond the call of duty," said Dogus Derya, a Member of Parliament for the main opposition, Republican Turkish Party (CTP). The CTP denounced the words of the President of the "Ministry of Religious Affairs" and other opposition parties and labor unions. "He has gone so far as to instruct women on how to live, dress, divorce, and whether or not to have children. This person has gotten so snobbish as to tell women, ‘You have to accept your husband's invitation to bed,’ because they believe that men are money engines and that women are mere ‘goods’ that belong to males,” the young Turkish Cypriot politician continued.

Significant portions of the Turkish Cypriot community, which continues to adhere to the secularism principle and Kemalism, share Derya's perspective. "I believe I am a decent Muslim—if not flawless. However, I'm confident that neither Turkish nor Turkish Cypriot women require coaching on how to make a good wife," argues attorney Feyzi Hansel. "Ahmet Unsal should resign right away for trying to practice social engineering by misusing the responsibilities and authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Our work, our bodies, and our choices are ours! Ahmet Unsal's advice on how to live, who to date, and how many children to have is not something that women need to consider," adds Fazilet Ozdenefe, another MP for the CTP.

It is not the position of Ahmet Unsal, as it is not the place of any man, to make a judgment and give an opinion on the commercialization of women, how to dress, and how to conduct themselves, according to CTP Secretary General Asim Akansoy, who also urged the immediate expulsion of Ahmet Unsal. Two significant events occurred after this outburst of rage. An investigation into the Turkish theologian has been launched, according to the coalition government established last week in the "TRNC" due to Turkey's renewed engagement in Turkish Cypriot affairs. A couple of hours later, hundreds of Turkish Cypriot organizations, unions, and opposition groups demonstrated against conservative social policies on Nicosia's streets.

"Ankara's policies hurt relations with Turkish Cypriots"

Turkish Cypriot authors take a broader stance when discussing the most recent developments in the Ankara-Turkish Cypriot community axis. From their perspective, the conservative policies of Ankara and the most recent decisions made on the Turkish side regarding Cyprus complicate and worsen existing issues between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community. The deterioration of relations complicates developments at a time when, amid a major economic collapse, Turkish Cypriots are struggling to survive.

"A 'religious official' should be fired and sent home if he lies, and that should be sufficient justification. The authorities who dispatched the person in question from Turkey to Cyprus, i.e., the Religious Services Counsellor's Office of the Turkish Embassy, which has been elevated to executive power in the [TRNC] - should speak up,” according to Cenk Mutluyakali.

Kutlay Erk approaches the topic similarly, arguing that "to institutionalize its superiority, Ankara began recently to get involved in the social, economic, and political issues that Northern Cyprus residents were facing. Both sides suffer from these activities. Even the domineering Greeks and the colonialist British could not wreak such damage.” Turkish Cypriots reacted strongly to President Ersin Tatar and Prime Minister Unal Ustel, who were hand-picked by the Ankara administration. Turkish Cypriots' forbearance was tested this week by the Mufti sent from Ankara's acts and remarks. The British and Greek Cypriots' attempts to change the Turkish Cypriot identity were unsuccessful. Ankara's attempt is also doomed to failure, according to the author.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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