Interview by Elke Schneider
“In Europe, politicians and the public do not have any idea of what is going on in Cyprus and about the bloodless genocide that Turkish-speaking Cypriots are facing because of Turkey.” An interview with Oz Karahan – a former MEP candidate and President of the Union of Cypriots organization.
European Parliament elections are very important for the European Union. This year we witnessed a big fight between social democrats, right-wing populists, greens and others. But European Union’s small island nation Cyprus had another kind of competition. This year for the first time Turkish Cypriots participated in the elections with strong names and formations. In the end, a Turkish-speaking Cypriot got one seat out of the total six seats that are allocated to the Republic of Cyprus.
Before the elections, I interviewed the 29-year-old Oz Karahan, an important political figure for the Cypriot community. He is the president of the progressive Cypriot nationalist organisation “Union of Cypriots“. He was also an MEP candidate from Sener Levent’s “Jasmine Movement”. He and his organisation are fighting against the political wings that are in orbit of Greece and Turkey in the island and advocating that Cyprus can only be independent by fighting for the idea which is same with their motto, “Cyprus for Cypriots”.
Elke Schneider: This election is historic for Cyprus because of the strong candidates that are participating. And no doubt one of them is Sener Levent, the legendary journalist who fights against Turkish occupation and Turkey’s President, Erdogan. Union of Cypriots and yourself are also well-known names that are actively campaigning for the same purposes. Could you share with our readers, how these important political actors came together?
Oz Karahan: First of all, we have an advantage and it is the fact that Cyprus is a small island and everybody who is in the fight knows each other very well. As you know, our beautiful country is under occupation since 1974 and Turkey’s oppression against the Turkish-speaking Cypriots who are trapped in the occupied lands increased dramatically after the “2011 Turkish Cypriot protests”. The Afrika newspaper attacks, which happened on 22nd January 2018, were the point that we realized we have to unite as progressive forces which fight against Turkey’s illegal existence on the island. This is the spirit behind the formation of a joint list from important Cypriot figures who are known in the society and participate in the European Parliament elections.
Elke Schneider: Please tell us a little about yourself personally and your background.
Oz Karahan: I was born in April 1990 and started my political activism at a very early age. Having spent my youth years in Famagusta and being part of different formations, I led the youth organization called “LINOBAMBAKI” which was one of frontier groups in the protests against Turkey in 2011. After my university studies in the Czech Republic, I first moved to the United States and was active in Communist Party USA and later moved to Sweden for a short while being active in Kommunistiska Partiet. I was one of the founders of the “World Union of Turkish-speaking Cypriots (WUTC)” which later became Union of Cypriots. Currently, I am the president of the “Union of Cypriots”, which is one of the biggest organizations that fights for the independence of Cyprus and Cypriots. And now, an MEP candidate from Jasmine Movement.
Elke Schneider: Wow, interesting story. But tell us, why did you become politically active? Was there something that triggered your political activism?
Oz Karahan: I think the best answer is the circumstances. Living under the Turkish oppression and seeing that every day your culture is under attack by some outsiders makes you want to fight back.
After the occupation, Cyprus had its best chance to be united again with a UN plan named after the Kofi Annan in 2004. This proposal was supported by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, but only 24% of Greek Cypriots. Turkey’s aggression towards Turkish Cypriots got more intense with Erdogan’s political journey to become a more dictator-like figure. But unlike his own citizens, Turkish Cypriots did not obey him and in 2011 there were mass protests against Turkey called “Communal Survival Rallies”. These kinds of anti-Turkey protests erupt time to time in the occupied areas of Cyprus by Turkish-speaking Cypriots.
Elke Schneider: Please, tell us what happened and what is going on in the occupied parts of Cyprus briefly, for the readers who are not so much in the subject.
Oz Karahan: As you know, Cyprus was a British colony until it became independent in 1960. It was the era that most of the colonies got their “independence”. But of course, imperialists were not going to leave an island, a key to the middle east and an unsinkable aircraft carrier – Cyprus – that easy. First, they tried to create an intercommunal conflict in Cyprus by using their puppets Greece and Turkey, shortly after the independence. Many progressive Cypriots from both communities who fought for a united, independent Cyprus were silenced by Grecophile and Turcophile armed formations. And later, following the US-backed fascist coup in Greece, Cyprus had a coup attempt by a group of Greek-speaking Cypriot citizens that eventually resulted in the Turkish invasion.
Elke Schneider: And today…
Oz Karahan: Since then, we have an island that its half is occupied, an unrecognized puppet state in the north which is controlled by Turkey and hundreds of thousands illegal Turkish settlers who were sent to occupied areas from Anatolia. This “illegal settlers” subject is very important since they are the main tools of Turkey to fully colonize the occupied areas and make social, cultural and economic oppression to Turkish-speaking Cypriots who are trapped in the north. Historically, Turkish-speaking Cypriots have never been in good terms with Turkey and the reason behind it is the cultural and social differences between them. Turkish-speaking Cypriots are not ethnically or culturally Turks, even though British and Turkish theses are trying to prove this otherwise, with the artificial history they invented. Divide and conquer was the game played here. Like what happened in many other colonies after colonialists left. Turkish-speaking Cypriots are basically people who converted in Ottoman times to save their lives and prevent taxation. Therefore, the Turkish-speaking Cypriot culture is one of the most secular and anti-religious cultures on the planet, a fact that does not please Turkey. And today, because of the occupation, this European community has to live with Anatolians who have 180 degrees opposite values from them.
Elke Schneider: This is a huge problem. And also, we know that the number of illegal settlers is so much bigger than Cypriots now, in the occupied areas.
Oz Karahan: Exactly. Even though Turkey tries to hide it in order to not draw the attention of the international community, there are one and half million illegal Turkish settlers living in the occupied areas. And Turkish-speaking Cypriots are only a hundred thousand. Because of Turkey and settlers’ oppression, Cypriots are leaving the island every day and this means that so soon the colonization of the occupied lands will be completed. This is why we are fighting to continue existing in our lands and campaigning in intergovernmental organizations. Because unfortunately today, for all political sides, continuity of current status-quo is what they want. While Turkey is colonizing valuable lands, the Republic of Cyprus’ governments are chasing some kind of “federal” solution that will allow Turkey to stay on the island forever.
Elke Schneider: Tragic… What are the main aims and objectives of the Union of Cypriots? What is your view about the solution of the Cyprus issue?
Oz Karahan: We support and promote Cypriotism (Cypriot nationalism) with its progressive values. We believe in a unitary Cyprus with the principles of “one nation, one flag, one homeland, and one state”.
In this European Elections, Turkish Cypriots had another strong candidate who won a seat in the Parliament, Niyazi Kizilyurek. He is a professor and strong believer in federalism. And he was a candidate from one of Cyprus’s biggest political parties, AKEL. Many believe that AKEL made this move to split votes of Jasmine Movement. However, there is a difference between Niyazi Kizilyurek and Oz Karahan, and that is their view about Turkey. Niyazi Kizilyurek has very strong relations with Turkish institutions and politicians. That is why he hesitates to talk clearly when Turkey subjects open. But Oz Karahan and other candidates of the Jasmine Movement have a long history of openly fighting against Turkey.
Elke Schneider: You are right now participating in the elections with other political parties which are funded by big corporations and financial groups. How do you think that you will overcome this big resource differences between you and them?
Oz Karahan: As you know, many political parties are funded by some interest groups, which is simply a disgusting situation. It is the same for Cyprus. Yes, you are right about one point, the fact that they have money, they have employees who are getting paid for campaigns for their candidates, yes they do fancy and expensive PR campaigns, yes they are backed by the political parties who are guards of the status quo. But we do not need any of these anyway. We are a grassroots movement and we get our support directly from ordinary Cypriots who care for their future and children. And we believe that this is the biggest richness and PR.
Elke Schneider: I would like to ask you the last question, about your plans after 26th May, if you get elected. What will the main issues that you will fight for in the European Parliament be? The reason that I am asking is because we saw some of the candidates making statements about their support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union, from the biggest Greek Cypriot political party. What is your opinion about this?
Oz Karahan: My opinion about the point you mentioned last is that those statements are simply treason. It is a fact that some political parties and politicians are in a state of eclipse of reason. But it is a bit sick to tell these things about the country that illegally occupies half of your country. Not only that, we are talking about a dictatorship regime that locked countless journalists, students, academicians and political figures in jails. So, I am speechless when I hear these kinds of statements from any Cypriot because these are not the things that some patriot or even humanist would say. Other than all of these, Turkish regime is targeting people like Sener Levent who are fighting for independence of Cyprus and Cypriots. However, some Greek-speaking Cypriot officials do not hesitate to pose in family photos or fly to Turkey for romantic dinners with Erdogan’s cabinet just weeks after the Afrika newspaper attacks in 22nd January 2018. Let’s forget for a second the facts that Turkey is the country that illegally occupies half of our little island. We are Cypriot citizens and this is the concern we get from our own government (!) for defending our state. This is twisted but this is the environment that we continue our struggle. Let me answer your first points in the light of this. If I am elected, I will do whatever I can to inform and raise awareness of the international political environment about what is happening in Cyprus and the importance of stopping Turkey’s colonization plan of the occupied areas.
Cyprus is one of the smallest countries of the European Union. But the polarization of its tiny community is one of the biggest. But blaming its people for this situation is like taking the easiest way out. In the end, we are really talking about a tailor made safe land for western imperialists to control Near Asia and they are the ones who are creating this social and political mess. So, supporting people like Oz Karahan or organisations like Union of Cypriots for their fight against the colonialists is a duty of all of us, all progressives of the world.