Oz Karahan: The only solution is a unitary, secular, pluralistic Cyprus

Oz Karahan

Ελληνικά / Türkçe / English

(Dromos tis Aristeras newspaper – 24/02/2024 – Vasilis Perodimos and Dimitris Gkazis)

We met Oz Karahan during our recent visit to Nicosia and had the opportunity to discuss at length the past and present of the island, as well as political developments in the wider region and how these are reflected in the reality of Cyprus. We have been following for years his activities and interventions through the Union of Cypriots, a collective of Cypriots fighting for the liberation of the island from Turkish occupation and colonisation. An active organisation with a rich internationalist activity and important interventions to inform and ‘educate’ Cypriot society. The Union of Cypriots sees the liberation of Cyprus as passing through the building of a new Cypriot national consciousness, which will form the basis of an independent Cypriot state-nation. This Cypriotism does not in any way mean reconciliation with the occupation regime, as for various progressive “Cypriotists”. In this sense, despite individual different perspectives on strategic issues, the insistence on the unity of the forces opposing the ongoing Turkish occupation and imperialism’s plans for the region is one of the important identity elements of their effort, as can be seen from the following discussion.

Globally, we have entered a period of war instability, and risk. Is Cyprus affected by this geopolitical rezoning?

Today, we’re witnessing not a “World War” but a “world at war.” Certain regions, notably the West Asia-North African region and South East Asia, have long been marred by instability and conflict. The concept of “Sea Power” is important to Western imperialism, especially that of the United States, underscoring the strategic significance of controlling areas such as Cyprus to ensure the operational security of the Sixth Fleet in the region. Despite recent global political shifts, the situation in Cyprus remains largely unchanged. It serves as a NATO-occupied base, utilized by five NATO militaries to project imperialist influence in the region, as the island’s role in recent events in Palestine and Yemen once again demonstrates. In short, Cyprus is not affected by geopolitical rezoning but has actually been a tool used for geopolitical rezoning. This is why when we talk about the liberation of Cyprus, we are actually talking about the freedom of all West Asia and North Africa, as well as cutting off the windpipe of imperialism in the whole region.

Almost 65 years have passed since 1960, the year of the Republic of Cyprus’s independence, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Attila invasion in 1974. What is the situation on the island today? We often refer to the Cyprus issue as a problem that cannot be solved. Can a solution be found today?

The situation in Cyprus has remained unchanged since the era of Palmerocracy in the 1930s. The colonial governor, Richmond Palmer, devised the divide-and-rule strategy that continues to perpetuate British imperialism on the island today. In his letter to London on 23 October 1936, he wrote, “In order to have ease in the future on the island, we have to continue the administration on the basis of exceptis excipiendis (opening the way to exceptions), on the basis of districts. Thus the concept of Cypriot nationalism -which will be emerging as a new concept after Enosis becomes an eroded value- should be pushed away as much as possible and left in the dark.” Fast forward to today, Enosis—a movement centered on ethnic identity with the goal of integrating Cyprus into another state—has contributed to the creation of a Cypriot state with a unitary, yet ethnicity-based, constitution in 1960, before becoming an “eroded value.” The Turkish occupation in 1974 effectively established de facto ethnicity-based “districts.” Furthermore, the West is trying to legitimize this apartheid order through the proposal of a “bizonal, bicommunal federation” solution. All these tragedies occurred due to a single cause: the imperialists’ efforts to delay the development of Cypriot national consciousness away “as much as possible and leave it in the dark.”

We live in an era of “nation-states” and “state-nations.” In last two centuries, imperialist Europe produced nation-states, whereas in colonized continents such as Asia and Africa, state-nations emerged following anti-colonial struggles. However, in countries where imperialists sought to maintain their control, they fostered tribal conflicts and introduced complex systems, as seen in Cyprus.

To address your last question regarding the possibility of a solution, the only potential solution for Cypriots is to establish a unitary, secular, and pluralistic state-nation. Territorial integrity of a country can only be guaranteed through social integrity. However, achieving such a state is only feasible by advocating for a unifying national upper identity, of course, while offering respect to each individual’s any lower identities, such as ethnic, sexual, or any other. There are still people like us fighting to achieve a “normal” and modern state as mentioned, so as long as there is a struggle, there is hope.

What is your position on the Bizonal, Bicommunal Federation that is presented as a possible “solution” in the various “dialogue” processes?

Before discussing “solutions,” it’s crucial to agree on the “problem” at hand. In Cyprus, confusion among political groups even leads them to use terms like “occupation” and “reunification” in the same sentence. The Union of Cypriots believes Cyprus isn’t divided but occupied, and liberation is the only solution. We have always maintained that the concept of a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation was merely a strategy employed by Turkey and the West to delay addressing the issue while colonization efforts proceeded. Now, with Turkey abandoning this approach due to the success of its settler colonial policies, arguing for such a federation as a possible solution is delusional.

What is Turkey’s strategy regarding the continuation and extension of the occupation? What about its military presence and activity in the occupied territories?

Since the occupation in 1974, Turkey’s primary strategy on the island has been settler colonialism, serving as the foundation for its military presence and influence. The precise number of Turkish military personnel on the island remains undisclosed, mirroring the opacity surrounding the count of illegal settlers. Turkish sources assert the figure to be around 40,000. However, given Turkey’s propensity to understate figures, such as the estimated population of the occupied area, often cited at 300-400 thousand, the 40,000 figure is widely viewed as propaganda. Presently, various sources including NGOs, data from GSM operators, local authorities, and politicians in the occupied areas suggest a population exceeding a million, while only approximately 80-100 thousand Turkish-speaking Cypriots are believed to remain. Consequently, the actual count of military personnel could be significantly higher. Beyond troop presence, Turkey utilizes the occupied areas as a naval base and an air hub for its aircraft, including domestically manufactured unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Recently, Turkey announced plans to utilize the airport in the Lefkoniko area as a base for their UCAVs.

With which policy is the Union of Cypriots trying to raise the issue of the settlement of the occupied territories by Turkey?

Settler colonialism is a system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous existence. Consequently, for any political entity to genuinely address settler colonialism in Cyprus, it must base its policies on the rights of all indigenous Cypriot people. Political fronts advocating for a NATO-backed bi-zonal, bi-communal federation lack any real intention to confront settler colonialism, as their goal is to perpetuate a ethnically segregated Cyprus. On the other hand, Hellenist factions, due to their denial of anything indigenous and Cypriot, either intentionally or unintentionally downplay settler colonialism or fail to articulate a sincere stance on the issue. In short, both factions indirectly become a tool to legitimize the Turkish presence on the island in the eyes of the international community.

As the Union of Cypriots, we consistently use precise language in our fight against settler colonialism, adhering to the idea that “Cyprus belongs to Cypriots.” Our effort is multifaceted, focusing on international campaigns to highlight this issue as a crime against humanity and to increase global awareness. Our International Relations Committee collaborates with international progressive movements, participates in events with other settler colonialism victims like the Palestinians, and produces English-language publications to shed light on Cyprus’s situation. We also aim to educate the Cypriot public, particularly Greek speakers, about the realities in the occupied territories, despite the political elite’s efforts to suppress this awareness. Another focus is on providing support and solidarity to Cypriots who became targets of illegal settlers, including the 2018 attacks on the Avrupa/Afrika newspaper among other cases.

In Greece, the dominant logic is that “Cyprus is far away.” How do you judge Greece’s attitude toward the Cyprus problem?

There needs to be closer cooperation between Cypriot and Greek peoples and movements. However, for this cooperation to have a meaningful impact, it is crucial to identify its foundational principles. Given the distinct socio-political dynamics of both countries and the prevalence of miseducation about each other’s issues, it is clear that the boundaries of this cooperation should be wide. In this collaboration, instead of relying on romanticized terminology and outdated concepts, a rational approach is necessary. This has never been attempted before.

How are the social and national issues related (if at all) in Cyprus? What does the occupation have to do with corruption, immigration, the real estate bubble, golden visas, etc.?

When we discuss geopolitics, we often find ourselves quick to assign blame to others. However, another reality is that even occupations can create a comfort zone for some. This is evident from the political elite and capital at the top, down to the ordinary Cypriot who travels to the occupied areas to fill their car’s gas tank—each serving as symbolic examples of this phenomenon. The drive to be part of another state and opening the back door to the Turkish occupation in the 1970s, or selling Golden Passports in the 2010s, stems from the same mentality that views Cyprus not as a true “homeland” but as a kind of “frontier” of some other place, or a “foster homeland” that can be easily commodified. Freedom will only be achieved in this land when our people understand that Cyprus is their only homeland, their soil and roots, and that they will never find peace anywhere in the world.

The national liberation is a prerequisite

Could you tell us a little bit more about the action of the Union of Cypriots and its political intervention? Do you cooperate with other groups? Are you planning any initiatives for the coming period (e.g., 50 years since Attila, European Parliament elections, war in Gaza)?

The Union of Cypriots is an anti-imperialist, progressive, and Cypriot nationalist organization that campaigns for a unitary, secular, and pluralistic Cyprus free of foreign military presence. It was established during the wave of protests against Turkey in the occupied areas of Cyprus in 2011. Our efforts are divided into three main sections: international solidarity activities, cultural and educational efforts, and participation in electoral processes alongside other progressive formations in Cyprus, based on common principles. Our core principle is that under colonization, national liberation is a prerequisite for any democratic or class struggle. Hence, adopting the principle of “national liberation first,” we believe in the “united front” concept and collaborate with other political fronts based on the principles of the liberation struggle. For instance, during the 2019 European Parliament elections, we formed a common list named “Jasmine Movement,” which included Cypriot journalist Sener Levent and other progressive figures. Currently, we are in the process of collaborating with other fronts for the European Parliament and municipal elections scheduled for June 2024. In 2023, to mark the 49th anniversary of the Turkish occupation, our members individually supported the “Declaration of Pan-Cyprian Mobilization for the Freedom of Cyprus,” a patriotic citizens’ initiative that established basic principles for the roadmap to our island’s liberation. We are in the process of initiating a joint campaign with another patriotic political front this year, marking the 50th anniversary of the occupation. Given the recent developments in Palestine and Yemen, our organization has steadfastly declared its support for the resistance against Zionist and imperialist states since the onset of the attacks. We consistently extend our support to anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist movements through the political networks to which we are connected.

Today, with common problems and threats to peoples on the rise, is there a need for a new internationalism? What is your perspective?

Wherever we go on the international stage, we voice the same sentiment. As we enter the multipolar world once again, we are ushered into a new era of anti-imperialism. Given the complex relationships among states, the early stages of this multipolar world may render the establishment of a new Non-Aligned Movement unlikely. However, people’s movements around the world must act swiftly to forge international alliances more effectively and establish new regional cooperations. As the Union of Cypriots, we stand as the sole Cypriot organization within international alliances such as the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and the International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR), among many others. Yet, as anti-imperialists, we must escalate our efforts and act with urgency. We must also foster collaboration among movements in the region — including Cypriots, Greeks, Palestinians, Kurds, Armenians, and others — to establish common principles for freedom. We are right and we will prevail!