Turks call northern Cyprus baby land, a term deriving from motherland. Whenever there is some progress in peace talks among the divided communities of the island, some in Turkey start talking about the threat of losing the “babyland.” “We should not lose at the table what we gained by our blood,” they would say. Giving compromises in peace talks would be considered politically controversial and sensitive, resulting in consequences at the ballot box on the mainland.
So you would think those living in Turkey would be knowledgeable about northern Cyprus. On the contrary: I was very surprised to hear that many in Turkey did not know where Cyprus was located and were ignorant of facts such as the language that is being spoken and which currency is used in the northern part. That was the sad truth which surfaced from a survey conducted by the north’s Tourism Ministry.
But some mainland Turks know Cyprus so well that they are now even migrating to the northern part. There is a serious rise in the number of Turks who are settling or buying property, according to Turkish Cypriot officials. This is not surprising in view of the fact that a serious number of people who feel their lifestyle is threatened by the current administration have been looking for ways to emigrate.
While they would not say it on the record, Turkish Cypriots do admit that Turks come to northern Cyprus to flee the oppressive atmosphere of Turkey.
It is not just about the political environment which, in contrast to Turkey, is devoid of tension. I think Turks are also attracted by the many attributes of “civilized” life in the northern part.
I realized that while in traffic in northern Cyprus. I took part in a visit organized by daily Hürriyet to promote tourism on the island. Due to some separate interviews I conducted on the island, I had to catch up with a crowded group of journalist
and travel agents which were travelling by bus. Each time I got in the car in a hurry, the drivers always did their best to get me the fastest to where I wanted to go – albeit always without violating traffic rules. But not only that: They would also give way to pedestrians. And unbelievable as it may seem to mainland Turks, they would also give way to cars at intersections.
Running late, I was getting a bit anxious. How was I going to catch the group if we were going to continue like that?
But after a while, I realized that I was acting like the “beast I was in Istanbul’s jungle.” Their attitude was the normal one; mine was wrong.
That’s when I realized better why some Turks chose to come settle there. The civilized concepts like “tolerance, courtesy, respect for others,” which had long been a source of nostalgia for us were part of daily life on the island. People had smiling faces, and they were nice and polite to each other.
That again made me realize something else. Our prejudice that “Turkish Cypriots live a comfortable, nice and easy life thanks to money coming from the mainland,” had led to confusion in our minds about the characteristics of the Turkish Cypriots. We confused slow work and joie de vivre with laziness.
Indeed, Turkish Cypriots do have the same attributes as Mediterranean people. Their work pace is slow, they are fond of good food, drink and music. But in addition to these, there is also respect for differences. There are many divisions in political life, but it is devoid of tension and conflict. Violence, from domestic violence to the terror attacks that have become part of our lives in Turkey, is non-existent in northern Cyprus. Women can walk alone at any time of the day and night without fearing for their lives. There is gender equality.
I expect many more from Turkey will continue to go to northern Cyprus to breathe in not just the fresh air but also the fundamental freedoms and attributes of a normal civilized life that we have been longing for.