A protest against austerity measures in Turkish Cyprus has strained ties between Ankara and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at anti-Turkey slogans, bluntly pointing out that Turkish soldiers died to protect Turkish Cypriots and that it is the Turkish financial assistance that helps the KKTC authorities pay the salaries of civil servants.
Erdoğan's remarks, made during a visit to Kyrgyzstan last week, have divided Turkish Cypriot politicians. Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister İrsen Küçük said Erdoğan's reaction reflected Erdoğan's deep sadness over the anti-Turkey placards during the Jan. 28 protest, while three opposition leaders have issued a joint statement condemning Erdoğan's remarks. President Derviş Eroğlu, for his part, said the Turkish reaction to some of the slogans, which he said could be considered “insulting,” was natural but also noted that some of this reaction stemmed from “misinformation” about the situation on the island.
“Ankara, take your hands off us; this land is ours, we will run it” and “Ankara, we don’t want your money or [austerity] package” were some of the messages the protesters wrote on placards on Jan. 28. In Kyrgyzstan, Erdoğan said protesters told Turkey to “get out” and said it was meaningful that those who rely on Turkey for their salaries come up with such a protest. “Who are you to tell me to get out? I have martyrs [who died during Turkey’s 1974 intervention in Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots from Greek Cypriot attacks], I have strategic interests,” Erdoğan said. “We are supporting Turkish Cyprus. Shouldn’t this be reciprocated?”
He also said the lowest salary for a Turkish Cypriot civil servant was TL 10,000 -- a figure later disputed by Eroğlu, who said as president, even he does not make that much money.
The dispute raised prospects of a revision in policy towards the KKTC. The issue is likely to come up when the Cabinet gathers for a regular meeting today.
Turkey annually transfers TL 450 million to help the Turkish Cypriot economy, which has been isolated from the rest of the world for about three decades due to an international trade embargo. This year, the KKTC government estimated the budget deficit at TL 600 million and prepared a package of austerity measures to meet TL 150 million of that deficit, which resulted in up to 40 percent cuts in civil servant salaries. The Turkish donation of TL 450 million will also be used in meeting the budget targets. In addition to the donation, three public banks also transferred 10 percent of their revenue to the KKTC to help raise living standards on the island.
Greek Cyprus linkage
On Sunday, both Erdoğan and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, who is in charge of relations with the KKTC, appeared to put the blame on Turkish Cypriot groups that they said have links with the Greek Cypriot administration.
“What happened is the act of a group that has links with the south [Greek Cyprus],” Erdoğan told reporters before departing for the southern province of Hatay, where he later took part in a ceremony to launch construction of a dam on the border with Syria.
Çiçek, speaking to Today’s Zaman, said protesters worked in cooperation with “elements supported by the Progressive Party of Working People [AKEL],” the former party of Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias. The Greek Cypriot administration, on the other hand, denied any link with Turkish Cypriot protesters on Sunday, with Greek Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou claiming that the Turkish Cypriot protesters sent a message to Turkey about “Turkey’s illegal presence” on Cyprus, referring to about 35,000 Turkish troops deployed in Turkish Cyprus since 1974.
Çiçek blamed “bad management” of the economy for the current austerity measures in the KKTC. “One of the main problems of the KKTC economy is mismanagement of the funds coming from Turkey. When the global economic crisis came on top of this, the Turkish Cypriot government had to take some measures. But trade unions and opposition parties blame Turkey for this,” Çiçek told Today’s Zaman, also accusing Turkish Cypriot leaders of remaining silent in face of protests against Turkey until Erdoğan spoke out.