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We are the only Cypriots without citizenship, silenced in TRNC for years

The fear of a potential ban by Turkey looms over me, even though I have no intention of going there. If Turkey bans me, I could become stateless.

  • 3 weeks ago
  • April 1, 2024
9 min read
Sude Dogan advocates for the rights of children born in mixed marriages in Cyprus. | Photo courtesy of Sude Dogan Sude Dogan advocates for the rights of children born in mixed marriages in Cyprus. | Photo courtesy of Sude Dogan
This Op-Ed is one in a series which is aimed at shedding light on global issues that demand perspective and awareness. This op-ed was authored by Foreign Correspondent Mudassir Haider through a first-person interview with Ms. Sude Dogan and is presented through her first-person perspective.

Sude Dogan
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Sude Dogan, a 23-year-old Turkish-speaking Cypriot, was born in north Nicosia within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)—a de facto state recognized solely by Turkey. Currently, she is a law student at the University of Cyprus, in the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state. Sude’s journey as a child born into a mixed marriage led her to become a peace activist. She witnessed discrimination and the lack of recognition faced by Turkish-speaking Cypriots born in mixed marriages. In response, she founded the Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem (Karma Evlilik Sorunu Çözüm Hareketi) in April 2022. Her mission is to advocate for Turkish-Cypriot individuals who experience non-recognition on the international stage. Sude tirelessly works towards bridging the gap between Turkish-speaking Cypriots and the Republic of Cyprus, with the ultimate goal of reunifying the island. 
Background Information
The Cyprus Issue refers to the ongoing conflict and division of Cyprus, an island nation in the Eastern Mediterranean. The dispute began in 1960 when the Republic of Cyprus gained independence from British rule. The island’s Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority have since conflicted in terms of governance and territory. In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup d’état prompted Turkey to intervene militarily, leading to the occupation of the northern part of the island. This resulted in a de facto partition, with the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus only recognized by Turkey. Despite numerous peace talks and UN involvement, a resolution has not been reached, leaving the Cyprus Issue as one of the longest-standing political conflicts in Europe. Read more: Cyprus country profile – BBC News 

NICOSIA, Cyprus — As a 23-year-old Turkish-speaking Cypriot, I feel unsafe in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Since the TRNC elections in 2020, expressing ourselves freely has become more challenging. Many of us fear repercussions, such as attacks or imprisonment, for speaking our minds. Authorities also prosecute journalists who criticize the government in their articles.

[The island country of Cyprus remains divided into two distinct regions: The Republic of Cyprus to the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the north. The TRNC is a de-facto state only recognized by Turkey. Cyprus sits due south of the country of Turkey in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea. Those born in the north in mixed marriages have limited rights and opportunities. They are not considered citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, and many of them do not have Turkish nationality either.]

After I participated in a media interview about my experience, I drew extensive criticism and social media attacks by Turkish nationalists against me. As someone who supports reunification of southern and Northern Cyprus, it is hard for me to see a future here. 

Read more stories at Orato World Media out of Europe and Asia.

Turkish-speaking Cypriots in Cyprus face recognition and citizenship challenges  

The Republic of Cyprus constitutionally guarantees citizenship to individuals born and raised in Cyprus with at least one Cypriot parent. However, in 2007, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus stopped granting citizenship to children from mixed marriages. In the eleventh and twelfth grades I noticed my opportunities differed from my Cypriot fellows.

I watched my friends in high school who were citizens of Cyprus travel freely through the European Union. They enrolled in EU universities and secured EU loans, exempting them from high tuition fees. Those like me lacked those benefits.

Growing up, I knew my family history. I had a mother of Turkish Cypriot roots and a father born in Cyprus to a Turkish mother who became a settler post-1974. It surprised me that despite my family being 75 percent Cypriot, I remained ineligible for citizenship, depriving me of rights.

I often think of my grandparents from Paphos who fled during Turkey’s military intervention in 1974, leaving behind their properties. My status as a non-citizen bars me from ever inheriting them. Every day, I confront financial hurdles with international fees for college five times higher than my peers, and no access to EU loans. I also need a visa to travel to EU countries. I’m not alone. There are 15,000 of us affected by the mixed-marriage problem. Most of us are peacebuilders.

I consider moving to the Republic of Cyprus, but lack citizenship. Applying for Turkish citizenship appears risky since Turkey bans peace activists and journalists who promote peace in Cyprus. The fear of a potential ban by Turkey looms over me, even though I have no intention of going there. If Turkey bans me, I could become stateless, which means I would not have any nationality.

Advocating for citizenship rights: Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem

I excelled in high school but avoided higher education in the TRNC because of unaccredited universities. High EU tuition fees and my family’s budget led me to choose Turkey for university, a country I never visited before and had no relatives in. 

I spent two years as a medical student in Turkey, cut short by the COVID-19 Pandemic. I often encountered Turkish people did not acknowledge people from TRNC as fellow Turks. They viewed me as foreigner, and at times, they struggled to comprehend my Turkish language skills due to my Cypriot dialect. In time, I modified my dialect to ensure effective communication. 

From a very young age, peace activism drove me. At 16, I engaged in my first bicommunal camp and contributed to peace-building efforts in Cyprus. After facing extensive discrimination, in April 2022, I established the Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem (Karma Evlilik Sorunu Çözüm Hareketi), advocating for the citizenship rights of children from mixed marriages. 

At first, fear swept through my family due to the sensitive nature of the issue and potential future threats. Yet, as they noticed my optimism and dedication to serve my country and its citizens, their concerns gradually diminished. As a child of a mixed marriage, I became the first to spotlight this issue in the Republic of Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, and internationally.   

I now studying law at the University of Nicosia in the Republic of Cyprus, but I am considered an international student because I have no citizenship. This status feels odd as it essentially makes me an international student in my own country.    

Backlash and threats from Turkish media and nationalists  

About 8 months ago, the France 24 ENTR channel held an interview audition. Along with Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking Cypriots, I participated. The purpose was to choose young Cypriots committed to their country’s best interests. 

My selection led to an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of Cyprus’ EU membership. The recorded interview, which aired later, covered Cyprus’ history and present challenges. Among several questions, the interviewer inquired if Cypriots identify as Europeans. I affirmed it, referencing the citizenship of the EU member state, the Republic of Cyprus. 

Sude founded the Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem to champion the citizenship rights of children born from mixed marriages. | Photo courtesy of Sude Dogan

Despite Cyprus’ geographical location in the Middle East, politically, we align more closely with Europe. Moreover, in the interview, I referred to the northern part of Cyprus as a de-facto state not under the Republic of Cyprus’ control, carefully avoiding personal opinions due to the topic’s sensitivity and potential offense.

Nonetheless, the segment drew considerable attention from the Turkish media and resulted in extensive criticism and social media attacks by Turkish nationalists against me. It appears the video was intentionally selectively exposed, possibly to deter me from discussing the mixed marriage problem. While I am refraining from disclosing the exact content of my statements in the interview, I want to reiterate that my remarks were not reflective of my personal opinions. Nonetheless, to avoid further backlash and threats from Turkish media and nationalists, I choose not to delve deeper into this incident.  

Just one day later, I achieved a breakthrough in the mixed marriage issue. President Nicos Christodoulides of Cyprus introduced 14 measures to integrate Turkish-speaking Cypriots, prioritizing mixed marriages. This success, marking nearly two years of my dedication, has garnered pride from family, friends, and political leaders across the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. The people recognize my courage to highlight this issue on both international and local stages. 

Cyprus is not Turkey; it belongs to Cypriots, and we should decide its future 

Life in the TRNC brims with challenges, including international isolation that prevents us from ordering from abroad and the absence of international food and clothing brands. The universities’ lack of accreditation means international recognition of degrees remains absent, except in Turkey. Our economy, tied to the Turkish lira, suffers from inflation and the currency’s volatility. Furthermore, our state healthcare services reflect poor quality. 

The politics in the TRNC remain tough and corrupt. Mr. Tatar, the current Turkish Cypriot leader, backs the two-state solution. However, this means TRNC would not get recognized, as his approach is unrealistic under international law. Sadly, Mr. Tatar’s position does not truly speak for the Turkish-speaking Cypriot community. 

Turkish-speaking Cypriots have been silenced for years in this de-facto state. We deserve better living conditions, which is why I work for peace and reunification. I want to clarify, Cyprus is a separate country from Turkey, and while I have nothing against Turkey or its people, I must protect my country’s integrity. My intention is not to offend anyone but rather to stand up for Cyprus, which belongs to Cypriots, and only we should decide its future.     

I am worried about what might happen in TRNC in the future. It is uncertain if things will improve or get worse, especially regarding freedom of thought and expression. Despite this, we must keep working for a solution that respects everyone’s rights and interests. I am hopeful but staying optimistic with the current situation worsening every day is hard. Still, I will keep trying my best for Cyprus’ future. 

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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