Thousands of Turkish Cypriots chanting “we want our country back” have taken to the streets of Nicosia despite heavy rain, after calls for a mass demonstration against Ankara’s heavy-handed policies towards the breakaway republic.
Tensions with the Turkish government mounted this week after a mob of hardliners attacked the office of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Afrika for running a front-page article critical of the country’s military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria.
Led by the nationalist Grey Wolves, they went on the rampage after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, criticised the newspaper’s stance as “immoral” and “shameless”.
Beneath the headline “one more occupation from Turkey”, Afrika drew parallels with Ankara’s 1974 military operation in Cyprus when Turkey seized the island’s northern third.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe condemned the attack as an assault on free press and freedom of speech.
Ahead of the protest on Friday, Sener Elcil, a trade unionist, told the Guardian: “The attack was very violent and very humiliating for Turkish Cypriots, who no longer feel secure in their own country.” At least 5,000 people were believed to have taken part.
“In Turkey, all the intellectuals, journalists and writers have been imprisoned. There is no opposition, but in Cyprus there are people who believe in democracy and peace,” he said.
If history is any indication, an overreaction in Cyprus by Turkish troops might very will go pear shaped in a hurry, and if Turkish troops are expelled from Cyprus, that would be the end of Erdoğan.
One can only hope.