Istanbul mayor Imamoglu: What does he think of Cyprus?

istanbul mayor ekrem imamoğlu


By Uzay Bulut

Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the do-over election in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, on June 23, which will be his second mayoral position in the city.

The “Cyprus monument” he erected in Istanbul in 2017 represents his nationalistic stance on Cyprus, which takes pride in Turkish occupation of the island and disregards its Greek history and identity.

Imamoglu’s interest in Cyprus has a lot of history behind it. He moved to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus at the age 18 in the late 1980s. He studied at university there for two years and played football for the team “Turkish Hearths Limassol” (Türk Ocağı Limassol - TOL). During his mayoral election campaign in May, Imamoglu went back to the occupied territories in Cyprus or the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) and was also welcomed by its 'President,' Mustafa Akinci.

He also visited the memorial tomb of Rauf Denktas, the once head of the “Turkish Resistance Organization” (TMT) that is known to have committed many crimes in Cyprus and paved the way for Turkey’s invasion of the island in 1974. Denktas became the “founding president” of the “TRNC” that is recognized only by Turkey.

During his speech at Denktas’s memorial tomb, Imamoglu said he is honored to have personally known Denktas. He continued:

“When you get elected to any government office, you should make your first state visit the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. That is why I am here.

“The struggle of independence here is a very important one. To me, the struggle of the TRNC is a supra-political national cause so in all my endeavors from now on, I will always be a defender and protector of the TRNC. Turkey, the motherland, should preserve its guarantor status in the roadmap of the TRNC on the highest level and should remain involved in the [political] process there at all times. I also want the world to hear that. To me, this is Turkey’s utmost responsibility.”

The “TRNC” was established following the Turkish invasion of the Republic of Cyprus in 1974. Bülent Ecevit, Turkey’s Prime Minister at the time of the invasion, is still hailed by many in the country as “the conqueror of Cyprus,” although others have also claimed that it was Necmettin Erbakan, the then deputy PM, who actually deserves the title.


“Monument of Cyprus”

Imamoglu prides himself in having been the first mayor in Turkey who placed a monument of Cyprus and Denktas  in 2017, after having been elected as a mayor of Beylikduzu, a town in Istanbul, in 2014. The monument represents what he calls “the struggle for Cyprus.” Part of it includes a table representing the signing of the 1959 London agreement, through which, Imamoglu said, “Turkey gained the right to enter Cyprus.”

Around the table sits Denktas, Sir Hugh Foot, the last Governor of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, who later served as the first President of Cyprus (1960–1977) and Fazıl Küçük, the head of the “Cyprus is Turkish” Party, and the first Vice President of the Republic of Cyprus (1959 – 1973).

The London agreement paved the way for segregation in the Republic of Cyprus and served the neo-colonial interests of Turkey and the UK, the last two colonial rulers of the island.

Ironically, Denktas was not present during the actual signing of the agreement but the monument represents “a portrayal of a young leader who slammed his fist on the table,” Imamoglu said in a TV interview in April.

Yet, the fact that Makarios was also represented in the monument caused outrage in some nationalist and Islamist political circles and media in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned Imamoglu for “erecting a monument of a Greek leader who called for massacring all Turks in Cyprus.” Erdogan later spoke with Imamoglu at his presidential palace about the monument and finally “okayed” it, said Imamoglu.

However, even the monument that glorified the Turkish occupation of Cyprus was attacked by some Turkish nationalists in 2017 for including Makarios III. Makarios’s face was damaged as a result of the attack that took place one week after the monument’s erection. Imamoglu then organized a press conference to further explain what the monument stood for.

“When we say Cyprus, of course, there is the peace operation and we remember with respect to the late Ecevit, the then Prime Minister of our country that took the brave step. I also commemorate with respect and gratitude the late Erbakan, the head of the National Salvation Party, who achieved mental unity, intellectual unity and national unity [during the time of the invasion.]”

In his speech, he also thanked the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolf Organization, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Great Union Party (BBP) and Alperen Hearths for the support they gave him.

Imamoglu was challenged for Makarios’ portrayal in the monument during his recent Istanbul mayoral election campaign, as well. In a TV program, he once again tried to explain the logic behind the monument. He said:

“I love Rauf Denktas, Cyprus, the national struggle there, the founding of the republic there and the 1974 peace operation… The London Agreement provided the strongest basis of the 1974 operation."

Imamoglu added that the Denktas Foundation, Denktas’ family, the Mujahedeen [jihadists] Foundation in Cyprus all approved of the monument before its erection.

The monument did not only contain that in which the London agreement was signed. It was actually bigger and had sections informing about the “history of Cyprus, the statements by Ecevit and Erbakan, and the struggle for Cyprus from the Ottoman period up until today… We just portrayed an agreement with the enemy [Makarios],” he said.

In another statement, Imamoglu explained why Makarios was included in the monument: “The monument shows an anxious Makarios but a powerful Denktas.”

“Peace Operation”

Right at the back of the monument are “wings” behind Denktas, symbolizing “the peace” Denktas and Turkey brought to the island.

What Turks call “peace” has resulted in a deadly catastrophe – a brutal ethnic cleansing and continued colonial exploitation - for Cyprus.

In 1974, Turkey launched two invasions against Cyprus. Never until that year was the northern part of the island home to a Turkish majority. Greek Cypriots constituted a demographic majority all across the island.

The greatest consequence of the invasion was that Turkey changed the demographic structure of the northern part of the island by terrorizing around 200,000 indigenous Greek Cypriots' into fleeing to the southern part of the island. Turkey’s aim was to establish a demographically homogeneous Turkish and Muslim state in the occupied north and they made it.

Many Greek Cypriots including women and children were murdered or raped. Dr. Van Coufoudakis reported: “The Turkish army, during and in the aftermath of the invasion, committed large numbers of documented cases of rape of Greek Cypriot women and children from the ages of 12-71. It was part of the tactic to humiliate, intimidate and terrorize the Greek Cypriot civilians in occupied Cyprus.”

Thousands of Greek Cypriot civilians were arbitrarily detained by the Turkish military authorities in the occupied areas under inhuman conditions. Hundreds of Greek Cypriots are still missing after being arrested by Turkish soldiers.

The native Greeks who were forced to leave were then replaced by citizens from Turkey who were settled in the occupied area in masses. Houses and business premises belonging to Greek Cypriots were seized and illegally distributed by the Turkish occupation forces to persons other than their legal owners.

Today, Turkey's 40,000 soldiers continue to occupy nearly 37 percent of Cyprus' territory. And the occupying forces have systematically destroyed the Cypriot cultural heritage in the occupied part of the island.

Turkish Perspective of Cyprus

Turks’ false narrative concerning Cyprus demonstrates Turkey’s sheer hostility towards Cyprus and their pride in occupying it. Here’s what the Turkish state and most of its people think of Cyprus:

  1. Turkey completely denies the crimes the Turkish military committed in Cyprus. It was a “peace operation”.
  2. Turkey does not recognize the sovereignty of the republic of Cyprus. The Turkish government asserts that Cyprus has never been a Greek island; it was always conquered and ruled by others and now it is Turks’ turn to rule it.
  3. To Turkey, Cyprus has been a Turkish land since the Ottoman times.

There are also strategic reasons for Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus, which can be understood in a statement made by previous Deputy Prime Minister Tuğrul Türkeş in 2017:

“There is this misinformation that Turkey is interested in Cyprus because there is a Turkish society there… Even if no Turks lived in Cyprus, Turkey would still have a Cyprus issue and it is impossible for Turkey to give up on that.”

However, following the attack against the “Cyprus monument” in 2017, Imamoglu said:

“Here, it is our administrative responsibility to make people feel how Cyprus was created, how our dear martyrs became martyr there, how our dear conationals were massacred and they established a state. So, whoever sees Makarios here will see a massacre.”

Makarios did not commit any massacre or called for one. But it would be awfully hard to convince Imamoglu of that. After all, the very existence of the entire "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” rests on that very absurd albeit convenient myth.

Turkey has invented an artificial narrative to support its goals in Cyprus. It is that very narrative that most Turks know and serve. This false narrative is a mixture of small truths and big lies intended to justify in the Turkish mind the actions taken by the Turkish state on behalf of the nation. Most Turks adopt it in its entirety as it is shared by Kemalists and Islamists alike.

Entire generations of Turks have been raised to believe with religious fervor the folk tales their leaders masterfully crafted for them. Most Turks do not know the truth about Cyprus. And they won't question it either. For it's safer that way.

Tragically, Imamoglu, who is hailed by many as “a moderate” or even “progressive” leader and a “better” alternative to Erdogan, tries proudly to justify what Turkey has done to Cyprus by spreading falsehoods about the island.


Screen Shot 2017 06 22 at 11.06.29 amABOUT Uzay Bulut: Uzay Bulut is a Turkey-born journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in various outlets such as the Gatestone Institute, Washington Times, Christian Post and Jerusalem Post. Bulut's journalistic work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics, and history, religious minorities in the Middle East and anti-Semitism.

The article was first published in 2019.