As a resident, I’m fed up with Barnet Council normalising anti-Turkish bias and hate. It’s time to speak out!

I’m a Londoner of mixed Turkish and Turkish Cypriot descent, who has lived in the London Borough of Barnet for twenty years.

Like many other British Turks inside and outside of this north London borough, I have seen my local authority’s relentless anti-Turkish and anti-Turkish Cypriot bias over many years. It’s gotten to the point where we’re not surprised by it anymore; many have even normalised it. Yet it’s not OK and as a community we need to stop behaving like we’re punch-drunk and say, ‘enough is enough’!

I’ve lost count over the years how many of this borough’s politicians – councillors, London Assembly Members, and Members of Parliament, from both the Labour and Conservative parties – have acted like agents for the anti-Turkey lobby. They include Brian Coleman, Andrew Dismore, Mike Freer, and Theresa Villiers, though we could add many more to the list!

These politicians have chosen to speak out about the division of Cyprus as part of their political work, but instead of playing a constructive role, they polarise the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in the borough by championing the rights and concerns of one, while routinely ignoring the other.

If that wasn’t bad enough, we’ve also had to endure dehumanising language about the Turkish Cypriot homeland of North Cyprus, as well as calls for discrimination against us.

It was Brian Coleman, a Tory councillor and London Assembly member, who led the calls for a ban on North Cyprus tourism adverts on London buses, tubes and trains, two decades ago, which was accepted by the then Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone and Transport for London.

The Transport for London ban was ruled illegal by the British High Court in 2005, yet a decade later another Barnet Tory councillor, Daniel Thomas, called for the same.

These politicians and others like them have contributed to creating a hostile climate for British Turks in the borough, which we experience in many other areas too.

A few years after I moved into the borough, I attended a fostering information evening hosted by the Council’s Children’s Service. The event took place at a building I now know to be the home of the National Federation of Cypriots, an organisation which purports to represent British Cypriots but is, in reality, a vociferous anti-Turkish lobby group situated in Britannia Road N12.

I came away feeling disgusted and horrified by what I saw displayed at this so-called community centre. Its walls were awash with hateful anti-Turkish posters and propaganda. Suffice to say I had nothing more to do with Children’s Services on the matter.

Sadly, that is not the end of my awful anti-Turkish experiences at the hands of Barnet Council.

Ten years ago, my family and I suffered the greatest insult of all when we applied for a secondary school place for my son, a process which sees families shortlist five preferred secondary school for Year 7 admission.

Our Local Authority ignored all five choices we made and instead determined my son should attend the newly created St. Andrew the Apostle Greek Orthodox Faith School.

As a person of Turkish descent, I felt deeply uncomfortable about this, given it was the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus had headed the campaign to ethnically cleanse Cyprus of its Turkish population. Sadly, Turkophobic sentiments continue to be preached by this Church to the present day.

Barnet Council’s behaviour showed it was either deeply ignorant of these geo-political realities or wholly indifferent to them when it made its ridiculous school allocation for my son. When I complained to its Schools and Education team, they failed to acknowledge, let alone attempt to put it right.

I decided to take my complaint to the next level, and contacted the national Department for Education, who astonishingly also did nothing.

Left with no support and no other option, I contacted the Humanist Society and National Secular Society, who helped raise my case as part of a Parliamentary debate in the House of Commons.

Even after this, Barnet Council did not respond to me or seek to resolve the issue, resulting in my husband and I choosing to remove our child out of state education

At this time, I noted the double standards at play as our local authority could seemingly not force academically high-performing faith schools in Barnet to accept our son if they deemed we did not fit their religious profile. This type of discriminatory admissions policy was OK for the council, and yet when we stressed a preference, we were ignored.

My decision to remove my son from the state system was vindicated when, in October 2014, two other Turkish heritage families with children at the Greek Orthodox school contacted me to say that their children had been forced to attend school assembly. The children were lined up and asked to kiss the hand of the visiting head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus.

The children, who were aged 10 and 11 years old at the time, felt intimidated and that they had no other option but to do as their teachers told them, especially as they were being watched intently by their teachers.

Archbishop of New Justiniana and all of Cyprus Chrysostomos II, before the start of the meeting with representatives of the local Orthodox churches in Russia, 25 July 2013. The Archbishop, who served between 2006 and 2022, regularly made anti-Turkish remarks and supported far right party ELAM. Photo Kremlin, by CC 3.0 licence


This action of religious subjugation was entirely out of scope of any education programme, and both inappropriate and deeply offensive. To ask children of Turkic Muslim heritage to kiss the hand of a Greek Orthodox clergyman without understanding what they have all been asked to do and without their parents’ consent was, for me, an act of abuse.

I thought about how other minority families would be treated in this situation. Let’s imagine that a child of Jewish heritage was offered a place at a Muslim faith school, and the family was told by the Council that they had to accept because there was no other alternative. Now imagine that child, without prior parental permission, was told by teachers to kiss the hand of a Muftu from the Middle East. There would be uproar! And of course, it is unthinkable that such a scenario would even arise as the Council would recognise how deeply offensive it would be to the Jewish family.

Yet for the borough’s Turks, there are no such considerations. And, ten years on and nothing seems to have changed in terms of awareness and attitudes at Barnet Council.

We continue to also bear witness to the sham twinning between Barnet and the North Cyprus town of Morphou (Guzelyurt in Turkish), which dates back to 1995. In nearly 30 years, Barnet officials have not once visited the town or met with its Turkish Cypriot Mayor or residents.

Instead, as we again saw in March, Barnet’s Mayor used local taxpayers’ money to host a delegation from Cyprus comprising purely of Greek Cypriots, who attended a one-sided anti-Turkish panel discussion about Cyprus and human rights. This action simply rubber stamps Barnet Council’s shameless discriminatory bias against us.

It’s for these reasons that I fully support Seyyare Beyzade’s charge of institutional anti-Turkish racism against Barnet Council. As a community, we have suffered silently for far too long.

On Tuesday evening, Ms Beyzade will give a deputation at a full council meeting, where she will detail our grievances against the local authority. In response, we need to see decisive action from Barnet’s diverse councillors, who  must not only acknowledge the Council’s harmful bias, but also give a clear commitment that will see an end to the Council favouring of one Cypriot community while deliberately excluding and discriminating against the other.

No other ethnic or religious minority would be expected to tolerate what we have!

It’s imperative Barnet adopts an even-handed stance on Cyprus, where residents in the borough from both Cypriot communities are consulted and involved in any actions involving their common homeland.

Main image, top, of Hendon Town Hall, 2008. Photo © Steve Cadman via Wikipedia / CC by 2.0