British Turkish Cypriots held their second protest against Waltham Forest Council Leader Grace Williams for “discrimination and racially insulting the British Turkish Cypriot Community”. The event was bolstered by support from the local Kashmiri community.
Over a dozen Kashmiris attended the demonstration outside Waltham Forest Town Hall on Thursday, 3 March, to protest the Council’s flag ban, joining around 140 Turkish Cypriots.
The protestors were calling on the reversal of the Council’s flag ban on unrecognised states, the removal of a racially offensive statement about Turkish Cypriots from the Council Leader Williams on the council website, and an apology from Waltham Forest Council.
Initially, the Council Leader had only targeted the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) with her flag ban, which falls foul of anti-discrimination legislation.
The ad hoc flag ban has since been extended to include “flags of territories not recognised by the UK Government,” such as Kashmir, Palestine, and Tibet.
One of those present at Thursday’s demonstration was Mahmood Faiz, a local Waltham Forest resident who also heads the Liberal Democrat Friends of Kashmir. Addressing the 160-strong crowd, Mr Faiz said:
“I would like to say thank you on behalf of 20 million Kashmiris. Thank you to the Turkish and the Cyprus Turkish community for the support you have shown us against the occupation of our country by India.
“Waltham Forest is a diverse borough and it is the contribution of all its communities that makes Waltham Forest such a great borough to live and work in. It is in recognition of this diversity that flags of different nations are hoisted.
“If the Labour Leader of the Council does not recognise us, if she wants to exclude us from such community celebrations, then she is unworthy of our support.
“Our communities will show their feelings about this [flag] ban at the May [Local] Elections when we will boycott Labour. When they lose our votes and the Labour Party realises that by discriminating against communities like Kashmiris and Turkish Cypriots, Grace Williams is a liability, then we expect her to lose her place as leader and this nasty ban be overturned.”
Ayşe Osman, chairwoman of the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations UK (CTCA), the umbrella body for the 250,000 strong British Turkish Cypriot community, also spoke at the protest:
“The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus flag is a symbol of our identity and culture. We are protesting today against [Waltham Forest] Council Leader Grace Williams for discrimination and racially insulting the British Turkish Cypriot Community.”
Mrs Osman highlighted how, despite the Turkish Cypriot community having permission to fly the TRNC flag outside Waltham Forest Town Hall on 15 November 2021 – TRNC Independence Day – it was removed “within two hours” following a complaint about it from the Greek Cypriot High Commissioner. The interference by foreign diplomats in domestic affairs is not permitted under the Vienna Convention.
Yet Cllr Williams sidestepped these legal considerations and quickly intervened in the matter. As the CTCA head said in her speech on Thursday, the Council Leader “took it upon herself to order the flag to be taken down”, before adding “we do not accept racism.”
Previously, the Tibetan flag, also an unrecognised territory, was flown outside Waltham Forest Town Hall for four years running. Cllr Williams was the Council Leader when it was last displayed, on 2 September 2021, and despite the Chinese Embassy objecting, the Tibetan flag was not removed.
The Council Leader told fellow councillors in December that she will meet with the Turkish Cypriot community, but has yet to even make contact.
Bizarrely, Thursday’s full council meeting was also not held in the town hall, but in a nearby college, with protestors telling T-VINE the move was “to avoid having to face the demonstrators.”
At the first Turkish Cypriot demonstration on 9 December 2021, those inside the town hall had tried to drown out the protestors by blaring out Christmas songs via its outdoor sound system, which failed to make much impact due to the sheer size of the demonstration.
Over 300 Turkish Cypriots had assembled to protest Waltham Forest Council and its leader. The turnout was said to be the largest against the council in years, with people of all ages turning up to make their feelings known with flags, banners, and pots and pans.
Hundreds more wrote to the East London council to complain about the ban and racist treatment of Turkish Cypriots.
A further 3,200 people have signed a petition calling for the overturn of the TRNC flag ban, and demanded an apology from the Council and the resignation of its leader, Cllr Williams for her “racist” actions.
Cllr Williams not only ordered the premature removal of the TRNC flag, which was due to remain hosted until sunset on 15 November but also issued a racially insulting statement that singled out the TRNC flag for a permanent ban, while also apologising for its display. The statement, described by Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats as ‘racially charged”, incensed Turkish Cypriots.
On Thursday, Mrs Osman made a point of thanking those from other communities who had attended the rally to support Turkish Cypriots: “Today, we are proud of our brothers and sisters who participated in the demonstration giving their full support to us.”
The diversity of those present at the demonstration was seen by the wide range of flags on display. They included people from the Irish, Palestinian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish communities, who lined up alongside the Kashmiris.
Accordingly to the last census in 2011, over half of Waltham Forest’s estimated 277,000 residents are from a black or ethnic minority background. Urdu and Turkish are in the borough’s top four most commonly spoken foreign languages.