Today, 15 November 2023, marks the fortieth anniversary of the declaration of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC). The milestone has been marked with street parades in the TRNC and goodwill messages from allies, including Azerbaijan and Türkiye.
The Republic of Türkiye’s Vice-President Cevdet Yılmaz and its new Main Opposition Leader, Özgür Özel, joined TRNC President Ersin Tatar for the occasion (pictured below).
In Britain, which is home to one of the largest Turkish Cypriot diasporas in the world, TRNC Ambassador and London Representative Çimen Keskin issued a message to the 300,000 strong community highlighting the significance of the day in the Turkish Cypriot’s long “struggle for freedom.”
Turks have lived in Cyprus since the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1571, although they may predate this given that Cyprus is just 40 miles off the coast of Anatolia, or modern day Türkiye.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus became a British colony and when that ended in 1960, the Republic of Cyprus was established as a power-sharing state between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This short-lived state collapsed three years later in December 1963, when Greek Cypriots mounted a bloody coup to seize control of the state and push the Turkish Cypriots out.
After 20 years of failed attempts by the international community to restore power-sharing in Cyprus, constantly rejected by the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots opted to go their own way.
History of the declaration of the TRNC
On 15 November 1983, members of the Turkish Cypriot Parliament in Lefkoşa / North Nicosia voted unanimously for the creation of an independent state in North Cyprus.
At 08.30 that day, Turkish Cypriot Leader Rauf Denktaş had presented to parliament an eloquent and powerful draft declaration. It set out that all humans are born “free and equal”, while outlining the vision for Turkish Cypriots to live freely and as equals side-by-side with the Greek Cypriot population.
Denktaş’s declaration text was adopted in its entirety by the Turkish Cypriot Parliament that same day, with each one of the 40 MPs signing the document.
There were major celebrations on the streets following the announcement, with the three key political figures most keenly association with the Turkish Cypriots’ struggle for freedom, Osman Örek, Dr Fazıl Küçük, and Rauf Raif Denktaş, appearing together on the balcony of Saray Hotel in Lefkoşa to greet the crowds that had assembled.
The Turkish Cypriots’ unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) stated that North Cyprus was an independent and sovereign state and the name of this new entity was the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC).
It also contained a clause that stated the birth of the TRNC would not be an obstacle in forming a new federal partnership between two equal people, but that it would enable it – which helped bring on board the unification camp in the Turkish Cypriot Parliament.
UN response to the TRNC declaration
Despite this, the United Nations Security Council issued two resolutions (541 and 550) proclaiming that the Turkish Cypriot UDI as legally invalid, requesting that no other sovereign state should recognise the declaration and also asked for its withdrawal. Turkish Cypriots refused to back down.
Currently only one country, the Republic of Türkiye, recognises the TRNC. Two others, Bangladesh and Pakistan, attempted to do so in 1983, but before they could formally announce it, huge political pressure from Western countries, particularly the UK and USA, saw their governments do a U-turn.
Taking their lead from former colonial power Britain, the international community continues to recognise only the Greek Cypriot administration, which presents itself to the world as the ‘Republic of Cyprus’ despite this being in complete violation of the 1960 Treaties and Constitution that established the power-sharing Cypriot Republic.
The declaration of the TRNC was a bid by Turkish Cypriots to assert their equal political status in the international arena and leverage it to create a new federal settlement. Forty years on, that also has not been possible as the world continues to treat the Greek Cypriots as the sole legitimate government while riding roughshod over Turkish Cypriot political and human rights.
The awful events in Gaza in recent weeks, where thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed in full view of the world, has been a powerful reminder to Turkish Cypriots of the value of their own state and the vital support of Türkiye. While Palestine is recognised by 138 of the 193 members of the United Nations, not one has come to its aid despite clear evidence of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and Israel’s violation of international humanitarian laws across Gaza.
— KKTC Cumhurbaşkanlığı (@KKTCCB) November 14, 2023
For Turkish Cypriots, while their lives today are infinitely better than the decade of brutal oppression and persecution they endured under Greek Cypriot rule during December 1963 to August 1974, their struggle for full equality and recognition continues. They remain frozen out of international politics and sports, and still struggle to trade with, and travel to, the rest of the world as easily their Greek Cypriot neighbours.
Türkiye’s support has been pivotal in enabling the economic and social growth of the TRNC, which now boasts a population some 400,000 large and includes residents from all over the world.
North Cyprus’s new world class Ercan International Airport, its universities, and improved trade and political ties with Turkish allies, notably the Turkic and Muslim-majority states such as Azerbaijan and Pakistan, indicates a positive future ahead for the fledgling democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The optimism is reflected in a message to British Turkish Cypriots from TRNC Ambassador and London Representative Çimen Keskin on the occasion of the TRNCs 40th birthday, which is given in full below.
TRNC Ambassador Çimen Keskin message on 40th anniversary of the TRNC
Dear members of the Turkish Cypriot People living in the United Kingdom, my dear brothers and sisters,
The heroic Turkish Cypriot People crowned their struggle for freedom with the proclamation of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus on 15 November 1983, made possible by the never-ending support of our motherland the Republic of Türkiye, so that future generations could live freely in their own homeland.
We are rightfully proud and honoured to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our Republic this year, which is the concrete expression of our sovereignty and independence.
Despite all the difficulties, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus has made significant progress in 40 years.
We also have important duties to ensure that our State, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which was founded with great sacrifices, moves forward and takes its rightful place in the international arena.
As Turkish Cypriots whose history in the United Kingdom dates back a century, we proudly follow your achievements in many different fields such as politics, science, civil society, business world, art, sports and culture. Your achievements contribute greatly to the best possible promotion of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus in the United Kingdom.
I have full confidence that our youth, in particular, will make their power felt by continuing their active and energetic work in the political life of the United Kingdom and will defend our just cause more effectively both in the United Kingdom and in the international arena.
On the Cyprus issue, our expectation from the international community is that it will put aside tried and exhausted methods, adopt a new approach and take concrete steps on the basis of sovereign equality for the Turkish Cypriot People.
On this meaningful day, we remember with God’s compassion and gratitude Dr. Fazıl Küçük, our Freedom Struggle Leader, our Founding President Rauf Raif Denktaş, and our martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country. I salute our veterans, the Motherland Republic of Türkiye, which always gives strength to the Turkish Cypriots with its unconditional support, and our heroic People, with infinite thanks and respect.
From TRNC Ambassador Çimen Keskin, 14 November 2023