Turkish Cypriots have this morning raised the flag of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) at Waltham Forest Town Hall, East London, to mark the country’s independence day. It is believed to be the first time a local council in Britain has permitted such a ceremony.
Dozens of Turkish Cypriots were present for the ceremony in Fellowship Square outside the Grand Town Hall building, which started at 10.30am this morning.
Members of the community spoke about the significance of the event before the TRNC’s distinctive white and red flag with a crescent moon and star was raised up the town hall’s main flag pole, where it will remain for the rest of the day.
Local Conservative Councillor Halil ‘Nick’ Halebi and local resident Allen Windsor were behind the initiative, which takes place on the 38th anniversary of the declaration of TRNC, on 15 November 1983.
In a statement sent to T-VINE, Cllr Halebi explained that he and Mr Windsor had tried for many years to get the TRNC and Turkish flags raised for special occasions in the borough, but their applications were rejected each time by council officials.
Waltham Forest Council officers and their lawyers had previously objected, citing a variety of reasons, including that TRNC Independence Day was ‘not an official event recognised by the United Kingdom authorities, and that Turkey ‘is not part of the Commonwealth’.
Waltham Forest Council accused of discrimination after allowing the Tibetan flag to be flown, but not the TRNC one
In recent years, the council has told Cllr Halebi that the North Cyprus flag cannot be raised because, ‘The TRNC is not a recognised by the British Government and therefore no such raising of that flag can be allowed’.
That objection rang hollow, however, after council officials permitted the Tibetan flag to be flown at Walthamstow Town Hall on 2 September 2021. Tibet is also not recognised by the British Government.
Cllr Halebi challenged the Council CEO and lawyers over this decision, demanding “a full explanation” about “why the Council has allowed a Tibetan flag to be raised and allowed the Tibetan people to celebrate their democracy day” but did not afford the same to Turkish Cypriots.
The Conservative councillor for Chingford Green Ward accused the council of “discrimination against the Turkish Cypriot Community” by “denying them their democratic right to celebrate their Independence Day.”
Cllr Halebi said, “The TRNC is an independent nation and the Turkish people are part of the Commonwealth and have every right to celebrate and be treated with the same equality as every other community in the Borough of Waltham Forest.”
According Cllr Halebi, his letter prompted Waltham Forest Council to finally accept their request to allow the TRNC flag to be raised. He said the council told him they, “would be happy and pleased to see Turkish Cypriots mark their special day/days in Fellowship Square”.
Speaking on behalf of himself and two other local Conservative councillors of Turkish Cypriot heritage, Cllr Ilkay Isa, Cllr Justin Halabi, and also Mr Windsor, Cllr Halebi said:
“I, Cllr Halil Nick Halebi, Cllr Ilkay Isa, Cllr Justin Halabi, and Allen Windsor have made a difference to the Turkish Cypriot community. When we collectively make representation, we can make a meaningful difference.”
There is a large Turkish community in Waltham Forest, estimated to be around 10,000 people, with those from a Turkish Cypriot background mainly concentrated in the borough’s north, in Walthamstow, Hale End, Highams Park and Chingford areas.
Councillors Halil Nick Halebi, Ilkay Isa, and recently elected Justin Halabi are all of Turkish Cypriot origin.
Flags of other nationalities and communities at Waltham Forest
Waltham Forest Council, which is located in the northeast of London, is home to diverse communities, reflected in its cultural events, from carnivals to melas.
The main town hall has regularly celebrated the independence days of the ethnic homelands of its citizens. In recent years, this has included Pakistan, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica. The flag pole in Fellowship Square has also proudly flown the Rainbow flag to mark the start of LGBT awareness month.
Tibetans were first allowed to raise their flag at the Labour-run Waltham Forest Council in September 2018. This year was their fourth consecutive year of raising the flag.
According to news reports after the inaugural ceremony in 2018: “The Mayor, Councillor Sally Littlejohn; Leader of Waltham Forest Council Clare Coghill; local Councillor Kastriot Berberi and few officials of the Council were present as the Tibet flag was raised on the flag pole outside the grand Town Hall.”
All photos © Sonya Karafistan