Article by Rana Feridun
Racism has become a worrying trend over the past year amid proliferation of racist attacks against Turkish Cypriots and the immigrant population in the South of Cyprus. These attacks often seem to constitute isolated spontaneous incidents under the disguise of hooliganism. However, they manifest much more than the destructive behaviours of hot-headed youngsters. The fact remains that the perpetrators of racism belong to the same groups of people namely, APOEL fanatics and ELAM members who are driven by racist ideology deeply rooted in nationalism. Their highly condemnable acts have passed with impunity and have invited and will presumably invite more attacks in the future. POST RI condemns the rise of racism and chauvinism in the south of Cyprus, as well as the visible and at times tacit cooperation of the Greek Cypriot police with these groups.
It is saddening to see that some Greek Cypriot religious leaders offer covert encouragement to these extremist groups, whereas religious leaders and institutions in many other parts of the world contribute to promotion of peace, tolerance and understanding. In a public statement, Archbishop Chrisostomos II has said that he sees eye to eye with ELAM and in a sense he identified the church’s vision with that of the Greek Cypriot nationalist outfit. The Archbishop’s endorsement of the racist and xenophobic views of ELAM, which advocates for all immigrants and foreigners to leave Cyprus, is completely unacceptable.
It goes without saying that neither of these racist groups’, nor Archbishop’s speech, reflect overall Greek Cypriot sentiments towards the issues around immigrants and foreigners. If anything, some Greek Cypriots demonstrate courage and stand against racism during the incidents, such as in the incident that occurred in GSP Stadium last year. Two Turkish Cypriots, Baris Mamali and Tekin Birinci, went to watch the OMONIA-APOEL match at the GSP Stadium. At the end of the match, a large group of APOEL fanatics noticed their Turkish Cypriot-registered car and shouted at them in threatening manner. The pair closed the windows and locked themselves in the car while the racist group began kicking and punching the vehicle. Afraid for their lives, the pair were rescued and protected from the crowd by four other APOEL fans until the police arrived. Mamali and Birinci were impressed so much by the humane behaviour of their rescuers that they sought their whereabouts to express gratitude after the sad event.
Despite the anti-racist attitude of such open-minded individuals, condemnations of racist attacks are not as widespread among the Greek Cypriot political parties and civil society as they should be. Like-minded people should take a united stand and create a public discourse to confront acts of hatred and racism. The most prominent example of such solidarity events is Rainbow festivals that promote values for peaceful co-existence. POST RI participated in last November’s Rainbow Festival in Larnaca. The event was organised by KISA (Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism) in cooperation with dozens of organizations, communities of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, foreign students, Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot bicommunal groups, human rights organizations and cultural groups. The main aim of the event was to celebrate multiculturalism, diversity and acceptance and to demand equal rights for all people irrespective of race, colour, ethnicity, religion, community, gender, sexual orientation or any other form of diversity.
This peaceful event was disrupted by violent racist attacks from people who were part of the anti-immigrant demonstrations. The participants of this demonstration broke chairs, assaulted people at the Festival venue and disconnected the Festival’s power lines. More importantly, right outside of the Festival venue a Turkish Cypriot musician was stabbed in the chest, while another was beaten up with butts. It is critical to point out that these attacks were not directed solely towards Turkish Cypriots, but rather the attacks were directed at everyone who was not regarded as having a “Hellenic” background by the racist-chauvinist groups. To regard this incident as hatred act solely towards Turkish Cypriots is not only incorrect, but also it fuels hateful feelings between the two communities, which we as POST RI wish to overcome.
However, racism however is not limited to organised groups which aim at stirring public sentiments against immigrants and Turkish Cypriots. When we look at the other incidents, we come to the conclusion that racism and prejudice permeates other areas as well. The education system in particular adversely affects people’s perception of the other. Ethno-centric history teaching, along with lack of human rights and democracy education, fosters nationalist stereotyping and even direct hostility. POST RI has dedicated three projects to peace education to address nationalist way of history teaching in North Cyprus. Our research findings have presented the drawbacks of nationalist history books and the importance of using textual and visual materials that are compatible with human rights and democratic values. The analysis of Turkish Cypriot history books painted a bleak picture of the Education system on the North, however; the situation is no different in the South.
Level of prejudice and intolerance on the part of Greek Cypriot teachers and students became apparent when Sevgul Uludag attended Kokkinohoria Lyceum last October. She was invited to talk to students about her research on missing persons and the activities of the Bicommunal Initiative of Relatives of Missing Persons and Victims of War. Unfortunately, it was cancelled at the last minute due to pressures from some prejudiced teachers. On the top of it, students wrote “do not bring Turks to school” on the school’s entrance. Thanks to the headmaster’s open-minded persistence, the event took place at a later date. However, racism was not absent since some children protested her presence in the school. Brainwashing alone can explain why some children behave in such an intolerant way towards a Turkish Cypriot. That said, the education system is not the only factor fostering misconceptions about the other. A Facebook video uploaded by a racist grandfather features a Greek Cypriot child being prompted by his grandfather, who is asking him “Who are you going to shoot?” and the child answering, “Turks and communists”. This incident clearly shows that a change of hearts and minds is necessary not only for children but for all segments of society.
Unfortunately, the Turkish Cypriot nationalist front tends to hijack reactions against such racist incidents and promotes their own propaganda for national cause namely – the notion that Turkish and Greek Cypriot can no longer live together- and falsely attribute racist properties to all Greek Cypriots. After the basketball match between Turkish team Pınar-Karsiyaka and APOEL, which was held at Eleftheria-Papadopoulos sports centre, Greek Cypriot fanatics attacked the Turkish team without any reason or provocation. The first Turkish Cypriot president Denktas’ public statement in the aftermath is one of the most recent examples of using such events for nationalistic propaganda. In this unfortunate statement Denktas said, ‘They are saying Greek fanatics did this. They should not be ashamed and say that Greeks did this. They had also said that the attacks in 1963 were also made by the Greek fanatics’. Coupled with nationalist propaganda, such incidents can indeed adversely influence Turkish Cypriot public opinion about the political future with Greek Cypriots.
It is important to recognise that racism exists in various forms and levels, ingrained in people’s personalities, cultures and institutions. In other words, racism does not only manifest itself in violent and destructive ways but it also exists covertly, entrenched in the very fabric of the society. Some people are unaware that they hold racist ideas and this leads to unintentional discrimination, whereas others remain silent and passive despite their discontent. The eradication of racism, therefore, requires awareness-raising in formal education as well as in adult training through lifelong learning programmes. Most often it is the NGOs who display courage in the face of racist nationalism while officials fail to show the political will to tackle its root causes. As POST RI, we believe in the importance of peace and active citizenship with regard to the elimination of prejudice, discrimination and violence based on ethnicity, gender and class. We will continue our bottom-up efforts for the betterment of all societies in Cyprus and contribute to peace-building, advocacy for human rights and active participation in social change.