Political fiasco after Turkish Cypriot councillors hoist TRNC flag at Waltham Forest Town Hall
Pro-TRNC lobbyists need to seek recognition within the British Turkish Cypriot community before start raising flags.
Monday, November 15th marked the 38th anniversary of the self-proclamation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state that to this day is recognised by none other than Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots themselves.
To mark the day, Turkish Cypriot councillors in Waltham Forest organised a flag hoisting ceremony, which saw the TRNC flag raised on a flagpole outside Waltham Forest Town Hall.
While the flag was supposed to remain on the flagpole all day in line with norms surrounding other flag hoisting ceremonies hosted by the Town Hall, the flag was lowered and removed almost immediately after it was raised.
The decision by the Waltham Forest Council to remove the flag came at the dismay of the three Conservative councillors who had organised the ceremony.
It was organised by Nick Halabi and Kay Isa, both councillors for the Chingford Green Ward, and Jusden Halabi, who is the councillor for Hatch Lane Ward.
While all being of Turkish Cypriot origin, the three councillors are also family, Jusden Halabi being Nick Halabi’s son, and Kay Isa being his wife.
Yet despite the organisers being councillors in the East London borough, Waltham Forest Council, which is headed by Grace Williams of the Labour Party, said that it had made the decision to bring down the flag because it represented a country not recognised by the United Kingdom.
The Council issued a statement apologising for what they said was an ‘offence’ and vowed not to raise the flag again in the future.
The Council’s apology came after complaints and criticisms aimed at the Council for allowing the ceremony to take place, including from Barnet MP Theresa Villiers.
Councillor Nick Halabi, however, pointed out that Waltham Forest Town Hall had previously hosted flag hoisting ceremonies for Tibet, another country not recognised by the UK.
The Chingford Green councillor accused Waltham Forest Council of double standards, even going as far as calling Council leader Grace Williams ‘racist’ and inviting her to resign.
Turkish Cypriot businessman Arkin Oksuzoglu subsequently started an online petition on change.org, demanding the resignation of the Waltham Forest Council leader.
A week on, the petition has collected over 2,500 signatures, mostly of Turkish Cypriots living in the UK who feel that the Council had discriminated against their right to celebrate the anniversary of their nation’s independence.
What does this mean?
Although 2,500 signatures may seem like a great number, the truth is that, as it stands, the number of signatures on the petition is hardly enough for mainstream national media in the UK to take notice.
In the UK, petitions with under 10,000 signatures do not even merit a response from the government.
There are no official figures for the number of Turkish Cypriots in the UK, but it is generally accepted that their numbers in Britain are higher than their numbers in the TRNC, so estimates suggest that the UK population is at least 150,000, but this could be as high as 400,000.
The majority of British Turkish Cypriots today were born in the UK, and therefore have never lived in the TRNC. Almost all, however, have relatives and inherited land there, and therefore have some kind of connection to North Cyprus.
This means that nearly every Turkish Cypriot in the UK is affected by political ongoings in Cyprus and (should) have some kind of interest in the Cyprus Problem, regardless of their political persuasion.
Of course, no population or diaspora of any nation sees 100 percent engagement rates in politics, but on important matters, public engagement typically ranges from 30-90 percent.
To make calculations easier, if one was to assume that there were 250,000 Turkish Cypriots in the UK, the latest petition would suggest that the political engagement of the pro-TRNC elements within the British Turkish Cypriot community stands at around 1 percent.
However one tries to manipulate statistics to inflate that figure, it would be almost impossible to inflate it above 5 percent.
With such low engagement rates within the Turkish Cypriot community, one cannot expect British MPs and Council leaders to take notice of the pro-TRNC cause.
The Greek Cypriot community in the UK is roughly equal in size, but the political influence they hold compared to the Turkish Cypriot community is unmatched, and that is arguably because their diaspora is significantly more politically engaged.
This could be because of a number of factors, such as better funding, stronger national sentiment, and more inclusiveness towards diverse opinions - all factors seemingly absent in the pro-TRNC camp.
Another area in which the pro-TRNC lobby is falling short is cooperating with other groups to achieve common goals.
There are undoubtedly thousands of individuals in Waltham Forest who are not Turkish Cypriot that would like Grace Williams to resign as Council leader for a multitude of reasons.
The fact that the latest petition did not reach out to these people is an indication of the pro-TRNC lobby’s inability to build bridges with other communities, find common causes, and put in joint efforts to achieve their desired outcomes.
Had the petition done this, it would have got thousands more signatures in the same amount of time and brought more attention to the pro-TRNC cause.
What we can take from this
This was a missed opportunity considering that racism is a hotly discussed topic in the UK at the moment, with the Yorkshire cricket scandal making headlines across the country.
But at the very least, the pro-TRNC lobbyists witnessed a demonstration of what one influential Turkish Cypriot family is capable of when they seek to further the cause of the TRNC.
The pro-TRNC lobby may need to concede defeat on this issue, but having now seen the impact of their hardest hit they could muster in British politics, they now have a better understanding of how far they are from where they need to be, and how hard they have to work to get there.
But they have to move fast to fix the problem of community disengagement, because the horizon they are walking towards is moving away from them faster than the pace they are moving.
They must either make their strategy more inclusive and relevant to the Turkish Cypriot diaspora, or focus their energies more on promoting the existence of Turkish Cypriots as a whole rather than a state that isn’t even funding lobby efforts to support its recognition.
Before recognition for the TRNC, the pro-TRNC lobby in the UK needs to get recognition for itself, and it can start off by seeking that recognition from the community it supposedly represents.
The way to do this is to first and foremost open their doors to British Turkish Cypriots of different persuasions and different approaches who can put forward new ideas, because the old approaches aren't working, nor have they ever worked.
Those leading the lobby need to step aside and make way for a new generation of educated and affluent Turkish Cypriots who come from outside the same old self-entitled mould who are so disconnected from the community that they no longer bear any resemblence to it.
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