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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 12:35 GMT
Turkish Cypriots fear 'Turkification'
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC, Cyprus

Turkish Cypriots during ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in November
Turkish Cypriots have been emigrating in great numbers

Turkish Cypriots are preparing to vote for a new parliament on Sunday.

The elections could determine whether Turkish Cypriots re-unite with their Greek Cypriot compatriots and join the EU in May next year.

I arrived at a traditional coffee shop in the remote Turkish Cypriot village of Meric after dark, travelling in a convoy of smart cars carrying opposition politicians from the capital out on the campaign trail.

The village in the middle of Cyprus's treeless Mesoria plain lies under a vast and spectacular night sky.

The people in Meric have traditionally voted for the nationalists who control the government, but the audience at the coffee shop was surprisingly large and included the village mukhtar, or headman.

Someone had decided to welcome us by decorating the pathway to the door of the mud-brick coffee shop with branches of olive and bougainvillea.

Coffee drinking regulars sat around the walls - their chairs pushed back against shelves of pasta and bulgar wheat, their faces illuminated by a naked light bulb, with more flowers draped, incongruously, around the electricity meter.

Unless we can join Europe along with the south of the island, my sons will go to London. They have no future here
Turkish Cypriot father
The Cypriot coffee shop is traditionally an all-male environment, and most of the men at this meeting had come because they were worried about rising unemployment and their children's future.

Only Turkey will trade with the unrecognised Republic of Northern Cyprus, and as a result the economy is contracting and the shortage of jobs is driving more and more young people to emigrate.

Like many Turkish Cypriots Ceptal, the mukhtar, has close links with England.

"Unless we can join Europe along with the south of the island, my sons will go to London," he told me. "They have no future here. All the youngsters who want to do something with their lives, they are leaving."

Cultural erosion

There are no reliable figures for the numbers of Turkish Cypriots who have left the island in recent years, but everyone you meet seems to have at least one relative in London or in Melbourne.

As they leave, mainland Turks have been encouraged by the government to settle in their place and many Turkish Cypriots believe they are now outnumbered on the island by the settlers.

Opposition supporters like Ceptal are uneasy about what they call the gradual "Turkification" of Northern Cyprus, fearing that their own distinct Turkish Cypriot culture is being erased.

And in the four years I have lived on the island, I have watched the construction of a vast mosque with tall pencil towers on the flat Mesoria plain.

It seems more in keeping with the skyline of a big city in Turkey than northern Cyprus, where mosques are traditionally small and squat with short stubby minarets.

Most of the mainlanders who settle in Cyprus come from the Black Sea region or the south-east, near to Turkey's border with Syria.

The women wear colourful headscarves and baggy trousers.

They look conspicuous amongst Turkish Cypriot women who for many decades have worn Western clothes.

Turks come, and Turks go
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash
I once tried to interview some of the settlers and asked a Turkish Cypriot friend to come with me and translate. The project quickly had to be abandoned.

"I have no idea what they are saying. They are speaking Turkish, but it is not the same as ours," she said.

But the governing nationalist party denies there is any difference between Turks and Turkish Cypriots.

It believes the security of Northern Cyprus can only be guaranteed by strengthening ties with what it calls Motherland Turkey and by papering over any cultural or linguistic differences.

Elections crucial

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash claims he is unconcerned about the numbers of people leaving the island, or about the influx from mainland Turkey.

"Turks come, and Turks go," he remarked recently.

Clearly there are big issues at stake in this election in the north for the whole of Cyprus.

The opposition parties, slowly working their way around the villages, see the election as crucial to the continued survival of Turkish Cypriots here in Cyprus.

They say it is only by reuniting the island, and joining the EU that young people will start believing they have a future in Cyprus.

They fear that if they lose the ballot the community could, in the space of a generation or two, simply cease to exist.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on 10 and 11 December 2003 on BBC World Service. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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