What an interview with Suleyman Erguclu, editor of Kibris by Susan J. Drucker and Gary Gumpert, shows and what is the view of GreekNews
NEW YORK.- By Susan J. Drucker and Gary Gumpert
Suleyman Erguclu is editor-in-chief of Kibris, the largest daily newspaper in northern Cyprus and the head of the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Union. This interview took place at the large modern plant that houses the Kibris media facility. A representative of “northern Cyprus’s Press Information Office” accompanied the interviewers. The time and circumstance of that hour-long interview is significant in light of prior actions and subsequent developments. Unprecedented demonstrations had occurred in northern Nicosia in December 2002 and January 2003 with participants demanding a solution to the Cyprus problem: Rauf Denktash effectually rejected the United Nations Koffi Anan plan early in March; The Treaty of Accession to the European Union was signed on April 16 in Athens signaling the entry of Cyprus into the EU; One week after this interview, April 22, the new Denktash policy allowing freedom of movement was announced in Kibris. Mr. Erguclu’s comments reflect the critical turn of events in northern Cyprus. We think the interview reveals a public opinion leader’s perception of the current shifting political climate within the Turkish Cypriot community.
The interview began with the question “Why has there been a great change in Kibris’s editorial policy with regard to the political situation in northern Cyprus? Mr. Ergluclu responded:
People feel they own the paper. They want to see their own problems and they pressure us. In the last eight or nine months people have, after 15 years, gotten together in a democratic movement led by a number of NGOs in a movement toward a solution in Cyprus. During the summer of 2002 nearly 100 NGOs got together in forming a “joint vision” which attracted a great many people. This was seen in the huge demonstration in December 2002 in which 70,000 gathered in central Nicosia in front off the Ataturk Statue at Kyrenia Gate. The owner of Kibris is a businessman who shared this vision with the majority of the people and we, those shaping the editorial policy of Kibris, decided to be party to this movement. It attracted the arrows of the establishment and government, but we believe it is the right track to move on.
KIBRIS Vs AVRUPA
When asked why Kibris has been allowed to change its political position while Sener Levent and other journalists have not enjoyed such tolerance when opposing the Denktash policy, Mr.Erguclu responded:
Levent is in trouble because he doesn’t watch his language. You cannot swear at someone using the guise of the journalistic profession as a shield. Avrupa is an extreme case. We at Kibris write everything we want, we criticize and we are okay. We are allowed to criticize freely within the limits of the law. We can for example say, “President Denktash does not want to solve the problem.” We can say, “Generals are interfering with politics and businessmen are being called and threatened.” But there is the possibility of being punished. At the moment Kibris enjoys free speech.
He described the circumstances surrounding the shift in editorial policy.
In December 2001 Mr. Dentash wrote to Clerides saying the problem was dragging on too many years and let’s solve the problem. Clerides replied positively – if the United Nations were present as well – and Denktash agreed. Denktash invited Clerides to dinner and he came over without the flag on the car and ate at his residence. Then around New Years Clerides invited Denktash as a civilian and there was a very positive atmosphere. In January 2002 direct talks started which Denktash said aimed for a solution by June. Hopes were running high but June came and went. In June/July 2002 civilians, NGOs, trade unions became very active and agreed in a text to satisfy almost all sectors with a vision of a new Cyprus joining the EU. We signed an agreement –this was a critical point. It expressed the view of the majority. This was the atmosphere, not an overnight shift, but part of a natural procedure to shift the policy of the paper – and the groundwork was laid by Denktash himself.
When asked “What happens under the current situation? Where do you go from here? He replied:
We should realize people think of the democratic movement as a two-pronged approach: 1) solution to the problem/entry into the EU and 2); the changing of the present corrupt political system
They don’t do much about prong one but we can work on prong two. This is the year for Parliamentary elections…. any time before December 2003. There has to be an election. If a new parliament is elected, as we would expect, there will be major changes with major differences expected. For example, under the constitution the prime minister or foreign minister is supposed to be the negotiator and the new parliament could take those powers back and ask the President to take a more ceremonial role, as per the constitution. Although the old parliament gave over this power to the president, they could take it back.
We need a leader for a modern state. For the past 45 long years Mr. Denktash has been the leader of the community, Vice President, and President. Derviş Eroğlu has been Prime Minister For almost 20 years. We don’t need charismatic leaders, we don’t need new prophets, and we need leadership that, over time, can be changed.
A SHIFT OF APPROACH
Mr. Erguclu indicated that they were not giving up on Track I diplomacy, but simply shifting the approach, particularly in light of the Annan plan. He opined the Annan plan offered a fair ground. “If we manage to agree with the Annan plan Europe won’t give the Greek Cypriots a choice to refuse the plan. It gives a chance to the EU to be more active.”
When asked whether there was a new spirit of cooperation between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot media, Mr. Erguclu voiced opposition to increased media interaction between the two sides, particularly direct involvement of the Greek Cypriot press. “This is an internal democratic fight. “ Mr. Ergulu indicated that he has tried to develop a level of cooperation between the media on both sides but asked Greek Cypriot journalists to refrain from supporting the new political developments in the north. “We seek a solution because we want to live as a civilized community, in the international community, and not that we want to live with the Greek/Cypriots.” He went on, “We must first clean our own house internally. Many in the north fear Greek Cypriots and it is natural to have these feeling…. We can only overcome those feelings gradually and over time. But there is a greater reason for our need for solution right now and that is the necessity of living in the international world”
On the Annan plan, Mr. Erguclu characterized it as “realistic because it takes into consideration the lack of trust and insecurity felt. The plan provides a transition to a more or less inter-connected nation… with the option to live separately, if one wished. The plan integrates a device at every stage. The Annan plan creates one state/country but not to create one people.” Noting the difficulties created with the use of the word nation, he described a crisis that resulted when Mr. Annan used the word in the U.S. sense leading Denktash to take it to mean creating one people [emphasis added] that he rejected. He stated: “We won’t be married into the Greek people…Let’ s make sure the Greek Cypriots see we are cleaning our own house. A voice from north to south is important. The South cannot help us but can be ready to work with us when we have cleaned our own house. Let Greek Cypriots walk around here. We are already seeing the Greek Cypriot attitude change and see they realize we won’t be tending their gardens but we are a separate people to be respected. This is beginning…”
AFTER THE LIFTING OF THE RESTRICTIONS
On May 29 we wrote Mr. Erguclu asking him to reflect on his prior comments in view of current circumstances and the lifting of restrictions. His response, received on May 30, reveals both potential changes in policy as well as attitudes that are deeply etched in political and social attitudes.
“The two pronged approach is still valid. We have parliamentary elections in December and the civilian society is in the process of organising itself with a view to winning the majority in the parliament. This will bring about a proper government for the Turkish Cypriots that will be ready to negotiate a settlement based on the Annan Plan. The opening of the borders actually has contributed to peace efforts because it led to the collapse of two myths: The propaganda of the Turkish Cypriot leadership that the two peoples cannot live together, and the propaganda of the Greek Cypriot leadership that the north is under an occupation and Turkish soldiers kill people in the streets. Both peoples now have the chance to see the reality themselves.
More than 300 thousand Greek Cypriots have crossed to the north. I regard this as an unorganized response of the Greek Cypriot people to the peace calls of the Turkish Cypriot people. With this move the Greek Cypriots demonstrated that they are not in agreement with their leadership that is exerting every effort to prevent them from crossing to the north. The same is true for the north as well. This being the case, we can say that the opening of the borders have contributed to creating the grounds for a negotiated settlement.”
*Susan J. Drucker is a Professor of Communication at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Gary Gumpert is Emeritus Professor of Communication at Queens College of the City University of New York. They are writing a book on the communication division of Cyprus and have been doing research on Cyprus for the past nine years. The interview was conducted on April 10, 2003*