Eurovision sparks Cyprus debate

As Istanbul gears up to host this year’s Eurovision song contest, the competition seems to be falling foul of another recent attempt to unite different peoples – Cyprus.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974
Cyprus has been divided since 1974

At last year’s finals in Latvia, the Turkish entry, singer Sertab Erener’s “Every way that I can”, romped home to victory thanks in part to the votes of the Greek Cypriot judges.

They gave all their eight points of support to the Turkish entry, saying they were doing so “For peace in Cyprus”.

Yet, just weeks ago, Greek Cypriots voted against the latest UN plan to reunify the divided island – while their Turkish Cypriot neighbours voted in favour.

Days after that, Cyprus joined the European Union – without the Turkish Cypriots.

Now, Turkey is faced with the dilemma over whether or not to recognise Cyprus as the Cypriot delegation – and singer Lisa Andrea, the Cypriot entry – arrive in Istanbul for next Saturday’s contest.

EU membership

Eurovision organisers are still upbeat though.

“So far, everything’s going very well,” Eurovision spokesperson Alev Bilingen told “All the delegations are very happy.”

“Some people argue that as Turkey already recognises the TRNC, recognising the Greek side would be tantamount to recognition of the division of the island.”

Professor Iltar Turan,
Istanbul’s Bilgi University

Meanwhile, Turkish officials see Istanbul hosting the competition as an important boost for the country’s campaign to gain EU membership.

This is the first time Turkey has held the event, with Erener’s song being Turkey’s first ever Eurovision winner.

Cyprus has also been a longstanding competitor at the event.

However, since the island’s de facto division in 1974 following the Turkish invasion – mounted in response to an Athens-backed coup that tried to join the island to Greece – only Greek Cypriots have taken part in the Cypriot competition.

Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, preferring to recognise instead the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), the northern third of the island it conquered in 1974. But no other country recognises the TRNC.

This leaves something of a diplomatic tangle whenever Turkish and Cypriot official delegations end up at the same conference or event.

Divided island

However, speaking at a press briefing in Ankara earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan said Turkey was unlikely to recognise Greek Cyprus.

“There shouldn’t be any expectations of Turkey,” he said. “What the other sides have done or will do should be considered.”

Rauf Denktash has urged Turkeyto recognise Greek Cyprus

Rauf Denktash has urged Turkey
recognise Greek Cyprus

But there have been increasingly strident calls from both Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides for recognition, and the opening of a Cypriot embassy in Ankara.

“I think that if Turkey says that it recognises both the TRNC and the Greek Cypriot state, it will be an important step in solution of this issue,” Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas said on Wednesday.

Still, the concern is that recognition of both Cyprus would seal the division of the island into two separate states.

“Some people argue,” said Professor Iltar Turan of Istanbul’s Bilgi University, “that as Turkey already recognises the TRNC, recognising the Greek side would be tantamount to recognition of the division of the island.”


The Greek Cypriot dominated Republic of Cyprus also claims sovereignty over the entire island – including the Turkish Cypriot dominated areas.

“Recognition of the Republic might therefore undermine in some way Turkey’s support and recognition of the Turkish Cypriots,” added Turan.

While such disputes may be a long way from the minds of many as they settle down to watch the Eurovision contest – one of the continent’s most spectacularly kitsch events – disputes over recognition are not simply diplomatic niceties.

“I just want them all to come here and sing their hearts out. Let’s just forget politics and hear some good music”

Aysegul Hatipoglu,
Turkish music fan

Turkish lorry drivers, for instance, have been held up at European frontiers recently because their licenses do not include the Republic of Cyprus as a recognised country.

Elsewhere, ships from Greek Cyprus cannot visit ports in Turkey, the island’s nearest mainland.

In addition, the Republic’s EU membership gives it considerable clout in determining Turkey’s EU future.

Good music

“Greek Cyprus can now affect the course of negotiations between the EU and Turkey over whether or not to give a date for membership talks to begin come December,” said Turan. “So, while recognition may be a symbolic issue, in practice, over time, it can have substantive, concrete results.”

Yet, for many, next weekend’s competition is a chance to forget the ins and outs of international politics.

“I just want them all to come here and sing their hearts out,” said Aysegul Hatipoglu, a fan of last year’s Turkish winner who will be watching the contest avidly with her friends come Saturday.

“Let’s just forget politics and hear some good music.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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