Turkish Cypriot passport scandal exposes hypocrisies in resolving Cyprus’ division

Turkish Cyprus was rocked by a scandal this week after the Cypriot press revealed that nine of its 11 ministers held passports for the Republic of Cyprus.

The politicians, who include President Ersin Tatar and Prime Minister Ersan Saner, reject the legitimacy of the internationally recognised republic, which is controlled by Greek Cypriots but represents the whole of the divided island as an EU member.

Tatar, elected president in October, and Turkey are calling for equal recognition for the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), strongly opposing a United Nations plan for a bicommunal, federal model to reunite the island. Last week, Tatar repeated that call at U.N. meetings on the island’s future in Geneva, which failed to establish common ground for formal talks.  

Tatar confirmed the news reports published on Wednesday, saying he would be willing to turn over his Republic of Cyprus passport.

“If there is a way to return it, I will,” Tatar said, adding that he never used the document.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a brief Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Since then, the status and citizenship of the two communities on the island has proven a major stumbling block to reunification.

The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus controls the southern two-thirds of the island, and the TRNC, only recognised by Turkey, the remainder. Turkey keeps around 30,000 troops there.

TRNC Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu, well-known for his ultranationalist tendencies and close relations with Turkey, also possesses Republic of Cyprus citizenship, the Bugün Kıbrıs news website reported on Wednesday, publishing part of his registration number.

“The issue has been distorted,” Ertuğruloğlu said in his defence on Thursday, according to Kıbrıs Postası. He blamed the Greek Cypriot side for attempting to mount a perception operation after the failed Geneva meeting.

“Greek Cypriots and the international community must accept the undeniable reality of two separate national entities, two separate states, two separate democracies, two separate peoples,” Ertuğruloğlu told the Financial Times in late March. He described Turkey as the TRNC’s motherland.

Persons accepted to be of Cypriot origin and born in Cyprus before 1974 are eligible to receive a Republic of Cyprus ID and passport based on a foundation agreement for the establishment of the republic in 1960. Their children have the same rights.

“When I was born in 1953, Cyprus was a British colony. After the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, the republic’s identity cards were issued for all Turkish Cypriot citizens,” Ertuğruloğlu said. “But I did not go to the southern side of the island since the partition in 1974 and did not apply to get an ID or a passport.”

Tatar, elected president with 51.7 percent of the vote, submitted a six-point proposal at the Geneva meetings, calling for the establishment of a cooperative relationship based on both sides’ sovereign equality and equal international status. His opponent at the elections, Mustafa Akıncı, supports a federal model.

The Republic of Cyprus and Greece rejected Tatar’s proposal, saying the island’s division must be resolved with single sovereignty, single citizenship and single international representation under the U.N.-backed bizonal, bicommunal federation.

Numerous diplomatic efforts to reunify the Mediterranean island have failed, most notably in April 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. reunification plan in a referendum and Turkish Cypriots supported it. The Republic of Cyprus joined the EU a week later.

Republic of Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades referred to Turkish Cypriots as citizens in a televised Easter message on Sunday.

More than 160,000 Turkish Cypriots hold either a Republic of Cyprus ID or passport, Yenidüzen newspaper said on Wednesday. There are 252,497 TRNC citizens living in northern Cyprus, according to TRNC Interior Ministry data from 2019. The figure excludes Turkish Cypriots living abroad, mainly in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The U.N. will probably make a fresh attempt to convene further informal meetings in two or three months, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in Geneva. “We are not going to give up,” he said.