Imposing Turkey-funded mosque in north Cyprus raising eyebrows

The opening this week of a 3000-person capacity Turkey-funded mosque has caused a stir in the largely secular Muslim society of north Cyprus, Dylan Collins wrote in an article he penned for AFP.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is excited to attend the opening ceremony of the Hala Sultan Mosque, which is inspired by Edirne’s Selimiye Mosque, the structure has fuelled concern among some Turkish Cypriots that Ankara is increasing its dominance over the north of the divided island.

"This mosque symbolises the Islamist mentality, the Sunni Islam mentality and also an imperialist mentality," AFP quoted Sener Elcil, head of the Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union, as saying.

"The Turkish Cypriot community is secular. We are not a fundamentalist Islamist community."

Leftist Turkish Cypriots strongly oppose Ankara's dealings in northern Cyprus, which broke away after Turkey invaded the island in 1974.

However, Turkey is the only country to recognise the unilaterally declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and finances its administration in addition to having 35,000 soldiers stationed there.

"Erdogan's policy is to transform the Turkish Cypriot identity," the article quoted Izzet Izcan, a former member of parliament and founder of the socialist United Cyprus Party as saying.

"Our identity is based on Cyprus. We have a lot of common identity with Greek Cypriots, and Armenians and Maronites, all of which have a presence on the island."

Secular Cypriot Turks are concerned that the building of mosques and similar moves are designed behind to assimilate and to integrate the north part of Cyprus to Turkey.

The mosque is the centrepiece of a string of Turkish-funded projects in the same area on the capital's outskirts, including an Islamic high school, several universities and housing projects for students, the article noted.

Erdoğan will travel to Nicosia in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus after his inauguration for his first trip overseas since winning the Jun. 24 elections. His leading Justice and Development Party (AKP), along with the ally far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are expected to take a staunch stance against reunification of the island.