Unrecognized for decades, Turkish Cypriots have launched an online petition campaign calling on the World Health Organization to recognize the country as the novel coronavirus continues to claim thousands of lives worldwide.
Mehmet Hasguler, an international relations analyst based on the long-divided island, told Anadolu Agency that their claim represents “a universal human right which is supra-political and above political parties.”
“Turkish Cypriots are also human, and we are trying to explain that COVID-19 does not distinguish between people,” said Hasguler, who is also deputy chair of Northern Cyprus’ Higher Education Planning, Evaluation, Accreditation, and Coordination Council.
On April 22, Hasguler launched the petition, which as of Friday has already been signed by more than 9,200 people.
“For years, the existence of Turkish Cypriots has been ignored by the international communities! However, the common sovereign equality was accepted by international treaties on August 16, 1960, and it was approved by the UN!” says Hasguler’s statement on change.org.
“Today our neighbors, citizens of the Republic of [Greek] Cyprus, are receiving all the essential information and support from the World Health Organization. But we, Turkish Cypriots, are being ignored!” it added.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turks and Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece, and the UK.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – currently recognized only by Turkey – confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 9, while a total of four people, including two German citizens, have died due to the virus.
The border between Southern and Northern Cyprus has been closed for weeks now, since the pandemic first made headlines, the first time that had happened since the gates were opened in 2004.
Vast majority kept safe
Northern Cyprus’ first coronavirus case came from among a German tourist group of 750 people visiting the island.
Two of these people were among the first victims of COVID-19 on the island, while the rest of the group were put in quarantine and were sent back to their country healthy and safe, Hasguler said.
“I would like to call on German Chancellor Angela Merkel on behalf of Turkish Cypriots. We are also human beings and we want to be a member of the World Health Organization,” said Hasguler.
“As Turkish Cypriots, we want to face a possible second or third wave of [coronavirus] in a coordinated manner with the WHO’s office to be opened in the north, as the Turkish Cypriots cared for German tourists,” he said.
“Our request is clearly written in WHO’s founding charter in 1946, in Chapter 3, Article 8, as ‘Joint Membership’,” Hasguler added.
According to the article: “Territories or groups of territories which are not responsible for the conduct of their international relations may be admitted as Associate Members by the Health Assembly upon application made on behalf of such territory or group of territories by the Member or other authority having responsibility for their international relations.”
Hasguler said that the definition as “associate members” clearly describes the Turkish Cypriots, who are interlocutors in all UN resolutions in 1959-1960 and beyond.
“Our request is totally limited to health rights and falls outside of political considerations,” he added.
“Regions that become associate members have a WHO office, they benefit from all kinds of assistance,” he said.
“Local health authorities will jointly fight against this dangerous epidemic with officials in WHO’s office in [the capital] Northern Lefkosa, test kits will come to our country easily, [and] the number of patients, number of intubates, and number of losses will be included in the statistics of the world health organization.”
He added: “In the first wave, Turkish Cypriots were excluded from all of these and were left to their own state by the WHO.”
But as it helped dozens of countries worldwide, Turkey did extend a helping hand to its Turkish Cypriot brothers, providing over 2.2 billion Turkish liras (about $325 million) amid the pandemic, according to Turkey’s vice president.
After the petition for WHO associate membership was launched, Ersin Tatar, the country’s prime minister, urged the WHO to share Turkish Cyprus’ success at fighting coronavirus with the world.
In a letter to WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Tatar said the country’s last coronavirus patient was discharged from the hospital on May 11 and no further cases have been reported since then.
Stressing the importance of the organization’s leadership to fight the pandemic, he said Turkish Cyprus has been following all the suggestions made by the WHO.
‘Will hold WHO responsible for any losses’
Apart from Turkish Cypriots, nearly 20,000 international students from 110 different UN and WHO member countries are living in Northern Cyprus, including Brits, Maronite Christians, Greek Cypriots, Turkmen nationals, and Russians, Hasguler explained.
Pressing on the WHO issue, he already contacted the Turkish Foreign Ministry as well as four permanent member countries of the UN Security Council plus Turkey, Greece, and the UK, guarantor countries for the island.
Writing to WHO officials several times, he also warned them that he will “personally hold them responsible for any losses that may occur in the event of a second or third wave and that I will exercise my legal rights in the international arena.”
He said that all the political parties in Turkey’s parliament and civil society groups as well as Turkish public opinion support WHO associate membership for Turkish Cypriots.
“We also call on all Turks around the world to sign onto the petition and announce this to WHO with a very strong voice,” he added.
How Northern Cyprus bested coronavirus
When the first case was reported on March 9, the border gates connecting Northern and Southern Cyprus were closed by both countries.
Later, Turkish Cyprus’ only gate to the outside world, the Turkish sea and air border, was also closed.
Turkish Cypriots conscientiously self-isolated and abided by social distancing rules through wearing masks and following hygiene rules, Hasguler added.
“After the announcement of the TRNC’s foundation on 15 November 1983, the country was kind of under quarantine by UN resolutions, and it was isolated from all over the world,” he said.
“For many years Turkey has been its only exit door,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, Turkish Cypriots were put in quarantine for the “second time on 9 March, which is both something they know and something they have always done,” Hasguler said.
“For this reason, maybe the world doesn’t recognize us but because we are human beings, COVID-19 knows us,” he said.
“Let’s save the world from this shame of the right to health and make Turkish Cypriots an associate member of the WHO.”
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