The Invisible Children in a Divided Homeland – Dialogos/Haravgi (07.01.24)

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The Invisible Children in a Divided Homeland

  • The problems faced by Turkish Cypriot children from mixed marriages are chained.
  • Young children who believe in peace and reunification are fighting for Cypriot identity.

Turkish Cypriot children from mixed marriages face significant problems in their daily lives as well as problems related to planning for their future. Growing up in a half-homeland they are faced, mainly with their coming of age, and with a series of other obstacles.

In the Turkish Cypriot community there are various groups that claim Cypriot identity. “Haravgi” had the opportunity to talk to three young people – members of the Movement for the Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem (Karma Evlilik Sorunu Çözüm Hareketi). They claim the right to visibility but also the right to acquire an identity of the Republic of Cyprus, since, as they emphasize, they were born in Cyprus and have ties only to this country.

An “international” student in her own country…

Sude Dogan, the 23-year-old founder and president of this Movement is a student at the University of Nicosia, in the Republic of Cyprus. “I think I will be the first child with a mixed marriage problem who will try to build her life in the free areas of the Republic. After I graduate, I want to move and work in the Republic of Cyprus; but I don’t know what to expect.

I was born and raised in the occupied territories. My family on my mother’s side are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus. I have a birth certificate of the Republic of Cyprus, but I don’t know if I will need a residence or work permit in my own country.”

The Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem was founded in April 2022, is the first movement to bring the ‘mixed marriage problem’ into public debate.

“I didn’t know, until the last years of high school, that this was something that would affect my life. I studied at Turk Maarif Koleji. I was taught A Levels, SATs and IGCSEs and was ready to go to E.U. for studies, like all my other friends. But then I found out that I couldn’t get a loan and my family had to pay the higher international tuition fees for me to study there. With the exchange rate it meant my family couldn’t afford it. It was not fair. My mother and father divorced when I was 2 years old. My dad and I don’t speak, we don’t live together, yet it affects my life.

I chose to study in Turkey first, because it was more economical. But studying in Turkey was problematic for me from the beginning.

I have always been interested in Cypriot politics since I was a child. I always wanted to reunite Cyprus. I grew up listening to the stories of my grandparents, who were forcibly moved from Paphos to the northern side of Cyprus during the invasion of 1974. My grandmother always told me “I want to grow old in the village where I was born, I want to go back”. Her stories always left me heartbroken. Then I met with many Greek-speaking Cypriots and learned that they faced similar or even worse things during the invasion. Since then, I have wanted justice for Cyprus so that all Cypriots can live a better life together, in peace.

This ideology caused me problems when I lived in Turkey. But I did not want to stop asking for the liberation of Cyprus. So, I’m back. Today, personally, I am afraid – because of my views and actions – to go to Turkey… I have never visited another country in my entire life, and I only had an unrecognized identity, of the trnc.

I returned to my country, applied to the University of Nicosia, I was accepted, but again, as an international student. It’s weird being an “international student” in your own country and it’s still a bit hard to pay because of the currency, but I feel safer here. I feel freer to talk about both the mixed marriage problem and the Cyprus issue.”

“I have been waiting a long time for someone to talk about our problem…”

We asked why she made the decision to establish this Movement, Sude says that she waited a long time for someone to talk about the problem of mixed marriages. “I was waiting for politicians and activists to raise their voice on this issue, but nobody did. So, I wanted to do something for the kids who are facing the same problem as me. That’s when I decided to establish this movement.”

“In the central council of our movement we are all children of mixed marriages. We support a solution based on international law. We know that this is not a human rights violation, but we know that there is a humanitarian issue. These children cannot obtain the only recognized citizenship of the island they were born and raised on because of the political conflicts. One of our parents is a citizen of the Republic of Cyprus and according to the Cyprus Citizenship Law, we also have the right to acquire citizenship. But because our foreign parent has come to the island illegally (as settlers), we cannot acquire Cypriot citizenship.

We are not stateless. We are ‘dual citizens’, as we can still obtain the citizenship of our foreigner parent. For example, there is even a case dismissed in Cyprus’s Supreme Court about children of mixed marriages, concluding we are not stateless ((CIVIL APPLICATION No. 177/2021) (A/N).

“A humanitarian issue that needs to be resolved”.

As she notes, the answer given to them by the European Commission is that it is up to each member state to define the conditions for the acquisition and deprivation of its citizenship.

“We know that citizenship laws are not part of human rights law but fall under state sovereignty. That is why we always say that it is important to work with the Republic of Cyprus and create healthy, constructive channels of communication. This problem can only be solved through diplomacy.

There are many children affected by this problem, we estimate around 15,000. Some politicians in the trnc are instrumentalizing the problem of mixed marriages to win votes by insisting that “the Republic of Cyprus is violating the human rights of these children”. This leads to misinformation among Turkish-speaking Cypriots about the mixed marriage problem and the Republic of Cyprus.

This is a humanitarian issue that needs to be resolved immediately, but it needs to be approached properly. That is why we did not get involved in the protest made in front of the Ministry of the Interior, which aimed to accuse the Republic of Cyprus of racism towards us, claiming that it violates human rights, and leaving us stateless, which is not true (A/N). Do you really believe that attacking and constantly arguing with the Republic of Cyprus will make the Republic of Cyprus officials to solve this problem? Greek-speaking Cypriots can’t even protest on the northern side of the island for real human rights violations caused by the occupation.  This is so hypocritical. It is wrong to blame the Republic of Cyprus for things that are not true (A/N).

We see the Republic of Cyprus as our own state. As the Movement for Resolution of Mixed Marriage Problem, we want to become more visible so that our real ideology can be understood by people. We do not want the citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus just to be able to travel without a visa to the EU. We want Cypriot citizenship to feel like normal Cypriot citizens. This is an open appeal to everyone in the Republic of Cyprus, as well as officials, to heed our words when the issue of mixed marriages comes back into the discussion.

He has been waiting for an answer to his citizenship application for 20 years.

Can Sayı, a child of a mixed marriage and an active member of the Movement, has been waiting for an answer to his citizenship application for 20 years. As he tells us, his mother is Cypriot, and she met his father while studying in Turkey.

“Not knowing the difficulties we would face in the future, they got married in 1975 in Cyprus. I was born in 1991 in Nicosia. I grew up with Cypriot culture, I spoke Cypriot Turkish. In 2004 I applied for the citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus, which I am entitled to because I am a Cypriot and my mother is a Cypriot citizen. We couldn’t get a clear answer, nothing happened. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the unanswered citizenship application.”

For many, the lack of an official ID may not mean much, but for a significant number of people this implies problems, both practical and much deeper.

“Because of this situation I have faced many problems. First, I didn’t know that I was different from the friends I grew up with just because my father’s hometown was different from theirs. At high school we were preparing for the same UK universities, but the others had the comfort of knowing that they wouldn’t have to pay the fees for international students. I, meanwhile, was trying to convince my parents to take on massive debt to pay the university off, at least for a year (so we thought). Since I never received a denial for my citizenship application, we always had some hope. In the end, we ended up paying the full amount for international student fees, resulting in my parents spending all their savings to continue my education.

I had to apply for a UK visa with my trnc passport, which was not easy for obvious reasons. As a Cypriot without Cypriot citizenship, I had to explain my “special situation” every time I was challenged by every possible bureaucratic hurdle. It took me a lot longer to open a bank account or get anything official because it was difficult to fill out the applications.

Whenever we plan a trip with my fiancee (who is a citizen of the Republic of Cyprus), we face this dilemma: “Should we pay less and travel separately to the same destination or pay more to travel together?”

A stranger in his own country, isolated from the rest of the world.

The story of Deniz Miralay, a child with a mixed marriage problem, an active member of the Movement, isolated in a country that does not give him the right to travel abroad, since he does not have an official document. The only way he can go abroad is through Turkey.

I live without the citizenship of the only country that this island represents, where I was born and raised, with whom I am connected by blood and call my home.

The problem of mixed marriage is such a big hurdle that when it comes up, I don’t even know how to begin to explain it to people who aren’t familiar with it. This self-imposed isolation has now become a part of my life. Apart from Turkey, I have only been able to go abroad once, when I went on holiday to the UK, after I got a visa with my trnc passport, with a lot of trouble, while my peers went abroad easily. In fact, I will never forget the worker at the airport in England who looked at my passport and said “that’s not a real passport”, and only after a lot of insistence from the teacher who was with us, did he accept me into the country.

Although I was accepted to the University of Aberdeen, the loan system offered to EU citizens did not work for me and our financial situation did not allow me to study there, so I had to choose to study in Turkey.

At that time I still believed that this problem would be solved in a short time. Yet at the end of my five-year undergraduate journey, the problem still hindered my dreams of continuing my graduate education. Seeing my peers live comfortably and, like everyone else, travel, work and study wherever they want, including territories controlled by the Republic of Cyprus, without ever having to face such problems, made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Children of mixed marriages do not expect to be privileged or pitied. They just want access to the country’s citizenship, like other Cypriots.”

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