Life Stories of people living in our midst
Dr.Kudret Özersay – The man behind the new Social Movement ‘Toparlaniyoruz’
By Heidi Trautmann
‘Something is rotten in the State of Denmark’… Hamlet by Shakespeare…something is rotten and literally stinks to heaven in Nicosia, in Cyprus, it smells of standstill, of chaos, of helplessness. Rumours rise like smoke of an open fire that there is a new movement to awaken social awareness, people turn their heads and listen, people of all communities, of all professions, colour and provenance, communities that have made Cyprus their home and have arrived at a point of frustration….
These rumours sort of followed me for many weeks and I became interested to know more about the person behind the movement. I had read articles in newspapers, comments on its activities, but whatever I read did not satisfy my curiosity. So, I decided to find out, and it was easy with the help of Figen Inan, activist and artist, to arrange an encounter with Dr. Kudret Özersay.
We met at the office of ‘Toparlaniyoruz’ in the street behind the Merit Lefkoşa Hotel, a good residential area. In the entrance I am confronted with the results of one of their projects, the ‘Blue Cap Campaign’, many bags and containers full of blue plastic caps which are to be sold to a local recycling company for TL 1,20 TL the kilo; and the money obtained will go into channels where help is needed, for example to institutions with disabled people.
Dr. Kudret Özersay is a young man of 40 years with a good open face, a ready but shy smile, and dark shadowed eyes that have seen a lot in the course of his life. He immediately jumps in medias res and starts introducing me to the story of the movement and the necessity to establish it.
“I have been working with all three presidents of the Republic starting with Rauf Denktaş in 2002, then with Mehmet Ali Talat; during their term I was a member of the Turkish Cypriot Negotiation Team. However, during Mr, Eroğlu’s term I was appointed as special representative of the President; with other words I was the chief negotiator for Derviş Eroğlu to whom I finally handed in my resignation when I realized that my road of activity was blocked and that there was no longer a basis of trust and cooperation feasible. That was eight months ago.”
The negotiations around the Cyprus problem and any peace talks were off the table already beginning of 2012, and the internal situation of the island was continuously but steadily sliding downhill, no decisions were made into the right direction, no steps were taken to uphold the disaster; a general frustration lay like fog over the country. Especially in my field of interest, the arts, I felt a stagnation of activity, hardly any art exhibitions, music events became less and less and artists were going abroad where they had more response and acceptance.
“The worst case is given”, Kudret continued, “when society becomes discouraged and does not see a way out, the horizon is unclear, a feeling of hopelessness keeps paralysing all members of society en face of chaos and standstill in the government, the unions and institutions caused by unwillingness for discussion and compromises. That was the moment when I thought, together with some like-minded: what is enough is enough, we must find a way out, we must pull all our forces together and fight the chaos. In favour of us is the fact that we are independent, we are not bound to any political party. So, we set up strategies and arguments and went out and did regular field work under the motto : “We want a clean society” we talked to people, citizens and foreign residents, we listened to them, we discussed their problems and we concluded that we all don’t want to go on like this, we don’t want corruption, we don’t want this sort of self service on higher level positions. We want clean politics and will not sell our votes; we want clean rules how our country should be run, we want to have a word in it; we must join our hands and get the boat afloat again. We cannot go on watching everything going to ruins.”
So, what the movement is doing at the moment is doing preparatory steps to reconnoitre, to impart a clear image of the situation to the public and at the same time make it clear that its input of energy is necessary with respect to the display of their will and rights as citizens or as residents of this country. I lean back in my chair and watch this man opposite me, he is not a fanatic nor a young hot head; he knows what he is doing and were the chances are to force the wheel around that is being used to steer our boat.
OK, I tell him, I understand your motivation but who is Dr. Kudret Özersay, who is this man, prepared and willing to face such a giant task, where are the roots of this man who has a very clear vision of what should be done. I would want to begin with your childhood….
Kudret looks at me pensively.
“You may be right in your assumption that my willingness to fight for a clean society, for a transparent government, and, that I wish that everybody in this country feels obliged to do one’s duty as a fully responsible citizen, that my vision is based on my background, my family’s bitter experiences. We lived in a village near Larnaka and I was six months old when my father was put against a wall and executed; he and those killed at the same time were on the list of missing persons until 2007.
My mother was mere 26 years of age, a young woman with three children, my brother being two years and my sister four. My mother became one of the many widows of martyrs.”
This must have had a very serious impact on a child growing up and knowing that his father got
killed in such a manner and was missed and not buried.
“Yes it was and still is a trauma for me and my family; especially since we - all the families of
missing persons - were moved to Nicosia in 1975 into one and the same area, we were always
amongst us and the occasion to talk about it, to be unhappy about it was ever present, that made it
worse. But it also made me aware of the strong bondage among us and my feelings for the
It was in 2007 that the first group discovered was the one my father was with; I went to identify him and we brought him to the North and buried him finally after so many years; it was a very hard time for me, for all of us.”
In his sufferance, in the fact that his father died for his country I see the reason for the strong bond and responsibility Kudret has felt for his country, growing with the years of education and finding an outlet during his experience as a working partner in the peace talks going on since 2002. ‘My father must not have died in vain.’
Kudret speaks good English and he tells us when asked that as a school boy he spent his summer school holidays in England caring for old people who had left the island in the years of trouble, thus financing his stay and language schools. He must have realized very early in his life that you must help yourself, the rest will come by itself. Something which comes to the surface today when he tries to pass on his philosophy and the knowledge to the people he talks to.
With us in the office are some voluntary coworkers such as Figen Inan and Yunus Diler working at their desks and they exclaim…. you have never told us of your childhood….Kudret is never showing off, Heidi, he is looking ahead and not looking back….
But looking back is important, I say, only then you can understand the whole picture.
In 1991 Kudret went to Turkey to study International Relations at the Ankara University because his decision was prepared through the life he had led, through the solidarity among the families of missing persons, through the necessity he saw to learn in order to be able to understand better the conditions they were living in.
He graduated in 1995 as Bachelor in International Relations on the basis of which he could have started a diplomatic career. He stayed on at the Ankara University as Research Assistant to the Chair of International Law and, within the framework of the Congress of Security and Cooperation in Europe, he went to Bosnia-Herzogovina for five months in the position of Registration Advisor, i.e. monitoring the democratic principles during the elections to take place in a war-torn country. Whole areas were still peppered with land mines which made it necessary for Kudret to go through an intensive course and military training in Vienna together with a handful of helpers that were with him. “This experience was very strange for me as it took me back to our own conflicts, especially when we had to travel across country and visit villages and displaced and disabled people to teach them their democratic rights, at the end of which they were given a vote slip which they had to show when voting. Minorities such as gypsies had been treated very badly and to teach them basic democracy was quite an undertaking for me; it gave me lots to think.”
In 1998 he completed his PhD thesis titled "Legal Validity of the 1959-1960 Cyprus Treaties" at the Chair of International Law at the Ankara University in 2002. “In this respect I was granted a scholarship by an International Foundation many countries were members of, and it was one of their members, the Japanese government, I owed it to. The preparatory work for my thesis I did at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London; I was lucky to find the legal books used by the Greek Cypriots which I needed to do research for my work, they were not to be found in our part of the island nor in Turkey.”
“It was in 2002 – Kudret was still working for the Chair of International Law at the Ankara University – that Rauf Denktaş, the then President of the TRNC, was invited to come to our university and I was called to attend the talks, as I was Cypriot. And as the Chairman spoke well of me and my hard working, Denktaş replied: ‘He must be a hard worker, he is a North Cypriot’ but to make a long story short, Denktaş invited me to come and help him in the freshly starting talks with Clerides in the South with my knowledge in International Law and on the basis of my research in the Cyprus treaties. I said Yes and took leave of absence from the university. It was a new crossroads for me.”
It was certainly an important crossroads for Kudret as well as for Cyprus. I can still remember how we all watched the news, a wave of fresh hope was drifting over the country with all its negative and positive appearances.
“In 2003 I packed my suitcases and came back home and if I come to think of it, I never unpacked them really in my time in Ankara, I was always all ready to go home. I was offered a position at Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) as Associate Professor of International Law, a position I am still holding today.”
To refresh my memory I went into the whole business of the Annan Plan in those years in sources available to me. It was a constant coming and going; here one paragraph did not satisfy the one side, there not the other.
“Since 2003 I was part of the team working on the procedures, working on the structure of the plan and conducting the necessary negotiations. I did that under the roof of three different presidents, and with three different presidents on the other side of the island. For a year now we are back at Point Zero, the social and political situations on both sides of the island are in shambles.”
Yes, we are back with our thoughts in TOPARLANIYORUZ Office, having followed the road Kudret Özersay has walked so far, a place which has become the Centre for so many voluntary coworkers, who are willing to join in the cleansing activity, saying:
“We must change, society must change their morale and other values, we cannot go on like this, we must demand our government to go along with us or leave it to others who are willing to do it.”
Through his work on the future infrastructure of the island of Cyprus Kudret Özersay has a broad basis of vital international connections and meets with understanding and trust.
“For me the most important is - a goal I have set for myself - to reach our people through direct talks and exchange of individual problematic facts, to bring them to understand the situation we are in and to finally join hands and speak with one voice; only then we can make those who are at the helm now, open their minds to see the necessity for change.”
If you want to learn more about the Movement please visit their website www.toparlaniyoruz.org or call 0392 227 9993.