Hundreds of Turkish Cypriots marched through the streets of Brussels on Wednesday to protest against Cyprus taking over the presidency of the European Union, saying the rights of the island's Turkish minority were being ignored.
Some 400 protesters wearing masks with no faces and holding signs saying “Do We Exist?”, walked from the European Parliament to the European Commission, in the centre of the city's administrative district, and handed out leaflets describing themselves as the forgotten Europeans.
Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish north since a Greek coup d'etat followed by a Turkish army invasion in 1974.
Cyprus, which on Monday asked for financial aid to prop up its banks, joined the EU in 2004 but there are 130 000 Turkish Cypriots living in the north who feel they are not effectively represented.
Efforts to reunite the island repeatedly have failed and Turkey is the only nation that recognises the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“The rest of the world, ... they just push us into a corner like we don't exist,” protester Turgay Azizoglu said.
The protest underlined the tensions that will accompany the island's six-month presidency of the EU, which begins on July 1, when it will carry the responsibility for organising the EU's agenda and chairing policy debates.
Turkey began EU entry talks in 2005, a year after Cyprus was admitted, but its bid for membership has virtually ground to a halt due to the intractable dispute over the divided island, as well as opposition from core members Germany and France.
Ankara has said it will suspend relations with the EU presidency during Cyprus's six-month tenure starting in July, due to a lack of progress in reunification talks on the island.
“(The presidency) are not representing the whole of Cyprus, they are only representing part of Cyprus,” said Hasan Tacoy, a member of the parliament in North Cyprus.
“We're hoping to raise our voice and say that it's our right to be part of the EU.” - Reuters