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Middle East

Mixed international reactions for Turkey referendum outcome

media Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags during … Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags during a rally for the upcoming referendum in Konya, Turkey, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas REUTERS/Umit Bektas

With Turkey’s constitutional reform passed with a wafer-thin majority on Sunday, political peace seems pretty much off the cards for now. Opposition parties are trying to get the result scrapped, citing irregularities.

Meanwhile, the EU, the OSCE, the organization for security and cooperation in Europe were quick to point at the flaws of the election, but US president Donald Trump was one of the first to congratulate by making a telephone call. And he was not alone. But in Cyprus, a majority of Cypriot Turks appeared no fans from Erdogan.

Nor Russia, nor Syria commented much about the referendum results and the official Kremlin website did not report it.

Media in Iran focused on what they called the increasing polarisation within Turkish society. And in Armenia, just to the east there’s not much love for Turkey for historical reasons. There was a lot of concern there, about Erdogan’s growing powers.

But in Azerbaijan, this was different. Azerbaijan has solid ties with Turkey and it even sent a team of parliamentary election observers to watch the referendum, concluding it was all “free and fair.”

Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to congratulate Turkish president Erdogan with his victory.

“Clearly given the relationship and the strategic alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan, it is little surprising that the Azerbaijani leader was one of the first to extend his congratulations to his Turkish colleague,” says Richard Giragossian, of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan.

“In the light of rising authoritarianism inside Turkey, a congratulatory message from the Azerbaijani president, who seems to have inherited power from his father doesn’t do much to extend legitimacy to this government.”

On Turkey’s western border, there’s Greece, that was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and that never had an easy relationship with Ankara.

“The reactions by the Greek political establishment, of the Greek government and opposition parties were very cautious,” says Leonidas Vatikiotis, a political observer based in Athens.

“They expressed concern the next day. All of us know that a new period of instability has started in a neighbouring country,” adding that Turkey has “decided to stop all the efforts of previous years to have a closer relations with the EU.

Erdogan has decided in a strategic decision to turn his country to the Middle East, to Central Asia and North Africa.”

Meanwhile, Cyprus is one of the hot issues between Greece and Turkey. The southern part of the island is a full EU member, but the north is split off and home to Turkish troops, a stalemate that exists since the middle of last century.

Tens of thousands of so-called settlers, with double nationality, Turkish-Cypriot, live in the North, and they could participate in the referendum as well. But surprisingly, the voting result was quite different from the one in Turkey.

“There was an overwhelming No from the Turkish Cypriot side,” says says Nicos Trimicliniotis, of the University of Nicosia, pointing out that Turkish Cypriots rejected Turkish president Erdogan’s proposal for constitutional change with 55-45 percent.

“This overwhelming no-vote to Erdogan shows that the stereotypes about the relations between the settlers and what Turkey is about, are false,” he says.

“It seems that the people who have moved to Cyprus or who are living here for many years, don’t like the [ruling party] AKP. And it is an optimistic thing for Cyprus, in the sense that these people are not an organ of Turkey, they are not the long arm, the instrument of Turkey. There is autonomy,” he says.

But the outcome of the vote may have consequences for the relationship between Northern Cyprus and Turkey. “The general feeling is one of rather dismay in the sense that both the people in the north of Cyprus were really not very happy with the outcome,” says Harry Tzimitras, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo [PRIO] in Nicosia.

“They would like to have seen a “no”. Many people say now that there’s not much glue left between Turkey and the Northern Cypriots”.

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