Protests over town hall flag fiasco continue

Outrage over the decision to raise and then remove a disputed flag has yet to die down
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Protestors wave a huge Turkish Cypriot flag outside the town hall (LDRS)
Protestors wave a huge Turkish Cypriot flag outside the town hall (LDRS)

Outraged protestors called for Waltham Forest Council’s leader to resign last night over a decision to take down a flag outside the town hall last month.

Around one hundred Turkish Cypriots gathered, waving flags and chanting “Grace Williams out!” during the full council meeting.

Protestors were upset by the council’s decision to take their flag down and apologise “for the offence caused” by letting it be raised on 15th November.

Disputed state Northern Cyprus – which declared itself separate from the Republic of Cyprus in 1974 – is only recognised as legitimate by Turkey.

The Turkish army maintains a large presence there, which the European Union considers an occupation, and the majority of its former Greek residents have been evicted.

Protestors outside the town hall (LDRS)

Speaking in the council chamber, Turkish Cypriot Community Association member Nafiya Horozoglu told councillors her community felt “relegated to second and third class citizens” by the decision to remove the flag.

She said: “We raised our flag, one of the few things that is a symbol of our ethnic identity, and to have it torn down again clearly discriminates against Turkish Cypriots. This is, in my opinion, racism and discrimination.

“We exist, you have not apologised to us and your letter apologises to other communities because we offend them. Why do you have the authority to decide that Waltham Forest will exclude Turkish Cypriots?”

Nafiya added that the community are demanding the flag be raised for a whole day before the end of December.

However, the raising of the flag in the first place caused equal upset on the other side of the international conflict, with the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK calling it “deplorable, insensitive and deeply provocative”.

In a statement shortly after the incident last month, the federation’s president Christos Karaolis said: “This flag-raising only served to undermine prospects for reunification and encourage secessionists.

“Such actions must be unequivocally opposed and condemned by all that respect international law and wanted to see Cyprus reunited.”

Speaking at the meeting last night, council leader Williams said: “I recognise the upset this has caused in the whole community and appreciate how sensitive it is.

“My decision to lower the flag was not taken easily and was not a commentary on Northern Cyprus.

“This space has to be for everyone, therefore in the future I have decided that no flag will be raised if is not recognised by the British government. This decision is without discrimination against the community the flag is from.

“My apology is not to part of the community but to the whole community for the offence caused.”

The decision to no longer raise flags of countries not recognised by the government means the council will not fly the Tibetan flag, frequently raised under the previous leader.

Outside the meeting, protest organiser Fahri Zihni said his community will be “stepping up” their efforts and are considering legal action.