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07NICOSIA674 2007-08-17 14:14:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Nicosia
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1. (C) Summary: Beset for months by allegations he had
misused his office for political gains, Turkish Cypriot Mufti
Ahmet Yonluer resigned his position August 14. In actuality
a mid-level "TRNC" bureaucrat who couldn't find Mecca with a
map -- Yonluer's ceremonial robes, displayed prominently in
his Nicosia office, remained spotless for lack of use -- he
nonetheless played a symbolic if small role in bridging the
bicommunal gap, in February conducting the first meeting
between a sitting Mufti and Cypriot Archbishop in recent
memory. Yonluer seems to have proven his critics correct,
however, in immediately announcing his political ambitions
concurrently with his resignation. Scuttlebutt here has him
challenging current "TRNC Foreign Minister" Turgay Avci for
leadership of coalition partner OP, utilizing his
self-professed "close ties" to Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan to bolster his campaign. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The mufti's resignation comes after months of
speculation concerning the role he allegedly played in
facilitating the murky deals leading to the founding of the
Reform Party (OP), the junior partner in the CTP-led
coalition "government" (Reftel). Yonluer told the press that
he had decided to resign in order to protect the "Directorate
of Religious Affairs" -- he was its head -- from the "abuse"
the press had been heaping on his person. Losing no time in
finding a second career, he claimed his resignation would
allow him to enter politics. Yonluer announced he would
defend the lot of the Turkish "settlers" on the island who
were, in his opinion, neglected by the political parties,
particularly the opposition UBP and DP. Yonluer also
asserted he would maintain close ties with mainland Turkey,
Erdogan, and his governing Justice and Development Party

3. (C) Comment: Yonluer was a regular, if eccentric,
contact of the Embassy who took a reasonably moderate and
tolerant attitude toward Greek Cypriots. He was unable to
leverage the fanfare over the Archbishop Chrysostomos meeting
into significant progress on interfaith dialogue, however,
partly because of the decentralized nature of Islam on the
island -- by no means was he Chrysostomos's equivalent as
spiritual leader of the Turkish Cypriots -- and partly
because he lacked the respect that comes with real
theological heft. It seems unlikely that "TRNC Prime
Minister" Ferdi Soyer will fill the Mufti position quickly;
historically it has lain vacant for long periods, and Yonluer
himself had argued July 26 there was "no person on Cyprus
qualified to do his job." Further, any new candidate would
come under heavy scrutiny from a T/C press eager to find
signs of corruption, nepotism, or fealty to Ankara in order
to further discredit the "government". While the loss of the
"Director of Religious Affairs" is by no means a catastrophic
setback for reconciling Cyprus's Muslim and Orthodox
populations, the vacancy may derail certain opportunities for
bicommunal cooperation.

4. (C) Yonluer's likelihood of success in politics is more
difficult to assess; he is certainly a colorful figure, but
doesn't possess a natural constituency (thus his open attempt
to court the Turkish settlers) or an affinity with Turkish
Cypriot voters. His most likely next step will be to join
the troubled OP. Yonluer is unlikely to be that party's
savior, however. If even a fraction of the corruption
allegations against OP are true, many of which involve the
former Mufti, he might actually weaken it further.

5. (C) It will be interesting -- and potentially extremely
important -- to see whether Yonluer and OP will try seriously
to organize and recruit the Anatolian settlers into a
coherent political force. Up until now, this large group of
people have had little political role in party life and
little political consciousness as a discrete group. It
remains to be seen whether galvanizing such interest or
consciousness can be accomplished by Yonluer or indeed
anybody else. Moreover, even if such consciousness were
raised, it is unclear whether increased participation by the
settlers would benefit the separatist camp or the
reunification camp. End Comment