Jun 24, 2024 4:25 pm Ibrar Younas 3625
Candidate in UK general election voices support for Turkish Cypriot cause as she aims to make history

Nesil Çalışkan




A CANDIDATE in the upcoming general election in the UK who has a strong chance of winning has voiced her support for direct flights to North Cyprus.

“I support direct flights to North Cyprus,” Nesil Çalışkan, 35, said in exclusive comments to Cyprus Today.

Çalışkan (pictured) has been selected as Labour’s candidate for the Greater London constituency of Barking.

The constituency, which has had a boundary change for this year’s general election, is seen as a safe Labour seat.

It was held by former minister Dame Margaret Hodge, 79, who had held the seat for Labour since 1994. She had previously announced that she would not be seeking re-election.

In addition, all polls are pointing to a landslide victory for Labour, meaning that Çalışkan’s prospects of becoming an MP are high.

If she does, she will make history by becoming the first female British MP of Turkish Cypriot heritage and the first for the Labour Party.

Born and raised in London, Çalışkan is already seen as a trailblazer in UK local politics. A member of the Labour Party for 20 years and a councillor since 2015, Çalışkan became the first person of a black or minority ethnic background and the first woman to be elected as the leader of Enfield Council in north London in 2018 while still in her 20s.

In July 2023 she was elected as the leader of the Labour Group in the Local Government Association, representing the views of thousands of Labour councillors in Westminster, and sitting on the Shadow Cabinet.

Her mother Alev Cazimoğlu is also a long-serving Labour councillor in Enfield. In 2019 Çalışkan extracted an apology, correction and compensation from the publishers of the Sunday Times newspaper after she won a defamation claim over a 2018 article written by journalist Andrew Gilligan under the headline “Enfield Labour council ‘taken over’ by clan”.

Çalışkan’s candidacy for Barking was only confirmed earlier this month after the previous Labour candidate, Darren Rodwell, withdrew from the race saying he did not want allegations regarding his behaviour, which he denies, to become a “distraction” to the party’s campaign.

Speaking to this newspaper, Çalışkan said she is “honoured” to stand as the Labour Party candidate for Barking.

Regarding her family’s background, Çalışkan said her grandparents are originally from the village of Lefkara, in the Larnaca district of the island, who migrated to east London on Christmas Eve in 1972.

She said she generally visits North Cyprus every other year and has family in Girne and in the Karpaz peninsula village of Çayırova “near the beautiful Bafra sea”, where many Turkish Cypriot residents of Lefkara relocated to following the events of 1974.

On the Cyprus problem, Çalışkan said: “My Nene [grandmother] and Dede [grandfather] grew up with the trauma of the problem and it is unforgivable that in their lifetime the Cyprus issue has not been resolved.

“Turkish Cypriots deserve to live on an island where they enjoy political and economic equality with the Greek Cypriot community.

“It is critical that the two communities continue to engage so that there can be a long-lasting peaceful [settlement].”

Asked if she supports calls for direct flights between the UK and the TRNC – as did over 50 senior British politicians, including former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw, last month – Çalışkan stated, “Yes, I support direct flights to North Cyprus,” adding: “If elected, I will join the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

Despite being busy campaigning in Barking, Çalışkan said she will still make time to attend the Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival in Enfield on Sunday, June 30, as “I always have done”, which President Ersin Tatar is also expected to attend.

“The festival is held in the London Borough of Enfield, and as the Council Leader, I work with the event organisers and the council to support the success of the event,” she added.




The first British MP of Turkish Cypriot descent was Richard Saladin Hickmet, a lawyer by profession, who served as the Conservative Party MP for Glanford and Scunthorpe from 1983 to 1987.

During a debate in the House of Commons in May 1986, Hickmet raised the issue of Cyprus, saying that the “time has come for some limited form of recognition” for the North “for example, direct air flights from London to the Turkish part of northern Cyprus – if only to persuade the Greeks that the time has come to shift”.

He said at the time that talks for a federal solution in Cyprus had “failed” and that “the time has come for the British Government, who have a historic responsibility as the guarantor of the 1960 constitution, and as a former colonial power, to take some positive action”.

Hickmet also said during the debate that “there can be no question of withdrawal of Turkish troops”.

In April 1985 Hickmet spoke about Cyprus during a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons, asking the then-British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe to “investigate the possibility of direct scheduled flights from Heathrow to northern Cyprus and to accord to the Turkish [Cypriot] economy the assistance which is needed in order that it may be developed in the same way as the Greek [Cypriot] economy in the south is being developed”.

Hickmet also said that if efforts to reach a solution fail because of “Greek intransigence” then the British government would have to “seriously consider granting recognition to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.

The first and only Turkish Cypriot member of the House of Lords is Baroness Hussein-Ece, a former Liberal Democrat councillor who was appointed to the Lords in June 2010.


This article first appeared in the print version of Cyprus Today on June 22, 2024.