Student campaign sees newspaper drop ape from masthead
Student organisation Voices of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS Cyprus) has been locked in a dispute with the newspaper – also simply known as Afrika since 2018. VOIS even offered to redesign the logo to incorporate positive elements of the African continent. However, the newspaper decided to continue with the monkey logo.
The newspaper, which was formerly known as Avrupa which means ‘Europe’ in Turkish, was changed to Afrika after its criticism of Turkish policies led to lawsuits and attacks against it. However, Afrika Gazetesi does not address issues related to the African continent, nor the plight of African students residing on the island, many of whom say they face institutional racism, financial hardship and exploitative working conditions.
Well-known writer Ertanc Hidayettin wrote in the daily Kibris Postasi that he was ready to defend the newspaper, but changed his mind. He said he realised that African students are justified in speaking out against the logo as the “monkey symbol was used by racist whites to acknowledge the ideology that blacks have been inferior for centuries”.
Editor of AFRIKA, Sener Levent, defended the logo by referring to Darwin's Theory of Evolution which, he argued, suggests that “all of us came from the monkey”.
However, Emmanuel Achiri, a graduate student assistant at Eastern Mediterranean University and president of VOIS Cyprus, said in a statement that the use of the ape is rooted in simianisation which has a bearing on how Africans are perceived and treated.
Levent also defended the name change of the publication, which African students see as an attempt to depict North Cyprus as a lawless place, thereby reinforcing a stereotype of Africa “as a continent and land of no justice and no laws”, according to local news reports.
In a statement posted on social media on 20 June, Levent reversed his decision to sue VOIS Cyprus and its president Achiri and also announced the removal of the monkey from the logo after 18 years.
The issue of the monkey logo and its removal has created divisions within the community, with Levent writing in an editorial that the attack against the monkey logo has turned into “a lynch campaign...” He also wrote that those who organised the attack and those who chose to remain silent were not his ‘friends’.
Dr Umut Bozkurt, a professor at the Eastern Mediterranean University, came under attack on Facebook from some of the Cypriot community members for openly supporting VOIS Cyprus and stating that African students were indeed exposed to racial treatment in many ways, including poor working conditions.
Achiri has also been the victim of hate speech and online bullying following the removal of the logo, with one of the attacks on Facebook coming from an Eastern Mediterranean University lecturer, who has since deleted a post in which he allegedly threatened Achiri.
Black Lives Matter
While this has resulted in some polarisation of the Northern Cyprus community, international students and local partners stood in solidarity against racism and held a peaceful march under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’ at the Eastern Mediterranean University and Near East University. However, only two out of the 21 universities that VOIS Cyprus approached to hold marches on their campuses agreed, according to VOIS Cyprus.
A survey carried out by VOIS Cyprus at five of the largest universities in Northern Cyprus in 2019 showed that at least 30% of students had encountered discrimination at some point during their years of study as a result of their race.
During the COVID-19 induced lockdown, several African students were thrown out of their apartments for failing to pay rentals on time, leading to allegations of racial discrimination. Rowaida Al Hamzi, head of housing at VOIS, confirmed that many students had been forced to move out and were in need of financial aid since the lockdown began.
While the monkey logo issue has ostensibly been resolved, it leaves behind simmering racial tensions and a number of unresolved issues affecting a majority of international students in Northern Cyprus.