The lack of progress in the latest round of UN-sponsored talks on the unification of the divided island of Cyprus has prompted the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) to speed up its efforts to gain recognition by other countries through bilateral ties while increasing its visibility at global and regional organizations.
The strongest indication yet of this intense lobbying endeavor is the increased traffic between the KKTC and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest intergovernmental organization after the UN. The OIC recently welcomed a request by the KKTC to open a permanent OIC representative office at the organization’s headquarters in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu even gave the red carpet treatment to KKTC President Derviş Eroğlu when he visited OIC headquarters in early April for the first time. İhsanoğlu said his organization would give priority to ending the unfair isolation imposed on the KKTC and pledged solidarity with the republic at the political, economic, social and cultural levels. The KKTC has held observer status at the OIC since 1969, but this is the first time it has requested a representative office. The KKTC already has representatives in many OIC member countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Azerbaijan, with more to open.
Days after Eroğlu’s visit to Jiddah, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) and the Islamic Development Bank organized a high-profile trip to attend the Northern Cyprus Investment Forum on April 12 with over 150 businessmen from Islamic countries to promote investment opportunities there.Eroğlu, the first KKTC president to be hosted by the Saudis and the OIC, expressed to the media after the meeting that “seeing the interest and support of the OIC, the Islamic Development Bank and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was very important and satisfying.”
Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, whose portfolio includes the KKTC, spoke to Sunday’s Zaman last week and pointed to recent developments that showcase the increasing international visibility of the KKTC. He added that the Turkish government is highly supportive of OIC efforts to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot side.
Moreover, the KKTC’s close cooperation with Turkey at an economic level has helped Turkish Cypriots escape the economic and diplomatic isolation currently imposed on them. The Turkish government continues to financially assist the northern half of the island. Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek recently announced that the Turkish government has paid financial assistance in the amount of TL 5.2 billion (approximately $2.9 billion) to the KKTC from its treasury budget between the years 2004 and 2011.
The economy of the KKTC has also shown quite an improvement in recent years, unlike that of the Greek Cypriots, who are nearly bankrupt. The northern economy is also benefiting from the appeal of education offered by the KKTC, making the north a much sought-after destination for Turks and students from other countries. Education is the second biggest source of income for the country after the service industry, with 47,000 students at seven internationally accredited universities.
Turkish Cypriot officials say that the Turkish north is booming with 6 percent GDP growth thanks to the robust economy of Turkey, its main trading partner and financial backer. The north recorded its best year in terms of tourism revenues since 1974. Though the north cannot receive international flights directly because of its isolation, it nevertheless manages charter flights via Turkey from other countries.
Thanks to subsidies Turkey and the KKTC offer to travel agencies and tour operators, the cost of vacationing in the north is highly competitive compared to the south. That led to a construction boom in the hotel and hospitality industry in the north, with the government aiming to increase the bed capacity for touristic purposes from some 19,000 beds to 40,000.
Attempts by Greek Cyprus to isolate the KKTC have “not yielded results and Turkish Cyprus’s economic relations are flourishing with its neighbors in terms of tourism and the economy,” Atalay said.
He added that a recent water pipeline project will strengthen the position of Turkish Cypriots. The Life Water project, which will enable the transportation of 75 million cubic meters of water from Turkey to the KKTC annually, will change the dynamics on the island in favor of the Turkish Cypriots. Water will be transported to Geçitköy via an underwater pipeline. Upon completion, it will be the first water supply in the world to be delivered by an offshore pipeline. The $450 million intergovernmental framework agreement for the Life Water project was signed in July 2010 between Turkey and the KKTC.
Turkish Cypriots are frustrated with the EU for failing to lift the economic isolation on them that is supported by the Greek Cypriots. Even though the EU committed itself to ending the isolation of the KKTC after the KKTC voted in favor of a UN plan to reunite the island on April 26, 2004, the EU failed to make this happen. On the other hand, Greek Cyprus was admitted into the EU on May 1, 2004, as the sole representative of the entire island after it overwhelmingly rejected the UN plan and has so far blocked all efforts by EU members to trade directly with the KKTC.
Greek Cyprus will assume the rotating presidency of the EU for six months on July 1, which analysts claim will further block the UN-led negotiation process between the two ethnically divided sides of the island. The UN is tentatively eyeing a settlement of the issue before July 2012.
There has been increasing chatter regarding plan B, or the fallback position for the Turkish Cypriots if the negotiations do not go anywhere. “The isolation of the Turkish Cypriot side has been in place since the 1960s despite there having never been an international decision to impose an embargo on the Turkish side. We have since continued our struggle against the policies of isolation and the embargo. We want to seek a solution to the Cyprus problem with comprehensive negotiations,” Eroğlu told Sunday’s Zaman in an interview last November. “But if that [the negotiations] fails, we will have to seek alternatives. For that, we have to be strong economically,” he told a group of Turkish reporters at his residence last week.
Last month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon scrapped plans for an international conference on the Cyprus issue, saying the two sides had failed to make adequate progress on proposals to bring them together under a federal power-sharing umbrella.
Mehmet Hasgüler, a Turkish Cypriot academic who teaches at Lefke University, told Sunday’s Zaman last week that increased economic cooperation between the KKTC and the rest of the world may act as a sufficient impetus for the Greek Cypriots to reach a compromise.
“Turkey may also implement a plan B to end the isolation. It can start a new initiative with the OIC, ECO [the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional economic cooperation body] or the BSEC [Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation] to make Turkish Cyprus more visible,” Hasgüler claimed.
Hasgüler added that businessmen from the KKTC may well join Turkish investment projects in the Caucasus, on the African continent, in the Balkans and in Asia. “When [President Abdullah] Gül makes a diplomatic visit with a delegation of Turkish businesspeople, Turkish Cypriots may also join. Such economic initiatives on the part of Turkish Cypriots may exert a kind of psychological pressure on Greek Cyprus to be more solution-oriented during the negotiations,” Hasgüler maintained.