The Turkish Settlers in Northern Cyprus

For several years, the Turkish Cypriot authorities have encouraged and facilitated immigration of Turks from the mainland to help populate Northern Cyprus. Most of the Turkish settlers are agrarian workers and their families, Areplacing@ the tens of thousands who emigrated to Britain and elsewhere in the 1960s and 1970s. Those who left in that period of the isolated enclaves enforced by the Greek Cypriot government tended to be the educated and skilled, so this Areplacement@ population definitely alters the demographic, social, and intellectual composition of Turkish Cyprus. This policy has been extremely controversial, for a number of reasons. Greek Cypriots claim it violates international law, although that claim is not airtight - - it depends on how one views the matter of sovereignty in the north. Turkish Cypriots tend to see it as a political ploy to ensure Ankara=s dominance. Whatever the reasons, it sticks in the craw of negotiations. Below is a useful article describing the phenomenon.

 

The New York Times, January 23, 1991

Fresh Tension for Cyprus: Counting the Newcomers

By CELESTINE BOHLEN, NICOSIA, Cyprus - Almost everything about northern Cyprus - its name, its status, the reasons for the 110 miles of barbed wire that divide it from the rest of the island - is a matter of dispute. But little stirs passions on either side of the nearly 23-year-old buffer zone like the issue of exactly who lives north of it.

According to Greek Cypriots, the "occupied territories," partitioned after Turkish troops landed in 1974, are filling up with Anatolian peas- ants from Turkey, as many as 100,000 by some accounts. They say these Turks are taking the places of an ever-dwindling, fast-emigrating population of Turkish Cypriots.

A result, Greek Cypriot officials say, is that Turkish Cypriots, who in 1974 numbered 116,000 out of a total Cypriot population of 641,000, are now outnumbered on their own land. On the Turkish side of the divide, Turkish Cypriot officials dismiss such numbers as Greek propaganda. "It is wrong," said Rauf Denktash, the 72-year-old president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state that declared its independence after the Turkish invasion but is still recognized only by Turkey. "They are trying to make believe that there are no Turkish Cypriots at all."

Mr. Denktash does not deny that settlers from Turkey have come to Cyprus. But he says that only about 15,000 have taken up residence and produced families. As for the rest, he said, they are either tourists or seasonal workers who don't stay the five years required to acquire Turkish Cypriot citizenship.

For years, the argument over the size of the Turkish Cypriot population has been one of many road blocks to a political settlement. If Greek and Turkish Cypriots have had such trouble living together over the decades, then what chances are there for the Greek population in the south, which now numbers more than 600.000, to live peacefully with immigrants from Turkey in a united, federated Cyprus?

Until now, one element lacking in this particular debate has been reliable population figures. Last month, for the first time since 1974, the Turkish Cypriot Government conducted a census. On Dec. 15, 2,500 census takers fanned out across northern Cyprus, asking people their age, marital status, citizenship, religion and - the touchiest question of all - their birthplace.

According to preliminary results, the population of northern Cyprus was 198,215. Further details will take weeks, maybe months, to compile, experts here say. But the big ques- tion will be when, and if, statistics on the number of Turkish-born settlers are ever released.

"Unless the issue is taken out of politics, we may never know," said Mustafa Akinci, leader of the Communal Liberation Party, an opposition party in the Turkish part of Cyprus. "Will they publish the birth- places? I don't know. And until they do, it is hard to tell just how many Turkish Cypriots are left."

Mr. Akinci, like many Turkish Cypriots, fears that their numbers are indeed dwindling, not as fast as the Greek Cypriots say, but enough to change the face of the island. The economy of northern Cyprus has be- come increasingly depressed and dependent on Turkish aid.

Ankara's official aid bill for Turkish-ruled Cyprus in 1997 is $250 million, and that docs not include the cost of maintaining 35,000 Turkish troops on the island. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich south and the poor north, is growing even wider.

With two million tourists a year and a widening reputation as an off- shore financial center, the Cyprus of Greek Cypriots is a prosperous place, with a per capita annual income of $12,000. The per capita in come in the northern part is only $4,000, which explains why many young people are leaving.

"Each time I go to London, I see faces that I used to see in Cyprus,' Mr. Akinci said. "Unfortunately, we are losing the most precious sector of society. If this trend continues, we are going to end up a white-haired country."

In the meantime, the recent arrivals from Turkey - many of them single men who come for seasonal work - are widely blamed for rising crime in the north. Burglaries, for example, are at record levels. "People in northern Cyprus are not used to locking their cars, their houses," Mr. Akinci said. In the old resort town of Kyrenia, which was emptied of its Greek in habitants after 1974, many of the men sitting at the outdoor cafes tha line the pretty harbor lament what has become of Turkish Cyprus.

"The Turks are willing to work for less and those Turkish Cypriots win don't have their own business or government jobs are leaving," said Turan Yeshliada, 36, who owns a clothing store in Nicosia. "I would prefer to have our own citizens, but it is not enough to hope. If we don't find a solution for this island, the only way is down."

Photo: A Turkish settler family living in Lefkosa, or Turkish Nicosia. copyright, Nike Zachmanoglou