Turkish Cypriots are like Palestinians
I was at a meeting on the Dead Sea, Jordan this week. The meeting was between the Palestinians, Israelis, Turks, Jordanians, Egyptians and the Americans looking for economic cooperation possibilities in our complicated region. There I heard one Israeli businessman asking a rather naive question to expat participants from the GCC countries. He was asking why peace matters so much in fostering GCC private sector investments in Palestine and why GCC companies do not start investing in Palestine today without complicating the analysis with the utterly political peace issue. Every sustainable investment requires a business horizon and predictability, an element that is lacking in Palestine. If a company’s objective is to focus on solid profitable investment opportunities then Palestine is obviously not the best choice due to the protracted nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict destroying the sustainable business climate. The same could be said for Northern Cyprus a couple of months ago, when there was no chance of political settlement on the horizon. That is why I feel happy with the declaration to restart negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I have seen the following in a 2011 TEPAV survey among Turkish Cypriots: When asked whether they feel happy with their lives and their personal fortunes, around 40 percent of Turkish Cypriots answer positively. At the time, per capita incomes were increasing in the North and a process of convergence towards the higher per capita incomes of the Greek Cypriot South was taking place. Turkish Cypriots in the North generally do feel happy with their lives. When asked about the state of their country, the share of people that are happy with the current state of affairs declines to a level slightly below 20 percent. They are even more pessimistic about the future prospects of their country, with a disheartening figure of only around 10 percent stating they are hopeful for the future. In other words, nine out of every 10 Turkish Cypriots see gloom when considering the prospects of their country, that is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Any comments on the result? Let me tell you mine. The absence of peace in Cyprus is similar to the case of Palestine. Both are equally detrimental scenarios for business prospects. If you do not have any hopes for the future of your country, you do not invest in it. If even you do not invest, foreigners will not even think about it, be they from the GCC or Turkey.
Economic initiatives become a possibility if there is a positive political horizon. That is what we first need on the island in order to envision a new business model for the North.
I see now a new beginning in Cyprus negotiations. All beginnings are full of new hope. Turkish Cypriots in the North definitely need a new beginning. They are in need of a new and functioning business model, an idea they had since voting for the reunification of the island at the time of the Annan Plan, too. What has changed since then? I see two major differences this time around. The first is that the business plan of the Greek Cypriot South is also in shambles now. Unemployment is now the major problem in the South, while the North is suffering from the rise in prices due to the depreciation of the lira against the dollar. Both sides of the island now need to redesign their business plans. I see this as a good starting point for a joint discussion. Better to solve the island’s problems within the island. If you turn it into a regional issue, things get only more complicated, as witnessed in the past four decades. The second difference is that the Turkish Cypriots are now more aware of their institutional and capacity building requirements. They have already started addressing them. The TEPAV institutional and functional review depicting the problems and elaborating on the priorities of public administration reform on the North was a good starting point for action to continue the convergence of the North towards the South on per capita income basis.
Two things dealing with the regional disparity issue are now happening simultaneously. Intentionally and unintentionally, convergence is there. Why did the rich Greek Cypriot South vote against reunification at the time? They simply did not want to subsidize the convergence of Turkish Cypriot incomes with Greek Cypriot ones. But look at what happened so far: convergence occurred regardless.
I see this as a better position to start negotiations. Here is something different from the past. Something positive.