Bridging the population gap in Cyprus
There is a claim. It is radical but it has not officially been denied by either the Turkish presidency or the office of the Turkish Cypriot prime minister. Doğan News Agency, quoting unnamed people with knowledge of the recent talks, reported that at their meeting in Ankara President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “advised” Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay to work to increase the Turkish Cypriot population to a level to achieve equality with the Greek Cypriot population.
According to unverified claims, the number of British citizens with ethnic Turkish Cypriot background is well over 400,000. British records suggest that number is over exaggerated. So what might be the exact figure? No one knows, but some think it is more than the 265,000 people currently living in northern Cyrus (which includes the post-1974 mainland Turkish settlers). There is a firm belief - shared particularly by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot nationalists - that even if the over 45,000 foreign students and around 18,000 Turkish troops are added to the Northern Cyprus population, the figure would still be lower than the number of Turkish Cypriots living abroad.
The figures related to Turkish Cypriot diaspora in third countries are unverified and unreliable, apparently reflecting a wish rather than the reality. But if the number of Turkish citizens with Cypriot background is included then the overall diaspora might be four times the number of those living on the island. It is often said that if the descendants of those who migrated from Cyprus to Turkey back in 1931 are included, the number of Turkish Cypriots living in the “motherland” might exceed 600,000.
After the 1974 Turkish intervention both the Turkish Cypriots living in Britain and their investment capability was attempted to be lured to Northern Cyprus. Several hundred rich Turkish Cypriot Londoners returned to the “home soil” with the hope of helping to build a state and increasing their wealth. It ended up being a disaster for them. All lost their investments and returned disappointed, because regardless of its name the Turkish Cypriot state was condemned and excluded by the international community. In contrast to the free land, long-term tax exemptions, easy loans and other such facilities offered for tourism investments today, back then there were lots of pledges but no concrete action.
Now, the tourism sector in Turkish Cyprus in particular has been “Turkified.” Very few Turkish Cypriots are involved in the tourism sector, while the hotels and casinos are mostly owned and administered by mainland Turks or third nationals they employ. Irrespective of how numerous they are, could Turkish Cypriots living abroad be encouraged to return to their home land to build a new life there? The distribution of incentives, investment facilities and radical tax exemptions could help. Indeed, the return of the diaspora would be far better than increasing the Northern Cyprus population with population imports from Anatolia.
As opposed to the registered Turkish Cypriot population of 265,000, the Greek Cypriot population is 805,000. Increasing the northern population to that level would mean building at least six or more new cities, as the current towns have expanded so much that the infrastructure no longer suffices. Kyrenia, for example, has turned from a paradise on earth to a very tough concrete city with all kinds of urban problems.
Achieving such development, however, may be easier said than done. But with water and electricity from Anatolia, increased financial support from Turkey and lucrative incentives people might be persuaded to return and build a new life on Cyprus. Such an increased population could also serve as a serious challenge that might force the Greek Cypriots to be more serious in the search for a Cyprus settlement. An increased population would help achieve enhanced economic progress, but the issue is whether Northern Cyrus and Ankara are prepared to pay the price of such a move.