Embargo on Turkish Cyprus was breached through education
I was recently in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) for one of the “Explore” tours that daily Hürriyet carried out with the Association of Turkish Travel Agents (TÜRSAB). It was my first visit to the island as a “tourist,” though I have visited it many times over the years for work.
Our three-day tour started in the streets of Nicosia and continued with the Girne, Famagusta and Varosha regions. Three days is not enough to get your fill of history, nature, and gastronomic culture.
My perception of KKTC tourism, which for years I had associated with “sun and gambling,” turned upside down with this visit. I am now both ashamed and embarrassed at my late realization that the history of the island dates back 10,000 years and the fact it has played a crucial role throughout history.
Our visit to the KKTC again coincided with ongoing peace talks. However, the Cypriots who we spoke with did not have much hope.
In international politics, the KKTC is not recognized by any country except Turkey. This has meant embargos and obstacles to economic development. But it was pleasing to see German and Scandinavian tourists visiting historical sites on the Turkish side of the island. Already, figures show that the number of tourists, especially from Scandinavian countries, is increasing.
The island of universities
One particularly important issue was brought up in the programs attended by KKTC Prime Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün and Tourism and Environment Minister Fikri Ataoğlu during the trip.
Despite the difficulties and many changes of government, there has been one common goal in the KKTC that has remained constant: Making the KKTC a center of education.
Just looking at the numbers is enough to see that important steps have been taken.
While only 2,000 students were studying at Turkish Cypriot universities in 1988, today this figure is 93,292. In 1979 there was only one university, the Eastern Mediterranean University, but today there are 15. 1985 saw the opening of the Girne American University, the Near East University, and the Lefke European University. The universities founded since then include the International Cyprus University, the METU Northern Cyprus Campus, the Akdeniz Karpaz University, the British University of Nicosia and the ITU KKTC University.
Half from Turkey
Some 52,000 of the students – over half - in Turkish Cyprus are from Turkey. But there are students from over 100 different countries in universities on the Turkish side of the island.
It is estimated that the KKTC’s annual income from educational tourism is around $1 billion. Considering that the population of the KKTC is 300,000 and the national income is around $4 billion, we can see just how important this figure is and what education tourism means to the KKTC.
Strangely, although the KKTC is not recognized, its universities are regarded as legitimate in over 100 countries, including the U.S. and the U.K. Indeed, ministers and politicians have been produced from among the graduates.
The most important source of livelihood on the island is tourism and services. Therefore in Northern Cyprus, there are two key sectors for the future: Education and tourism.
Youth gives hope
It is also clear that every graduate youngster who emerges with a good education and beautiful student life will become a kind of volunteer ambassador for the KKTC.
We should thus support the universities that have provided “de facto” recognition of the KKTC in the international world, without infecting it Turkey’s diseases like High Education Council (YÖK).
The young people from all nations coloring the streets of Northern Cyprus give hope. The faces of these youngsters look happy on the “University Island of the Mediterranean.”