By Constantinos Psillides
A former DISY leader, Yiannakis Matsis, will meet officials from the government’s Statistical Service tomorrow to discuss his highly controversial claim that Greek Cypriots may be a minority on the island.
A report by an independent demographics institute he heads warned this week that there are only 572,000 Greek Cypriots left in Cyprus and estimated there are between 500,000 and 800,000 Turkish settlers in the occupied areas.
Matsis, also a former MEP, urged the government to take steps, including immediately ordering a census to “correctly identify the demographic changes on the island”.
His figures are at odds with those of the government and ignited a heated debate on social media sites when he released them in a report on Tuesday. Some said the survey confirmed their worst fears while others questioned its findings.
Lobby for Cyprus, an NGO founded by refugees, tweeted: “Further illegal colonisation of occupied north of Cyprus planned by Turkey in order to change demography.”
But Michalis Attalides, a university teacher, sociologist and retired diplomat, struck a note of caution. “What is clear is that the findings could be more seriously researched and presented,” he tweeted.
Also on Twitter, John Koenig, the US ambassador to Cyprus, asked: “Are Greek Cypriots really a minority in Cyprus… Are others also sceptical?”
The Statistical Service will be. According to its annual demographic report, as of 2012 the population of Cyprus is estimated to be around 865,900 people, out of whom 688,100 are Greek Cypriots.
When the occupied areas are taken into account, Cyprus’ population rises to 956,500, excluding settlers, whose number the Statistical Services estimates to be around 160,000-170,000.
Matsis’ Institute of Demographics and Migration Policies, an NGO founded last November, did not conduct research of its own, but based its conclusions on data from 2011 and Eurostat figures and projections.
Matsis told the Sunday Mail he did not believe the government’s figures contradict those of his institute. “What we reported was dated back in 2011. Of course the Statistical Service has more recent numbers,” he said. “I will of course take their findings into consideration and update our report.”
But he was firm when asked about the large discrepancy on the number of settlers in occupied areas. “We believe their [the Statistical Service’s] estimation is wrong. The settlers are far more than 170,000.”
However, the methods used for his estimate about settler numbers are likely to be questioned by many. Asked about them, he said he has talked to enough people to know the truth about settler numbers and that his calculations are reinforced by the number of homes sprouting in the occupied areas. “They are building houses everywhere. New houses pop up all the time.”
Dora Kyriakidou, a high-ranking official in the Statistical Service told the Sunday Mail that regarding figures for the occupied areas, the service gets its data mostly from their census. A census conducted in the breakaway state in 2007 found that the total population of the occupied areas is 265,100.
“But when it comes to settlers, we really don’t have any data we can fully trust because we cannot put faith in any research not conducted by our service,” Kyriakidou said. “We estimated the number of settlers is around 160,000-170,000 but we might be off.”
Not in dispute is the estimation by Matsis’ institute that the number of Greek Cypriots is declining and will by all accounts continue to do so. But this decline is attributed to low birth rates and an ageing population, a problem faced by all western democracies.
Another pressing concern raised by Matsis’ institute is the number of Greek Cypriots leaving the island, with 18,105 emigrating in 2012 alone. A researcher for his NGO this week said the government should introduce policies to halt this trend, particularly among the youth.
The Turkish Cypriot community faces a more pressing problem, with their numbers falling since 1986 because of emigration. The demographic report by Matsis’ institute says there are 90,600 Turkish Cypriots, accounting for 9.5 per cent of Cyprus’ population.
Matsis’ institute declares in a press release that its aim is to “monitor, record and report the settlement of Cyprus by Turkey that aims to alter the demographic of our country, lead us to partition and finally to the occupation of the whole island.” Matsis told the Sunday Mail his only goal is to help the state do its job.
Fiona Mullen, a Nicosia-based economist, promptly did some research of her own after Tuesday’s report and tweeted: “Conclusion: GCs at 57 per cent are not ‘a minority in their own country’. But leave cyprob unsolved and they might be one day.”