Turkish Cypriots celebrate the 40th anniversary of the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) today, the move that set up the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,’ which has existed ever since as an unrecognised state. It is recognised only by Turkey, which keeps tens of thousands of troops in the territory and ensures the viability of its economy through big cash injections annually. When Ankara withholds payments for a few months the ‘state’ is unable to pay its employees.
There are no direct flights from the rest of the world to the breakaway state and no direct trade, everything going through Turkey. Although isolated in this way, a sizeable number of tourists arrive every year and, more recently, thousands of newly-built homes have been sold to foreign nationals, especially Russians and Israelis. There is also a glut of private universities attracting thousands of students from third countries, plus a number of luxury, casino hotels.
Ever since the declaration of UDI, successive Cyprus governments have had a single foreign policy objective – the prevention of the recognition of the ‘TRNC’. They have been very successful in this respect, although the Republic is not solely responsible for this, the international community having steadfastly opposed recognition and backing a settlement. In short, it is not because of the Cyprus foreign ministry’s actions to prevent the so-called upgrading of the north that it remains an unrecognised state.
Despite not achieving recognition 40 years after its declaration, Rauf Denktash’s pseudo-state has made huge strides, primarily thanks to investments by Turkish businesses, large and small. Its population has grown significantly since 1983 thanks to the large influx of people from Turkey, and although the actual number remains a carefully guarded secret, Turkish Cypriots regularly complain that they have become a minority. It appears only a matter of time before they are viewed as an irrelevance by Turkey.
This is what happens when time is allowed to pass in the way it has, with Greek Cypriots spurning one opportunity of a settlement after another under the illusion that they would get something better in the future and citing UN Security Council resolutions which have no practical import. Yet the fact is, whether we accept or remain in denial, the occupied territory has changed dramatically in the last 49 years. The population has grown and so has the economy, huge investments have been made in infrastructure and land development by foreign investors is rampant.
This will not change with the annual student demonstrations and condemnatory declarations by Greek Cypriot politicians. The reality is that the breakaway state has thrived and is now marking its 40th anniversary because when we had opportunities for a settlement we refused to take them.