For Cyprus' North And South, A Reversal Of Fortunes
ust a few years ago, Cyprus was considered a wealthy country, though that referred mostly to the Greek Cypriots on the southern part of the divided island. When Cyprus entered the eurozone in 2008, analysts were wondering what would become of the much poorer north, which has been occupied by Turkey since a 1974 war. Now, the Turks in northern Cyprus have the booming economy, while Greek Cypriots, crippled by exposure to ailing Greek banks, are waiting for final approval on what will be the fourth sovereign bailout of a eurozone country.
After Turkey invaded Cyprus nearly four decades ago, Greek Cypriot families in the north fled their homes and relocated in the south — which is now an independent nation in the European Union.
Turkish Cypriots went to the north, which Turkey continues to occupy. Because of embargoes and isolation, Turkish Cypriots were cut off from the rest of the world and became dependent on aid from Turkey.
Fikri Toros saw his family lose their undergarment factory. They now import home furnishings, but for years, a weak Turkish economy hurt the company.
"One of the biggest challenges was to deal with the high inflation, very high interest rates and use of the Turkish lira in general," Toros says.
Decades Of Friction
In 2003, the border dividing the island opened. Turkish Cypriots hoped they could partner with the flourishing south — and Europe.
But Greek Cypriots rejected a unification plan by then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and joined the European Union in 2004 without the Turkish Cypriots.
Ergun Olgun, a former adviser to the Turkish Cypriot government, says that killed incentive to work together.
"The European Union destroyed the basis for the two sides to reach the kind of sustainable agreement," says Olgun, "because there is no need for Greek Cypriots to share their power with the Turkish Cypriots at this time."
The divisions and dependencies deepened. The Greek Cypriots adopted the euro in 2008. But by then, the Turkish lira was strong, says Ersin Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot finance minister.
"Turkey's much stronger, and because Turkey's stronger, that strength is reflected in north Cyprus," he says. "We have more Turkish tourists, more Turkish companies, Turkish commercial flights. Turkey is opening us up to the world."
Just 300,000 people live in the northern part of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot economy has grown by 5 percent annually in recent years, partly, Tatar says, because of an education industry financed by Turkey.
"Our universities now number about six, and two more are being built with support from Turkey," he says. "We have about 50,000 students. About 30,000 students are from Turkey, but we have a growing number from Iran, Azerbaijan and African countries."
Many sign up at Near East University, which has campus mosques and a fast-growing Islamic Studies program. That's where Hayrettin Gunaydin, who's also from Turkey, teaches. He says many Turkish professors are also arriving to teach Arabic and Turkish history.
Greek Cypriot Economy Suffers
There's a checkpoint to enter the south, where another 800,000 people live in the Republic of Cyprus, nearly all of them Greek Cypriots.
The cities there have malls, villas and sleek office buildings. Paris Dimitriades, who likes hanging out in the trendy cafes and restaurants of Limassol, Cyprus' second-largest city, says he still can't believe the economy is tanking.
For Cyprus' North And South, A Reversal Of Fortunes : NPR