“Things can not just stay the same as before,” said Metin Sahinoglu, the general manager of the Palm Beach hotel in Famagusta, in Turkish Cyprus.
“The world must look at us in a different way now – and maybe lift the economic embargo under which we’ve suffered all these years,” he continued.
Since Turkish troops invaded Cyprus in 1974 – in response to a coup on the island by Greek nationalists who wished to join Cyprus to mainland Greece – the island has been de facto divided into a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south.
Yet only the southern part has international recognition – and will join the European Union on 1 May.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Cypriot north has suffered under an international economic embargo.
“This harbour was once one of the busiest in the Mediterranean,” said Ferhat Ustuoglu, whose family has worked the docks at Famagusta for generations.
“Yet because of the embargo, no ships can legally dock here. Instead, they use a Turkish port and then ship the cargo across from there. It adds about $1000 onto the cost of a container. Now hardly anything goes out of here.”
And Famagusta suffers in other ways too.
While being one of the most magnificent medieval walled cities in the world – the city was among the richest in the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages – its giant cathedrals and palaces now loom high above ramshackle and largely deserted streets.
“The tourism potential of the north is incredible. Yet because of the embargo, there are no direct flights here,” said Sahinoglu.
“It is just 35 minutes by plane from here to Beirut, yet a tourist from there has to fly six hours to get here as all planes have to go via Turkey.”
At present, some 2.5 million tourists visit the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island every year, yet only 400,000 visit the north, according to Turkish Cypriot government figures.
The Turkish Cypriot north is
This may also be one reason why there was such hostility to the UN’s plans for reunification amongst Greek Cypriots.
European Commissioner for Enlargement Günter Verheugen lashed out before the referendum on Saturday against “vested interests” on the Greek Cypriot side and said that “the north … is only little developed for tourists, but in reality is more attractive [and] could become competition for them.”
Hoping for a boom
Many Turkish Cypriots hope that with the embargo lifted, a tourism boom will arrive, bringing much needed revenue to their sagging economy.
“Life here is very hard, economically,” said Mustafa Cevap, a taxi driver from Nicosia. “There is so little trade – we work 24 hours a day just to keep at a minimum. No one is hungry, but for ordinary people, there is very little chance to do any better than that.”
Income per head in the Turkish Cypriot north is some quarter of income per head in the Greek Cypriot south, which will join the EU next week as one of the most dynamic of the Union’s new economies.
But others see little prospect for new investment, even if the embargo is lifted, unless the issue of property is also resolved.
“There is so little trade – we work 24 hours a day just to keep at a minimum. No one is hungry, but for ordinary people, there is very little chance to do any better than that”
In 1974, following the Turkish invasion, some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced from their homes in the north by the Turkish troops. Many Turkish Cypriots were also forced from their homes in the south. Since then, much of the land and property of the Greek Cypriots in the north has been settled on or lived in by Turkish Cypriots of settlers from mainland Turkey.
A major sticking point in the UN plan was what should be done about this. Yet the property issue is by no means a clear-cut one of returning homes to their original owners.
The Palm Beach hotel is a typically complex story.
“In 1951, the municipality sold the land on which the hotel stands to a Greek Cypriot guy,” said Sahinoglu.
“He built about a quarter of the hotel building that’s standing here now. In 1974, it was a two-star hotel. Now it is five stars.
“We built the rest. We also worked had to build up a clientele. Recently though, we have had a dozen or so Greek Cypriots turn up claiming that this is their hotel.
“We are willing to compensate them for their part of the hotel, but they do not seem interested in that,” he added.
Lack of interest
The referendum results appear to confirm that lack of interest for many Turkish Cypriots.
Most are also optimistic that despite the referendum’s failure to stick Cyprus back together again, they are no longer likely to be alone.
“I think that up until this UN plan no one was even aware that The Turkish Cypriots existed,” said Sahinoglu.
“But now though, the Muslim countries in particular must realise there are two different nations here and help us.”