Uğur Özgöker, a Turkish Cypriot professor at İstanbul’s Arel University who focuses on the issues of the island, spoke to Sunday’s Zaman and noted that the aim of Greek Cyprus is to impose an economic blockade on the KKTC to prevent its development because the KKTC becoming more economically independent through trade and investment relations would pave the way for international recognition of it as a country.
“Even the possibility of other countries beginning to recognize the KKTC, even as a de-facto state, keeps them from their sleep,” Özgöker said. He said the KKTC is already attracting a high volume of investments from Israel and Russia and currently has commercial attaché offices operating through Turkish embassies in such countries as Azerbaijan, the US, Belgium, Kuwait, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The interest of Muslim states in the KKTC has increased as Turkey’s influence in the entire Muslim region continues to grow. Recently, KKTC President Derviş Eroğlu was invited by the OIC to their headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Eroğlu, the first KKTC president to be hosted by the Saudis and the OIC, expressed to media after the meeting that “seeing the interest and support of the OIC, the Islamic Development Bank and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was very important and satisfying.”
The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) and the Islamic Development Bank also organized a high-profile trip to attend the Northern Cyprus Investment Forum on April 12 with over 150 businessmen from Islamic countries to promote investment opportunities there.
In comments to Sunday’s Zaman, Sibel Akgün, an assistant professor of international relations at Sakarya University, highlighted three main reasons for the interest of Muslim countries in the KKTC. The most important reason she listed is Turkey’s powerful influence in the region, because whenever Turkey becomes strong, Muslim countries seek opportunities to support Turkey, similar to the time when Turgut Özal was president. Secondly, the island has always held great importance for Muslims because of the Mosque of Umm Haram, where the shrine of the Prophet Mohammed’s wet nurse, Umm Haram, is located. It is considered one of the holiest places by Muslims. Akgün listed as the third reason the cooperation between Israel and Greek Cyprus in gas and oil exploration activities off the coast of the island. She said: “With strong support of the KKTC by Muslim states, Israel will be cornered in the Mediterranean.” Also speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, KKTC Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Ali Çıralı explained that as Turkey’s prestige and role in the world rises, many countries, including Islamic countries, are looking to build warm relations with the KKTC. “The close partnership of Israel and Greek Cyprus could be having a slight effect on the change in their approach, but it’s mainly due to Turkey’s role. Muslim countries now accept the KKTC as one of them and are trying to establish economic ties,” he stated.
Mesut Çevikalp of Aksiyon Magazine, who has been reporting on the issues of the island for past 10 years, told Sunday’s Zaman that the Greek Cypriots have been establishing lobbies around the world in countries that have problems with Turkey, and it is only natural for the KKTC to try to establish ties with Muslim countries to promote its own rights. The OIC and the KKTC are working to use economic relations to build a bridge between themselves.
He noted that the KKTC has great potential for agriculture and already sells such products to many countries via Turkey. “With the construction of pipelines to be completed by 2014 that will bring water to the KKTC from Turkey, the agricultural sector is expected to flourish,” he said. He also mentioned that currently there are major investments by Israel and Russia in the KKTC and the time will come when they will have to recognize the KKTC as a state or a de facto state in order to protect the commercial rights of their citizens in the country. “Trade with as many countries as possible and even the addition of new flights to the KKTC would lessen the burden of the economic embargo imposed by many countries that do not recognize the KKTC as a state,” he commented.