Turkish Cypriots hit by sliding lira

Turkish Cypriots’ worries about being too dependant on Ankara have escalated in recent months as the plummeting Turkish lira, dropping by 40 percent this year, has also hit Northern Cyprus, Politico reported on Tuesday.

Cyprus was split into two when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in 1974. The Turkish Republic of the Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Ankara, which also has troops deployed on the island.

While the Cypriot state in the south is internationally recognised and has been a member of the European Union since 2004, northern Cypriots remain isolated and dependent on Ankara, whose policies have recently triggered concerns about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s influence on the island. 

Worries about dependancy on Turkey have grown, particularly after the latest efforts for reunification collapsed in July last year, leaving few envisaging a future outside Turkey’s orbit. 

Northern Cypriots use the Turkish lira as the local currency and all imports, except those from Turkey, are paid in foreign currencies, while mortgages, rents and university tuition fees are also often charged in euros, Politico said. 

“Our electricity bill has nearly doubled in six months,” said Can Yesilada, who runs a café in northern Nicosia, while explaining the effects of Turkey’s currency crises on Turkish Cypriots.

The lira’s decline has affected the southern and northern residents of the island differently. While Greek Cypriots have increased their visits to the north by 28.7 percent since the beginning of this year to take advantage of cheaper goods, fewer Turkish Cypriots have been crossing to the other side.

“This crisis is a blow to daily life. Anger, anxiety and worry are on the rise,” Hasan Yıkıcı, a trade unionist, said. Peace and reconciliation is the only way to overcome the crisis, according to Yıkıcı, who hopes that the recent economic problems will serve as a wake up call for Turkish Cypriots. 

However, economic factors have little impact on peace negotiations, according to Ahmet Sözen, a professor at the Eastern Mediterranean University who regularly conducts opinion polls on both sides of the island.

“If the Cyprus problem continues to be unresolved and Turkey’s influence continues to increase, give it several years and we are going to start looking more and more like Turkey,” Sözen said.

Turkish Cypriots are wary that the Turkish government's religious ambitions will erode the secular way of life in the northern part of the Island. 

“The worry is that these things are a step towards changing the culture, identity and secular lifestyle of Turkish Cypriots,” Politico quoted Burak Maviş, the education secretary of the Turkish Cypriot teachers’ union, as saying.

The building of the massive Hala Sultan mosque, inaugurated by Erdoğan this summer, has also sharpened worries with its adjoining Islamic vocational college and high school, a university and student dormitories.

Hala Sultan college is the first school in northern Cyprus that follows a religious curriculum similar to religious high schools (imam-hatip) in Turkey. The school regularly features in the news and in January the Turkish Cypriot government launched an investigation into reports of students being subjected to “religious pressure” there, Politico said. 

Teachers union in Northern Cyprus are also worried that “illegal” religious education may be on the rise, as the number of mosques on the island is now outstripping the number of schools.

Turkish Cypriots also use textbooks sent from Ankara and since the Turkish government has dropped evolution from the curriculum, students in northern Cyprus no longer can find any mention of Charles Darwin in their books, Politico said.