By Ramy Salama
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (also known as TRNC or Northern Cyprus) would like to deepen its commercial, cultural and social ties with Qatar for mutual benefit, which would also contribute to reducing the country’s relative isolation and support its people’s efforts for self-determination, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami. In an interview with Qatar Tribune on Saturday, the minister said,”My message is that Turkish Cypriot, a Muslim community in Northern Cyprus, has been mistreated for a long time. We ask for more solidarity between us and Qatar, and we extend an open invitation for everybody to visit our country, which is easy to reach. We have excellent facilities. Moreover, we hope to establish closer commercial, social and cultural ties so that the Greek Cypriot leadership understands that they cannot simply hold us hostage.”Northern Cyprus is located in the northern part of Mediterranean island, Cyprus. Revisiting the past, the foreign minister said,”Cyprus used to be a British colony. In 1963, after the British left and a joint republic between Greek and Turkish Cypriots was established, the Greek Cypriot community, around 78 percent of the population initiated an armed attack and pushed Turkish Cypriots out of the government. By 1964 and since then, a government composed only of Greek Cypriots is accepted as the recognised government of Cyprus.”
The minister then outlined the present status.”Since that time, inter-communal meetings are being held to establish a federation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. However, we say that it is unfair to keep Turkish Cypriots in this isolated form. We have cooperated with the international community, and agreed to a comprehensive United Nations (UN) peace plan. The fact that the Greek Cypriots did not accept it should not justify holding us as hostage,” Nami elaborated.Recognised as an independent state by Turkey, there are 22 representative offices around the world, including one in Doha. It has its own parliament and a cabinet, whose executive is the Prime Minister, similar to the political system in the UK. It also has its own armed forces, a modern airport and two sea ports. Nami is currently on an official tour of the Gulf which included Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Jeddah, he met the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), one of the first international organisations to recognise the country.”When Turkish Cypriots accepted the UN peace plan, OIC passed a resolution and now accepts us as an observer member. So, we want to make the most of this status and establish ties with OIC member states as well,” he said. During his visit to Qatar, the foreign minister will be meeting with government officials as well as business community members.”We will put forward our case, and invite trade delegations to come and visit Northern Cyprus, and of course will seek ways in which we can have more solidarity both on a bilateral level and also within international organisations with Qatar, whether this is the UN, the OIC or another body,” he added.On the economic front, the minister noted that Qatar already imports about $1million worth of Halloumi cheese, which is one of Northern Cyprus’ major exports. Though, he pointed that this number can be increased. Nami said,”Altogether, the trade volume is just over a million dollars, which is small. We need to find ways of increasing it.”Northern Cyprus imports petroleum products from Qatar, which could open the door to further cooperation in this field.”Qatar has much expertise in hydrocarbons, and one can envision bilateral cooperation in the future. We are strategically located. So, Northern Cyprus can be a hub for re-exporting some of the Qatari products to the rest of Europe. There is some research being done on the existence of hydrocarbons off Northern Cyprus shores. If it is found to be present, then perhaps joint ventures can take place on how to utilise these resources,” he added.
Tourism is perhaps the country’s most important sector and one where investments would be welcome, according to Nami. The country is a popular tourism destination for European retirees.”The most untouched beaches left in the Mediterranean are in Northern Cyprus, which is also a famous breeding ground for the Loggerhead sea turtle. The beaches are well maintained. There is a big investment potential in tourism, and many companies have come from Turkey to build luxury hotels. It’s also a country with big potential for marina businesses. Golf tourism is another area. We have a very nice golf resort. Property development is also an attractive venture,” he further said.Nami said that Qatari businessmen have a home in Northern Cyprus, a government which is extremely pro-business, and agencies in place to assist them,”not to mention our office in Doha, which is at their service”. And the potential for bilateral cooperation is not limited to the economic sphere. It extends to the cultural, educational and sports spheres as well. “In the cultural sphere, we can envision more dialogue. We have various festivals in Northern Cyprus, and we can invite delegations from Qatar to participate and thus make the Qatari culture visible to our people, and vice versa,” the minister explained, adding that the ‘Qatar-Turkey 2015 Year of Culture’ would be an appropriate opportunity to represent the culture of the Turkish Cypriots of Northern Cyprus in Qatar. With regard to educational exchanges, Nami noted that around 10 Qatari students were already studying in Northern Cyprus, and encouraged both Qataris and expatriates to consider the country for their educational destination. He added that Northern Cyprus boasts 10 accredited universities, both state and private institutions with the language of tuition being English in all of them, and the”fees are reasonable”. Northern Cyprus is home to 75,000 students from more than 40 countries. “I know Qatar is very keen on promoting sports for its young people, and investing in it, which shows that Qatar is aware of the importance of sports. In Northern Cyprus, we are not even allowed to participate in international sports. Qatar plays a very important role in the International Olympic Committee. So, we are hoping to press forward the point that the international community should do more to integrate our young people into sporting events,” the foreign minister concluded.