Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made his first official visit to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) since the presidential election victory of Turkish-backed Ersin Tatar over incumbent Mustafa Akıncı.
The KKTC is a breakaway state founded after Turkish intervention in the island in 1974, which followed a coup by Greek nationalists who sought unification with Greece amid a civil war between Greeks and Turks living on the island.
Erdoğan suggested to Tatar during the visit that Turkey construct a presidential palace similar to the complex in Ankara.
Erdoğan’s visit included several indications that Turkey’s Cyprus policy will significantly change. One important such sign was the fact that he was accompanied by Devlet Bahçeli, his nationalist coalition partner.
Erdoğan, along with Bahçeli, visited Varosha, a city sealed off to visitors by United Nations resolutions that stipulate the parties to the conflict settle their disputes before the city’s reopening. However, it was partially reopened by the Turkish administration in October after 46 years of closure.
In a speech delivered in Varosha Erdoğan underlined that the reopening marked the beginning of a new era and said: “Today, there are two separate peoples, two separate democratic orders and two separate states in Cyprus. A two-state solution based on sovereign equality must be negotiated,” implying that supporting a two-state solution has become Turkey’s official stance in Cyprus.
Speaking about hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, Erdoğan said Turkey and the KKTC were committed to protecting their interests.
He also targeted the local Turkish Cypriot media, accusing them of cooperating with the internationally recognized Cypriot administration in the south of the island, using derogatory terms such as “worthless rags” to refer to local newspapers.
Turkey will sponsor the construction of a palace
One of the most controversial aspects of his visit was his offer to the newly elected Tatar to build a presidential palace.
Erdoğan said he brought it up in talks with Tatar and that Turkey could undertake the construction of a presidential complex on a 5,000-square-meter plot of land.
“Such buildings, as you know, change the perception of other countries,” Erdoğan said. “As the motherland and a guarantor [referring to the Treaty of Guarantee between Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom promulgated in 1960], Turkey will continue to stand with the KKTC and the Turkish Cypriots,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan’s visit expected to boost investment in Varosha
The town of Varosha, with its beautiful Mediterranean beaches, was a tourism hub in the past. Its revitalization as a tourist destination was an idea that had already been floated by Erdoğan.
However, its disputed status has hindered any incoming investment since its recent reopening.
Erdoğan’s visit to the town was aimed at convincing potential investors. According to the Cypriot media, the inclusion of the town on Erdoğan’s schedule will increase its international popularity, leading to a considerable increase in real estate values.
Erdoğan protested by Turkish Cypriots
Throughout the week, Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s visit was protested by Turkish Cypriots who gathered in droves and chanted slogans against Turkey’s interference in the island’s affairs and disregard of the will of the Turkish Cypriots.
Nikos Anastasiades, president of the Republic of Cyprus, has described Erdoğan’s visit as an unprecedented provocation. Anastasiades has also alleged that Erdoğan’s visit to Varosha violated United Nations resolutions on Cyprus.