25 April 2015 Northern Cyprus demographics: who is voting anyway?

Of the many hot issues surrounding the Cyprus problem, the demographic question is one of the biggest. Who actually lives in northern Cyprus and what influence they have over the elections is a topic of much debate. This is because it goes to the core of questions about identity, not only for Greek Cypriots but Turkish Cypriots too. The first wave of people who came from Turkey, commonly referred to as ‘settlers’, came mainly from Anatolia. They tended to have different cultural norms and religious attitudes to indigenous Turkish Cypriots, let alone Greek Cypriots. Another wave brought students, construction workers and other workers who, as Mete Hatay, who has studied this issue for years explains, do not take root. “They come and go,” he says. So how many ‘settlers’ are there? What influence do they have in elections? And who counts as a settler anyway?

No physical evidence for 600,000

One of the obstacles to having a rational debate about the subject is that the Republic of Cyprus, for fear of giving legitimacy to the breakaway ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (TRNC), does not sanction international verification of the census.

The unfortunate by-product of this is that if you cite figures from the 2011 census, someone will come back at you and say that it is all bogus. However, with a bit of cross-checking, we can test if the 2011 figures, or some of the other claims, are true.

Let’s start with the wildest claim, sometimes made by Turkish Cypriots too, that there are 600,000 settlers in northern Cyprus.

This is an extremely high number given that the total resident population in the southern part of the island, according to the 2011 census, was just 840,407.

A population of 600,000, plus Turkish Cypriots, plus the army, implies around the same number of people in the north as in the south. But since the north is one-third of the island in terms of size, however, it implies a higher concentration of people per square metre in the north than in the south.

If this is the case, you should be able to see physical evidence. But if you have ever driven around the north, apart from about four main roads in Nicosia and one road leading into Kyrenia, you will have been left with an abiding feeling of emptiness.

Of course, many Greek Cypriots do not feel comfortable crossing over. But there are other ways to cross-check the figures.

Cyprus at night shows the empty parts

If around half the island population lives in the north, then you would expect this to show up on those satellite figures of Cyprus at night. Check out images of Cyprus at night and you will see what I mean.

Look closely and you can see that the population is concentrated, in this order, in Nicosia (both sides), Limassol and Larnaca. There is a bit of light around Kyrenia. But Morphou and the Karpas peninsula are deep black. So unless everyone lives by candlelight, there cannot be 600,000 ‘settlers’ in the north.

Census suggests 20% voters of Turkish origin

When it comes to political influence, it is also important to distinguish between those who have the right to vote and those who do not. Even though polls to date suggest that there is no obvious distinction between the preferences of the ‘settler’ vote and the ‘indigenous’ vote, there is nevertheless a perception that people of Turkish origin will vote differently from those of Cypriot origin.

As the table below shows, in 2011, the resident population was reported at 286,257 (excluding the Turkish army). Of this total, ‘TRNC’ citizens amounted to 190,494. How many of these ‘TRNC’ citizens are of Turkish origin? We can make some inferences by looking at what other identity documents they hold.

Of the total 190,494 ‘TRNC citizens’, 136,362 (71.6% of all citizens) had only ‘TRNC citizenship’ (row B1 in the table below), while 38,085 (20%) had dual ‘TRNC’-Turkish citizenship (row B2). One can imagine that the first category must be mainly people of Cypriot origin, while the second category is likely to be mainly people of Turkish origin.

Looking at people over the age of 19 produces similar results.

On the basis of the 2011 census, therefore, the ‘settler vote’ in 2011 was around 20% of all voters, while the indigenous Turkish Cypriot vote was almost 72% of all voters. In other words, Turkish Cypriots still represent the vast majority of voters and ‘TRNC’ citizens. This also has an impact on the number of people would would gain united Cyprus citizenship in the event of the settlement of the Cyprus problem. In 2011 there were only 38,000 ‘TRNC citizens’ of Turkish origin in northern Cyprus including children. This probably explains why, ahead of the referendum in 2004, the Turkish Cypriot authorities reportedly had such difficulty finding a list of 40,000 people who would be eligible for united Cyprus citizenship.


Cross-checking against Republic of Cyprus

Now, if you do not trust the census of an unrecognised entity, then you can cross-check against Republic of Cyprus figures.

According to Republic of Cyprus Ministry of Interior reports at the time, around 92,000 Turkish Cypriots were eligible to vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections in the south. These voters will all have been adults.

Interestingly enough, the 92,000 people eligible to vote compares pretty well with the 99,917 ‘TRNC-only’ citizens above the age of 19 from the 2011 census (row C1).

For people of Turkish origin, we can compare figures on the number of people in northern Cyprus eligible to vote in the national elections in Turkey. This was reported as 92,171 people in 2014.

Again, this compares reasonably well with the census. If you combine dual ‘TRNC-Turkey’ citizens over the age of 19 (row D1) with Turkish citizens over the age of 19 (row D2), you get a figure of 86,450 (row D).

In sum, what might be termed the indigenous Turkish Cypriot population is around 136,000 people (B1), or 47.6% of the total resident population.

Meanwhile, one can infer that indigenous Turks – both citizens and non-citizens of the ‘TRNC’ – should be around 128,000 people or 44.9% of the total. We get to this number by taking the total population of 286,257 (row A), minus 21,409 born in the UK (A3) and places other than Turkey (A4), minus the 136,362 ‘TRNC only’ citizens (C1).

As of 2011, therefore, it was not true to say that Turks outnumbered Turkish Cypriots. Indigenous Turkish Cypriots slightly outnumbered indigenous Turks by around 8,000. The rest were neither Turks nor Turkish Cypriots.

But the important thing to remember as far as the politics is concerned is that Turkish Cypriots are a much larger proportion of the voting public, at around 70%.