Turkish Cypriots want reunification but not at the expense of their own security

Atop the fortification in the Turkish-Cypriot sector of Nicosia, Turkish soldiers lean against the flagpole, chatting, sometimes even singing. They watch Greek Cypriots down below, busy with chores.

After passing through the Greek-Cypriot checkpoint, the walk of a few hundred yards to the Turkish side offers one of the few visible reminders of the July 1974 coup and subsequent Turkish invasion: the Ledra Palace Hotel, which still bears the gashes and pockmarks from the fighting. It now houses United Nations peacekeeping soldiers and has served as the venue for intercommunal meetings.

On the Turkish side, an eagle-faced young man dressed in a British-style police uniform sits in a booth checking passports. Looking up from his papers, he blurts out in perfect cockney, ''Hey, where are you from in America?''

On both sides of the dividing ''green line,'' Cyprus is surprising.

Despite the similarities, the contrast between Nicosia's two sides is striking. The Turkish side is smaller, more like a suburb. There are few of the tall, modern buildings and frenetic building activity so widespread in the southern section. In part this is because only 40,000 Turkish Cypriots moved from the south to the north after 1974, and they simply settled in houses abandoned by the 200,000 Greek Cypriots who headed south.

Few structures rise above three floors and most of the older brownstone houses still stand. Turkish-Cypriot Nicosia is quieter, more beautiful. Only upon leaving Nicosia on the road to Kyrenia that runs across a broad valley up through the mountains do signs of construction appear. There the local trade union is building 190 three-bedroom houses. State-subsidized apartment blocks are nearly completed, and several industrial plants are in operation.

The main reason the north is far less prosperous than the south is no secret: It suffers from the fairly tight economic embargo that resulted from the Turkish invasion. Only Turkey recognizes the north as an independent nation.

''We, too, have a highly educated population. We offer equally good incentives for businesses. Rents, food, hotels are cheaper than in the south, and our area is more beautiful,'' says Turkish-Cypriot spokesman Oktay Oksuzoglu bitterly. ''But people lose interest because of communications problems. Everything must go through Turkey. This is what the Greeks have done to us. They are trying to squeeze us dry.''

The gross national product of the north in 1982 reached $206 million, one-ninth the level of Greek Cyprus to the south. In the same year the north received 87,629 tourists, three-quarters from Turkey, 460,000 fewer than in the south. The north's exports - 85 percent are agricultural products - amounted to figures are typical of the gap between the north and south.

According to official Turkish-Cypriot statistics, Turkey subsidizes one-third of the north's budget, although some outside estimates reach as high as 60 percent.

Since the Turkish invasion, some light industries have been established, producing mainly textiles, clothing, plastics, and foodstuffs.

Tourism is vital to the north's economy as a major source of foreign exchange. It is mainly centered in Kyrenia, the enchanting little port town, with its tight, circular harbor dominated by a fortified castle built by the Lusignans and later completed by the Venetians.

''This is the most beautiful part of the island,'' marveled Unal Ersoy of the public information office. ''But because of the Greek embargo, not that many people can see it.''

Turkish Cypriots are particularly angry about tourist maps sold in Greek Cyprus with the phrase ''inaccessible because of Turkish occupation'' printed across the north of the island.

If Turkish Cypriots express bitterness about their economic isolation, they are also grateful to Turkey for allowing them to survive economically. Besides subsidizing their budget, Turkey has absorbed a large number of workers from northern Cyprus, particularly among the most educated.

In spite of the north's relative economic backwardness, there is no sign of misery. Unemployment is low at around 3 percent, and the rich agricultural land in the north assures that everyone has plenty to eat.

''We are not rich as in the south, but we can wait. Nobody is truly suffering , and we have what we never had before: peace and security,'' says Mustapha Kortun, a Turkish-Cypriot journalist.

Many Turkish Cypriots say they need reunification of the island more than the Greek Cypriots do, to break out of their isolation and share in the south's prosperity. But they insist they will never accept a solution that would require them to give up the security they have achieved through Turkey's military presence.

''We do not want the Turkish troops to leave just to come back soon after,'' one Turkish Cypriot said.

But, ''Cypriots must become Cypriots,'' said another.

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