Can Cyprus “comrades” clinch a deal?

September 3, 2008

The leaders of Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities sipped coffee and called each other “comrade” as they launched a new round of talks on reuniting the island, whose 34-year division has exasperated the most committed of mediators.     
 Cypriot President Christofias shakes hands with Turkish Cypriot President Ali Talat during a news conference after their meeting in Nicosia                            
This time, foreign diplomats and analysts say, a solution is in sight, thanks largely to the two moderate, leftist men heading the negotiations – Greek Cypriot Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Ali Talat.

Although it has been years since any violence has erupted on the island, the simmering feud has far-reaching effects onTurkey’s EU aspirations, its relations with fellow NATO member Greece and politics in the eastern Mediterranean.

Fed up with former president Tassos Papadopoulos, who tearfully asked Greek Cypriots to vote down a U.N. re-unification plan in 2004, voters elected Christofias this year and turned the tide on an issue that has long baffled the international community.

Or have they? Local analysts warn against excessive euphoria, saying that the obvious positive climate between the two leaders needs to trickle down to the ground for a deal to be made. Both communities must approve any solution in simultaneous referendums.   

“Both leaders have good intentions but the atmosphere on the local level is polarised,” said Mete Hatay of the PRIO peace institute. “They must be in contact with the communities on a grassroots level to inform them and encourage them.”

Turkish Cypriots are still hurt by the Greek Cypriot rejection of the 2004 U.N. blueprint, which the north overwhelmingly approved. And with every passing year, the distance between the two sides appears to grow.  A U.N. peacekeeper stands in front of a banner at Ledra street in Nicosia April 4, 2008. Hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as tourists crossed the 80-metre (262 ft) stretch of road in the main commercial district of divided Nicosia one day after its opening. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis (CYPRUS)

A walk down towards the central Nicosia Ledra Street crossing, whose barrier was pulled down in April as a prelude to the talks, speaks volumes about the differences that need to be bridged.

Wealthier Greek Cypriots enjoying a booming economy and the benefits of EU membership, shop at international chains and bask at Starbucks during a hot, humid afternoon. 

A few meters past guards and crumbling neoclassical mansions, Turkish Cypriots are quickly renovating cafes to tap what they believe will be an influx of foreign tourists. Layers of Nike and Adidas knockoffs cover the front of old shops. 

“God willing, this time they will find a solution,” said Mayrem Ozyeser, 80, a basket seller in the nearby market. “Turks and Greeks used to live together, help each other but others have come between us. If it was up to us Cypriots there wouldn’t be a problem.”

The opening of the Ledra crossing has increased visits from both sides but mainly Turkish Cypriots who come to the south for window shopping and, as many say, better ice-cream. A U.N. peacekeeper stands in front of a banner at Ledra street in Nicosia April 4, 2008. Hundreds of Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as tourists crossed the 80-metre (262 ft) stretch of road in the main commercial district of divided Nicosia one day after its opening. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis (CYPRUS)

The owner of the Heracles ice-cream shop was happy to get more business since the crossing opened but did not sound as upbeat as foreign observers on the prospect of a solution.

“People in general are not that optimistic,” said Herakles Vrontis, 36. “I don’t believe anything will come out of these talks. Talat does not have the authority to negotiate. It is up to Turkey.” 

As the two leaders prepare to delve into complicated issues such as power-sharing and restitution of property to refugees of the 1974 Turkish invasion, prompted by a Greek-inspired coup, many wonder if the dispute will again defy the most noble of intentions. 

“There is a bigger chance for a solution than before,” said Greek Cypriot political analyst Christoforos Christoforou. “But it’s a difficult process because it does not depend only on the two leaders.” 

3 comments

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The Cyprus problem has been completely turned on its head since 1974, primarily as the outcome of a very sophisticated propaganda progamme, by and large supported by the Othodox Church in Southern Cyprus, an organisation with huge vested interests in the outcome of the debate. Turkey did not invade Cyprus it faced up to its responsibilites(supposedly shared with recalcritant Britain and Greece) and intervened to save lives. Cyprus had been a hot bed of intrigue from the 1960′s when Greek Cypriots murdered British military personnel and their families in the name of independence, with the long term objective of unification with Greese. Independence came about on the basis of reponsibilites and rights shared between the nation’s Turkish and Cypriot peoples. It did not take long for The Greek half to disenfranchise the Turkish part by excluding them from all power sharing, so that murder and mayhem ensued. This is nowadays justified on the current Greek Cypriot High Comission web site on the grounds that the constitution was unworkable. Yet the ‘solution’ that the Greek Cypriots currently say is the only one acceptable to them is a return to something closely resembling that situation – that they say was unworkable. Because of this history Turkish Cypriots do not trust Greek Cypriots, and understandably seek a divided country with each side providing enfranchisement and security for its own peoples. This is effectively the current situation with safety provide by a Turkish army that maintains a discrete presence in the northern part of the island.

The prospects of an acceptable solution are remote given these two almost insurmountable differences. Secondly there is a major property issue. Greek Cypriots have created tthe impression that only they owned property prior to 1974 (the year of the intervention). They have to recognise that Turkish Cypriots were fleeing from the south in fear of their lives prior to 1974 and being farmers as opposed to the primary Greek Cypriot urban culture abandoned nearly as much property as Greek Cypriots did when they fled in 1974. Both sides have subsequently exploited that abandoned property so that this will prove to be an almost equally insurmountable problem to the political situation outlined above. Both sides reconise that the other has a legitimate grievance, the situation is not as one sided as Greek Cypriots claim and it is time that Turkish Cypriots recognise the importance of a focussed ‘information programme, rather than sitting back and waiting for the world to wake up.

Posted by Ian Betts | Report as abusive

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the cases of Issak, and Solomou speak volumes,

…so too the gates at Limnitis.

my hope is that these two leaders are Cypriots, rather than “Greeks” or “Turks”; agreeing to a single identity, and a single sovereignty as the United Republic of Cyprus, is a good first step.

Posted by wyle peterson | Report as abusive

The leaders of Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities are very lovely. The is very lovely and useful.