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Media Watch 2003

30 April 2003
Source: Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 30 April 2003
Cyprus sees ‘Berlin Wall’ begin to crumble


AFTER three decades of division, Cyprus saw its “Berlin Wall” begin to crumble yesterday. Thousands of islanders continued to cross the “green line” and Greek Cypriots were allowed to stay up to three days a week in the north.

The two peoples will be brought closer together today when the Greek Cypriot authorities announce measures to improve living standards among the breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

The package, which comes after remarkable scenes of reconciliation, is expected to help Turkish Cypriots to work and trade in southern Cyprus and to gain access to healthcare and other state benefits.

Thousands of people, bearing gifts and brimming with goodwill, have crossed the island’s green line in both directions since the surprise announcement last week by the Turkish Cypriot authorities that they would open checkpoints for day trips.

Greek Cypriots left clutching cherished family photographs that they thought had been lost forever. Others held bunches of flowers and fruit cut from ancestral gardens.

Yesterday the Turkish Cypriot authorities said that Greek Cypriots would be allowed to stay for up to three days a week in the north after popular demand and in a further attempt to build confidence.

The island has a population of just over 750,000 and in six days 108,000 Cypriots have crossed the buffer zone.

Lellos Demetriades, a former mayor of Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital, said of the crossings: “This is now in the hands of the people. The politicians will follow.”

Over the Orthodox Easter holiday Greek Cypriots were queueing for up to 18 hours at the main crossing point in Nicosia to drive across the ceasefire line. British peacekeepers from 47 Regiment, Royal Artillery, are manning the buffer zone with a UN peacekeeping force. More crossing points are planned to ease congestion.

Greek Cypriot families travelled in two or three cars, ferrying generations back to homes that they had been forced to flee nearly 30 years ago.

The island has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the north in 1974, after a short-lived coup in Nicosia engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece. Many houses were found to be inhabited by Turkish Cypriots who had once lived in the south; others had been taken by settlers from mainland Turkey.

However, in the first demonstration since restrictions were eased, about 200 Greek Cypriots stormed a UN checkpoint yesterday in an attempt to return to their homes. The Greek Cypriots overwhelmed the small UN force east of Kato Pyrgos in an attempt to reach their former homes in the Turkish-held village of Limnitis. UN soldiers formed a human chain to prevent them reaching Turkish soldiers on the far side.

In Kyrenia yesterday Michael Pilis, a 50-year-old businessman enjoying the experience of sipping a beer in the spring sunshine, said: “I feel happy, but confused. The Turkish Cypriots have been so polite and friendly, but we really want a solution so that we don’t have to come here as tourists. I am a refugee.”

Turkish Cypriots crossing south were offered coloured eggs and traditional Easter biscuits by Greek Cypriots. “I’m indescribably happy,” Mustafa Kasap, a 52-year-old Turkish Cypriot worker, said as he stood in Eleftheria (Freedom) Square in southern Nicosia. “I know these streets well. I have been watching and missing them from afar for 29 years.” The partial lifting of restrictions by the Turkish-held north, unimaginable even a month ago, has been welcomed by the Cyprus Government, which is represented internationally by the Greek Cypriots, and the European Union.

Both have insisted that it should not be a substitute for a comprehensive peace deal, but many analysts are confident that the new contacts will enhance the chances of solution. “We’re still not there in terms of the political solution, but nothing like this has happened since 1974,” Nicos Anastasiou, a school teacher involved in bicommunal activities, said. “The Berlin Wall of Cyprus is now full of cracks and holes. Thirty years of prejudices and stereotypes have collapsed in days, along with the myth that there was no trust between the communities.”

The deadlock began to ease last month when the Greek-Cypriot south secured accession to the European Union.

History of a divided island

Cyprus gained independence from the UK in 1960 after a bloody campaign by Eoka (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), which called for enosis, a union with Greece

A constitution protected the Turkish minority, but many controlling measures were removed by the President, Archbishop Makarios, who had been elected by Greek Cypriots

Intercommunal fighting broke out in 1963; in 1964 UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island

In 1974 the military junta controlling Greece supported a coup in Cyprus to remove Makarios and force enosis. Turkish government troops took control of the north of the island and thousands of Greek Cypriots fled; many “disappeared”

UN peacekeepers have maintained a buffer zone since"