Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
Print this page Print Bookmark and Share
Media Watch 2003

28 April 2003
Source: New York Times
Author: Marlise Simons
Comment: The following article appeared in the New York Times on 28 April 2003
Greek, Turkish Cypriots mingle as divided island lifts restrictions


Just about everyone surprised as 30 years of separation ends
Marlise Simons, New York Times Sunday, April 27, 2003

Nicosia, Cyprus -- They kept pressing through the narrow checkpoints Saturday, long lines of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, on foot, in car, on motorbikes, winding past the watchtowers and the barbed wire that had kept them apart for nearly 30 years.

A trickle at first, now a flood, Greeks and Turks are crossing to see each other's side of this divided Mediterranean island, rushing as if uncertain the sudden opening will last.

The turnabout came on Wednesday, when Turkish Cypriot leaders abruptly lifted travel restrictions across the dividing line. They opened two checkpoints because, they said, they wanted to build confidence between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

The move came as a shock to U.N. peacekeepers, the police, customs officials, diplomats and just about everyone else on this island of close to 800,000 people, all of them more accustomed to a heavy diet of mutually hostile propaganda and stubborn politics. The police said that close to 7,000 people had already been given a one-day travel pass and many more were expected during the long Greek Orthodox Easter weekend.

"It's a wonderful Easter present," exulted Demetrios Mavros, driving through the final control post in a car crowded with relatives.

The Mavros family was heading north for the ancient monastery of Apostolos Andreas, a famous pilgrimage site that had been off limits.

The menacing buffer zone, 120 miles long, that has carved up Cyprus since 1974 is still in place, sandbagged positions, watchtowers and all. But little by little, one family at a time, the island is already appearing less divided in people's minds.

The Greek and Turkish populations have been kept apart ever since Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus to halt a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Diplomats and mediators have tried and failed numerous times to reconcile the recalcitrant sides, and the latest rounds of talks sponsored by the United Nations collapsed in March when Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, refused a deal brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and accepted by Greek Cypriots.

But the stakes have been raised since April 16, when the Greek Cypriots signed the treaty to join the European Union on behalf of the whole island, clearly weakening Denktash's hand.

The excited Greek and Turkish islanders who keep converging on the buffer zone appear to care little about the political maneuvers for the moment.

"This is people power," said Emina Oguc, a teacher at the University of Famagusta in Turkish Cyprus, who crossed the Nicosia checkpoint early Saturday.

Oguc and the fellow teachers in her group said the reunification of the island was becoming unstoppable. "This is so amazing, we could not have imagined this one week ago," she said. "Everyone has been so helpful and kind, as opposed to what we were told by our leaders."
"