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Media Watch 2003

27 April 2003
Author: Colin Brown
Comment: The following article appeared in the Telegraph of London on 27 April 2003
'I'm happy to be home, so sad I can't stay'

The first tears began to flow long before they reached their village. The Chrysafis family, who run the Station restaurant in the Greek Cypriot part of Nicosia, never believed that they would see their former home in the Turkish sector of Cyprus again.

Last week that changed - and like thousands of others they were taking the opportunity provided by Rauf Denktash, the elderly president of the Turkish Cypriot enclave, to visit the north of the island for the first time in 29 years.

The opening of the border, announced without warning on Monday night, was like the collapse of the Berlin Wall for Cypriots who have lived for a generation on a divided island. In the days since, thousands have flocked across the Green Line, the ceasefire zone manned by United Nations troops since the incursion by Turkish forces in 1974.

Athos Chrysafis, 35, an official with Cyprus Airways in Nicosia, was six when he last saw his village in the north.

On Friday he waited hours at a checkpoint by the Ledra Palace Hotel, in Nicosia, where harassed British troops from the UN contingent tried to control the crowds frustrated at the slow pace of Turkish bureaucracy, until finally he was able to cross over and negotiate the hire of a bus for his family.

For the equivalent of £60, they travelled freely around the north for the rest of the day, visiting former family homes, until forced by a midnight curfew to return.

Their initial destination was Ayios Amvrosios, renamed Esentepe by the Turks, just 30 miles from Nicosia: the journey took an hour along a winding mountain road.

As the 25-seater bus, a bone-shaker from Kyrenia, reached the crest of the Halesko mountains, Mr Chrysafis's mother, Tspina, 55, a former nurse, began weeping softly. "I feel happy and sad," she said. "Happy that I have come back. Sad that I can't stay."

They asked the bus driver to stop on the mountain road so that they could pick wild flowers - yellow bunches of Tears of Madonna - to take back to their grandparents in the south, who were too old to attempt the journey.

In the village came the unexpected. Mrs Chrysafis shouted excitedly: "There's my father's coffee shop! There's the cinema! If I die tomorrow I will be happy!"

And then they saw a modest, white-washed bungalow with a donkey braying in the back garden surrounded by wild flowers. Mr Chrysafis's aunt, Doxoulla Mita burst into tears. It had been her home before her family was forced to flee to the south. The bungalow had been allocated to a Turkish Cypriot woman and her husband who had themselves been uprooted by the civil war from a former Turkish village near Paphos in the south.

The two women met in the lane by the side of the house and embraced, their cheeks wet. Seval Arslan, 39, offered coffee and slices of white goat's cheese and told her visitors: "I feel very bad because the owner of the house is here and she is crying."

Her husband, Adnan, said: "This house is not our house. This house is your house. We want to go to our house."

Mr Chrysafis said: "My family would like to go back and live in their village houses here again, but I don't see that happening."

Their emotional journey reached its climax in a peeling, grey, three-bedroom house in the centre of the village. Mr Chrysafis's father, Andreas, 55, a nurse at the time of the invasion, stood on the balcony with a sweeping view of the unspoiled coastline with tears in his eyes and said: "We married in this house."

Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in 1974, ostensibly to protect its minority Turkish Cypriot community from increasingly violent inter-communal strife.

Greek Cypriots were driven from their homes in the north, and Turks fled from settlements in the south, as the island split into two distinct halves. Under arrangements for a truce, the UN deployed troops to keep the peace along the new "Green Line" which divides the north from the south.

The long-running deadlock over Cyprus began to break last month when the Greek half of the island secured accession to the European Union, which it will join in May next year.

An attempt by the UN to broker a deal which would have led to partial reunification of the island failed, and cost the former Greek Cypriot president Glascos Clerides his job: Greek Cypriots voted against his support for the proposals, which included a limited exchange of land around the Green Line.

The reaction of the Chrysafis family showed that most Cypriots will not be satisfied until the land issue is settled.

Others crossing into the north last week had more sombre matters to attend to. Kypris Pepekkos, 56, a taxi driver from Pissouri, carried a single rose in his Mercedes. He was taking it to lay on a field near Kyrenia where his father Andreas, 62, vanished on the day of the invasion.

Many of those who crossed in both directions were looking for those who disappeared in the atrocities committed by the two sides - atrocities which men like Mr Pepekkos, will never forget."