Cyprus overview

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Cyprus, an island kept captive of its history, learns to look ahead of past grievances towards a common future between Greek and Turkish Cypriots

After 28 years of separation Greek and Turkish Cypriots are hopeful that a “solution” will be found now for the divided island. Significant, historic changes are prompted by the fact that as of December 13, 2002, the Cyprus accession to the E.U. has become a reality.

Even though, Cyprus is such a small country of an area of only 9000 sq km, it has had a tragic and turbulent history. The end result is that Cyprus is still captive of its past and its history, which keeps the island divided for the last 28 years and Turkish and Greek Cypriots apart.

Cyprus became an independent country in 1960, but under the “guardian care” of Turkey, Greece and Britain. Britain kept 3% of the island’s area for military bases, Turkey and Greece were given rights of intervention, and thus they have done. The military junta of Athens orchestrated the coup d’etat on July 15th 1974 and the Turkish invasion followed 5 days later. The aftermath of the battles and the bombardments led to the realization of shocking statistics. 37% of the islands area was left under Turkish occupation. More than one third of the population became refugees-Turkish Cypriots were relocated to the North and Greek Cypriots to the South. About 2000 people were missing, their whereabouts unknown.

Ever since that time there have been endless talks and negotiations that seem to lead nowhere. How do you get rid of a conquering army through the use of negotiations? What do you do about the new realities brought about by the changed demographics? It is a fact now that a significant portion of the Turkish Cypriot population has fled the country, that settlers from Turkey were brought in. Additionally the living standards between the two parts of the island are miles apart, the occupied part enjoys less political and civil rights, the southern part suffers through unrestricted development, mass tourism and little “green” consciousness.

The most tragic figures of all, though, are the refugees. Some of them may live only hundreds of meters away from their old homes, the old are dying slowly in refugee camps with the longing to go back to their villages unchanged, the young have little or none memories of the other community and grow up with the uncertainty of the future.

Only when you are faced yourself with the reality of the division line, of armed soldiers aiming at you if you dare to cross, of the beautiful view of the Pentadactylos range that’s so close and so far at the same time, then one can appreciate the unfairness of the way Cyprus is divided today by the force of arms and on racial grounds.

“an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”

In today’s worlds of open borders and freedom of movement within the E.U. grounds, of multiculturism, of equal opportunities of all irrespective of race and social status, Cypriots feel like children of a lesser god. Even the solution plan proposed by the United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan under scrutiny is a racist solution plan, that still keeps people apart according to race and religion.

It is naïve to believe that reunification of the island is going to be an easy project, but it is sensible to believe that only when people do not feel victimized, when they are given freedom to move around, own property wherever they like, and vote irrespective of race, and when the income gap between the two parts has been minimized, then, a lasting peaceful solution can be achieved.

Political solutions may be drawn on maps, division lines may assure no interaction, but real prosperity lies in finding ways to coexist. In Cyprus we are hopeful that we can accomplish this and that accession to the E.U. will help accelerate the process of reunification.

It is with joyous apprehension that Greek Cypriots watch the peoples’ uprising in the northern part that demands a solution according to Kofi Annan’s plan.
It could be that according to the size of the population, it is the largest proportion ever of a population worldwide to join in a demonstration. Even Greek Cypriots who do not agree on the principles of the U.N. plan are optimistic to watch the Turkish Cypriots revolt against the regime that favored a divided island so far. More and more people are looking for ways to form bridges of communication and take part in the so called bi-communal events that bring people together even for a short while.

My optimism lies principally, though, in the nature of the people of Cyprus, hardworking and peace loving, who have learned, I believe, through the harsh lessons of the past that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”. It took us three decades and it could take a lot longer but at this time in our history Greek and Turkish Cypriots, especially the young people, opt for a common future in an enlarged and full of opportunities Europe, and we are starting to call each other again compatriots.

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