Cyprus leaders take historic stroll across divided capital

Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders cross the UN-controlled buffer-zone for the first time since 1974

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The leaders of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities took a stroll together across the UN-controlled buffer-zone dividing the capital city Nicosia on Saturday, making historic visits to both sides of the island.

It is the first time leaders of the rival communities made official visits across the buffer-zone since a war divided the island along ethnic lines in 1974, and comes amid an agreement to increase confidence between the two sides on the road to a lasting peace deal.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met in the buffer-zone before sitting in cafes on the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north.

"We very much would like to give the message of hope because after so many disappointments we need this hope. But, of course, what we need more is not to create yet another disappointment," Akinci told reporters.

Meanwhile, his Greek Cypriot counterpart Anastasiades said, "We will work very hard to achieve a lasting peace deal at the earliest possible [date]."

Usually, the leaders and negotiators of the two communities meet in the buffer-zone, which is seen as a neutral ground running across the island.

While the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration in the south, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus based in the south considers the breakaway TRNC an area under the occupation of Turkey.

Cyprus was divided in July 1974 after Turkey exercised its right in accordance with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to conduct a military intervention in response to a coup by the Greek junta, which hoped to unite the island with Greece.

Almost a decade after Turkey secured the northern third of the island and a population exchange between Turkish Cypriots in the south and Greek Cypriots in the north, failure to reach an agreement with the Greek Cypriots to restore the constitutional government led to the Turkish Cypriots declaring the independence of the TRNC - which is only recognised by Turkey.

A number of attempts were made to restore the constitution since the 1974 war, with the latest case being a referendum in 2004 prior to the Greek Cypriot administration’s accession to the EU.

While 64.9 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite the island, which would have secured the withdrawal of Turkish troops, 75.8 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against reunification.

Despite the failure of the plan proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, talks continued until they were suspended in 2012 when the Greek Cypriot administration took over the EU presidency.

Negotiations resumed two years later in February 2014 when former Turkish Cypriot president Dervis Eroglu issued a joint statement with his Greek Cypriot counterpart vowing to work for a UN-backed peace deal that will see the island united as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Talks were later stalled again when Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades withdrew from negotiations last October after Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel to the island’s waters to search for hydrocarbon reserves.

The deployment of the vessel came on the same day joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas began drilling for hydrocarbon reserves in the Greek Cypriots’ declared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration, had warned against drilling before a deal between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is achieved.

The withdrawal of the Eni-Kogas consortium from island’s waters earlier in April allowed Turkey to also withdraw its ship, thus presenting a window of opportunity for the talks to restart.

Talks were revived in a meeting on May 15 when Akinci and Anastasiades were brought together by UN envoy to the island Espen Barth Eide in the buffer-zone, in which the two leaders agreed on confidence-building measures.

Future visits across the buffer-zone by Greek Cypriot party representatives to cultural heritage sites in the historic city of Famagusta on the Turkish side of the island have also been organised by the Embassy of Slovakia for June 17.

TRTWorld and agencies