Cypriots have dwindling faith in road to peace

4th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Over the past year, the president of Cyprus has held numerous rounds of UN-sponsored talks with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart but opinion polls suggest that Greek Cypriots are losing faith in a successful outcome.

Nicosia -- One year ago, Greek and Turkish Cypriots reopened the main thoroughfare through the world's last divided capital in a key gain for renewed peace talks. Now faith in a successful outcome is waning.

Shopkeepers in Nicosia's breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern sector say the crossing's opening has brought some new business from the wealthier Greek Cypriot south, but no greater desire for reunification.

And many of the Greek Cypriots who do venture north express scant enthusiasm about making concessions for peace after visiting areas that were closed to them for the three decades following Turkey's 1974 invasion.

"I went there for the first time this morning, that's why my friend is so upset," said Gregori Chrysanthou, a Greek Cypriot in his 80s. "But my daughter wanted it. She came this morning and said: 'Let's go'. I didn't want to. I sold my flat over there a few years ago because I was not comfortable living near to them ... The problem is that the Turks want to divide the country."

Ayse Erdanin works in a jewellers' shop just across the UN-monitored armistice line that divides the island, including the capital and its walled medieval heart.

She said she has seen some extra business as a result of the opening of the Ledra Street pedestrian crossing but still doubted her Greek Cypriot customers' desire for reunification.

"I am not very hopeful. They've been talking for more than 30 years," she said.

A native of Paphos, now a major resort town in the Greek Cypriot south, she fled her home after the Turkish invasion along with 45,000 fellow Turkish Cypriots.

She said she still had vivid memories of the communal disturbances that ravaged the island for a decade after 1963.

"But my daughter and my grandchildren don't remember the Cyprus problem. I want to see it resolved once and for all. But to them it's just a political issue so I don't believe a solution will happen."

Over the past year Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has held more than 20 rounds of UN-sponsored talks with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mehmet Ali Talat but opinion polls suggest that Greek Cypriots are losing faith in a successful outcome.

A survey published by the Phileleftheros newspaper last month found that 68 percent of respondents thought the talks were doomed to failure against just 38 percent in a poll carried by the same newspaper four months earlier.

Now in his 60s, Costas Violaris runs the Berlin 2, a cafe hard by the armistice line, but remains unimpressed by the crossing in the heart of the city.

"The opening of Ledra last year? My house is still on the other side," he said, echoing the sentiments of many of the 170,000 Greek Cypriots who fled their homes in the face of the Turkish invasion.

"Now it's just 10 minutes by foot but there're still Turkish Cypriots living in it."

On April 19, the Turkish Cypriots hold parliamentary elections that are expected to deliver victory for the nationalist right at the expense of the party of Talat, the champion of efforts to reunify the Mediterranean island.

In a bid to boost Talat's prospects at the polls, the Turkish Cypriots had sought to arrange a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in what would have a been a major boost to the status of their unrecognised state in the north.

But in the event Talat had to make do with a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Paris scheduled for Friday.

In northern Nicosia's main bookshop, Akile Gamze Rustem was heavily critical of the Greek Cypriot pressure on Washington to deny Talat the audience with Clinton.

"Of course they should have helped him. But blocking the meeting was a good idea for them. They don't really want peace. They're happy with the way things are," she said.

Back at the crossing on the armistice line, German tourist Hans Kohl expressed exasperation with both of the island's divided communities.

"I'm a Berliner and the thing you learn about reunification is that you have to really want it because in the end you have to pay for it," he said. "There's no point arguing about who's right or who's wrong because then it'll never happen."

Steve Kirby and Guillaume Klein/AFP/Expatica

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