Divided Cyprus remembers Turkish invasion

21st July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The commemoration was the first since President Demetris Christofias and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mehmet Ali Talat relaunched UN-brokered reunification talks last September after a four-year stalemate.

Nicosia -- Sirens wailed across Greek Cypriot towns and villages on Monday as the Mediterranean resort island marked the 35th anniversary of the Turkish invasion which left it divided on ethnic lines.

The commemoration was the first since President Demetris Christofias and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mehmet Ali Talat relaunched UN-brokered reunification talks last September after a four-year stalemate.

The international community is hoping the new talks will deliver a settlement to one of Europe's most protracted political standoffs.

Launched in response to an Athens-engineered military coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, the Turkish invasion left some 3,000 Greek Cypriots killed or missing and around 200,000 displaced.

The Turkish troops occupied around a third of the island and nearly all Turkish Cypriots in areas that remained under Greek Cypriot control fled their homes to be resettled in what became a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

Among Greek Cypriots the invasion is commemorated as a "black anniversary" but among Turkish Cypriots it is celebrated as marking their release from the communal violence that marred the decade after the island's independence from Britain in 1960.

In the Turkish Cypriot sector of the divided capital Nicosia, soldiers in tanks and armoured vehicles paraded while a military aerobatics team displayed in the skies overhead.

Speaking at the ceremony, Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat called for the island to be reunited "as soon as possible."

"We are not very far from a settlement. But we act silently and cautiously because we have learned lessons from the inconsistent attitudes of the Greek Cypriot side and the European Union in the past," he said.

"In any agreement, we will never let Turkey's guarantorship become an issue of debate or be watered down," he added.

He was referring to the international treaties signed when the island achieved independence which gave Britain, Greece and Turkey the right to intervene to maintain the status quo. The Greek Cypriots have long demanded that that right be revoked.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, whose government is the only one in the world to recognise the breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983, renewed Ankara's support for a speedy settlement.

"If all parties act with the constructive attitude the Turkish Cypriots have displayed, we believe that a comprehensive settlement is possible by the end of 2008," he said.

"Everybody should know that the existing windows of opportunity will not remain open forever."

Cicek stressed that Turkey would not make concessions on Cyprus in exchange for progress in its bid to join the European Union.

"Turkey will never be dragged into a dead-end of choosing between Cyprus and the EU," he said.

In the government-held sector of Nicosia, Christofias attended an official wreath-laying ceremony for the Greek and Greek Cypriot soldiers who fell during the invasion.

"Today we are obliged to keep memories alive but at the same intensify our efforts to end the fait accompli of the invasion and occupation which only worsens with the passing of time," he told reporters.

UN efforts to end the island's division had lain dormant following referendums in April 2004 in which Turkish Cypriots endorsed a UN reunification plan but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a wide margin.

Diplomats say that the new peace push is the last best chance for reunification as for the first time since 1974 there are two ‘pro-solution’ leaders at the negotiating table.

Christofias and Talat resume face-to-face talks on Thursday.

Charlie Charalambous and Odul Asik

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