Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike recently celebrated the unification of the divided Cypriot polity. 1974 marked the creation of the boundary on the island following the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus in response to an Athens-sponsored coup. The opening of the eastern and western island crossings, Famagusta Dherniya and Lefke respectively, removed barbed wire and allowed the passing of citizens on both sides. This is symbolic of an ambitious first step in bridging the deep divide between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, and an effort to reconcile a divided nation with a long-lasting desire for peace.
Elizabeth Spehar, Head of the UN Peacekeeping in Cyprus, was quoted in a tweet saying “Today is good day 4 #Cyprus. We welcome opening of 1st crossing points in 8 years. These crossing pts will play an important role by increasing people-to-people contacts; contribute 2 build much-needed trust & confidence b/w communities.” The testament of hope and continuity so poignantly articulated by Elizabeth is equally reflected in local communities very much at the deep end of the divide. “I am very pleased,” said 65-year-old Turkish Cypriot Hasan Uzun about the move. “I am sick, but I wanted to come here and see this beautiful day with my eyes. I am very emotional now.” Hasan’s desire to travel and to witness the opening of the border with his own eyes conveys a profound emotional attachment to the unification of the island, which Cypriots have been seeking for more than 4 decades.
Importantly, the future potential of a successful and uniform unification must place the desires and wishes of the island’s polity above those of statist and nationalist institutions which are deeply rooted in languages of the respective motherlands of Turkey and Greece. Further, the international recognition of a cosmopolitan South, contrasted with an isolated North dependent on Turkey – there are no direct flights out of the North other than to Turkey and around 7% of GDP is dependent on Turkish aid – explicitly portrays this divide. The opening of eastern and western crossings for people and goods exhibits the optimistic position of understanding and compromise between the polarised nations.
Conversely, in lieu of progression of unification, Turkish political institutions are eager to increase frictions with Southern Cyprus, providing a nationalistic backdrop as part of domestic manoeuvres seeking to shift attention away from Erdogan’s shortcomings. Such desired friction is typical of the incompetent and deeply divided AKP Party, of which Erdogan is the head, which seeks to capitalise upon the divided sentiments on the island of Cyprus to secure a nationalist supporter base as the party slowly sheds its cosmopolitan and internationalist ‘Istabulite’ supporters. Following the maligned trajectory of incompetency the AKP has planted in Turkish politics, the party is predictably oblivious to increasing sentiments of hope, unification and Cypriot identity, as it seeks to capitalise upon inclinations of ethnic nationalism; for example, Turkish Cypriots granted voting eligibility in the 2019 EU elections.
Somewhat refreshingly, seemingly miniscule footsteps to full Cypriot unification symbolize a comforting story in a time of deep global divide as well as great challenges facing European and Western identity in a time of growing authoritarian attitudes in the Balkans. Burcu Kasici, a Turkish Cypriot pharmacist, said those pulling for unity are stronger than those who wanted the standoff to continue. “We want to be together,” she said. “We are all Cypriots, after all. It’s the politicians and the big powers that want to keep us apart.” Will Cypriot and Turkish authorities live up to the task?