Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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Media Watch 2003

03 May 2003
Source: New York Times
Author: Marlise Simons
Comment: The following article appeared in the New York Times on 3 May 2003.
Turkish Cypriots 'hail invading Greeks'

The article raises interesting points and illustrates some of the misery inflicted on Greek Cypriots since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Lobby takes serious issue with the heading however, as there is no Turkish part of the island, rather an area that is currently under illegal Turkish military occupation.

"Unofficially, Turkish Cyprus[sic] hails invading Greeks

KYRENIA, Cyprus The people of Kyrenia, with its perfect horseshoe harbor, know something about invaders. Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Byzantines, Crusaders, Venetians and Ottomans have all held this strategic and pretty spot. The last was the army of Turkey, which landed 29 years ago and never left.

But no one here had expected the latest fleet, composed not of galleons or helicopters, but motorbikes and cars zooming down from the mountains behind the town.

In the past week, since Turkish Cypriots eased travel across the buffer zone that has divided the island since 1974, 160,000 people have rushed to visit each other's side. The majority have been Greek Cypriots, who outnumber the Turkish population by almost 4 to 1. And many of these travelers have come to celebrate in this little port, a place of medieval walls and a magical reputation.

Kyrenia has not kept count, but every day the cafés along the harbor have been full of Greeks, eating, drinking, laughing. Turks have joined them as though there never was a war that tore them apart. Overnight, the Jewel of the Levant, as it was known in ancient times, has been jolted from its languid ways.

Hamit Topal, the harbormaster, was among the Kyrenians who looked overwhelmed.

"I've not seen so many people in my life," said Topal, whose normal duties involve registering the few British or German yachts that might sail into town. Now he was on the quay, handing out advice, directions and tourist maps to crowds.

Behind him, empty fishing boats bobbed in the sun. Topal pointed to the cafés and restaurants lining the harbor. The fishermen, he said, had all been drafted as waiters to cope with invading Greeks.

The flood of people has overtaken the long-term projects of politicians and diplomats who have agonized about reuniting the island with orderly plans, only to see them fail time after time. Among the unresolved questions is the issue of how to deal with the huge economic gap between the poor Turkish north and the rich Greek south.

This first exhilarating week, though, has produced some impromptu answers of the kind that beat a well-planned government program. Free-spending Greek Cypriots have already poured close to $2 million into the tiny northern economy, according to unofficial estimates. Eager to see their land, their birthplaces, or merely the long-forbidden, they have spent almost $200,000 just on obligatory car insurance at the border.

They have shopped in the maze of back streets, paid for gasoline and bought souvenirs and designer knockoffs, a hallmark of the region. The waiters confide that diners have celebrated with great quantities of freshly caught snapper and squid, accompanied by many rounds of beer and whiskey.

"We are doing more than 20 times our normal business," said Hussayin Mustafa, a restaurant owner here. Taxi drivers have found new prosperity, making large sums with inflated prices. Business was up 1,500 percent in the past week, according to the taxi drivers union. Kyrenians agree that this bonanza may fade as the excitement wears off. But for now they are thriving on "the big bang," as some locals have christened the sudden event.

It is hard to tell who is more excited, the Turks or the Greeks. Some Greek families said they had spent the night in their cars at the checkpoint in the buffer zone, afraid to lose their place in line. Now they were telling their life stories to perfect strangers in the harbor cafes.

Kyrenians seemed eager to listen. "We are all in a dream, in a state of shock," said Ayla Djemal, whose Turkish family had just made friends with Greeks arriving from the southern port of Limassol. "It's marvelous," she said. "Our lives were far apart, but we all shared the same dividing wall."

Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, has warned that "the honeymoon season" between the two sides "may not last forever" because difficult issues such as the return of refugees and of property still have not been settled.

On the Greek Cypriot side, officials have made it clear they resented Denktash's move to lift a travel ban he had imposed in the first place. They have urged him to open additional checkpoints to relieve the long wait at the Turkish posts where every visitor must obtain a stamped visa before crossing.

Beneath the goodwill and newfound fraternity, though, other, less visible emotions linger. For instance, Soulla and Irini Mathiti, two Greek sisters, came back to Kyrenia after visiting a small village in the mountains.

When their family fled south in the war, their father, an Orthodox priest, insisted on staying, refusing to abandon his church and his flock. He was never seen again.

This week, for the first time, his daughters returned to his little church, now a mosque. The imam heard them sobbing. He apologized and embraced them, then he led them to a small room in the mosque.

''He gave us my father's books. He gave us his Bible," said Soulla. Now, the sisters said, they could mourn their father at last. The New York Times

Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune"