New US Push for Peace in Cyprus Hits Old Hard-Line Blame Game

Leaders on Turkish side voted Tuesday for no peace until their sovereignty is recognized.

The Greek Cypriot women gather at the Ledra checkpoint every weekend, wearing black and protesting against the loss of their loved ones. Faded photos of missing husbands, sons, and fathers hang from their necks.

Tears well up easily at the memory - now more than two decades old - of crimes committed by invading Turks in 1974. Photographs of Turkish atrocities, including murder and torture victims, keep the memory fresh.

A journey of 100 yards in Cyprus - from the ethnic Greek south to the Turkish-controlled north, at this checkpoint - shows how deeply ingrained different national myths and histories have become.

That divide is thwarting diplomatic efforts to solve the problem of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriot leaders of their breakaway state, which is recognized only by Turkey, voted on Tuesday not to take part in settlement talks until their enclave is recognized as sovereign.

This month was meant to provide a "window" for a breakthrough, after Greek Cypriot elections in February, and before the Greek-led government of Cyprus begins talks on joining the European Union.

But after a three-day visit by Thomas Miller, the State Department coordinator for Cyprus, Mr. Miller was less than optimistic.

"I do think as I leave here that the goal of a bicommunal, bizonal federation is feasible," he said Tuesday. "Is it easy? No. It is very difficult."

At the Ledra checkpoint, the Greek Cypriot women protest at anyone who wants to cross the line, to bestow legitimacy on what they call the "genocidal" Turkish regime of the north. For them, this is a march into the arms of an enemy who should not be spoken to until all 1,619 Greek Cypriots they count as missing have been accounted for.

The growing peace movement and bicommunal activities - which had begun to blossom on both sides until the new year, when Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash brought them to a halt - are for these women a waste of time. Greek Cypriot hard-liners have also blocked Greeks from meeting their Turkish counterparts before, threatening violence.

"This is a wall of shame, but one day it will be finished," says Paula David-Bye, whose two cousins are missing. "We don't believe in those [bicommunal contacts]. We are going to fight to the death."

Wearing photos of six male relatives around her neck, Charita Mantoles says: "They were all taken alive, and we want them back alive. We don't just want bags of bones."

But Greek Cypriots are not the only ones who exploit their status as victims, as becomes clear just up the road: "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - FOREVER" declares a large sign atop the sentry post.

Graphic depictions of Greek atrocities against ethnic Turks from 1963 to 1974 - including mass graves - are pasted up to make clear that Turks have also been victims. Between 450 to 800 Turkish Cypriots, they say, are unaccounted for.

"Those [Greek] people who lost their relatives - I recognize their suffering, but there is not a single family who was not affected," says Dervish Besimler, head of the North Cyprus Young Businessmen's Association, who regularly took part in bi-communal peace activities.

"But do we want a repetition of that?" he asks. "I hope not." Greek Cypriot peace activists voice the same disappointment with extremists.

Both displays confirm the official propaganda, that "we" were the most victimized, and "they" were the most ruthless and wrong, and therefore have the most to answer for - and the most to give up - in any settlement.

It's a phenomenon exacerbated by politicians who gain more from being hard-liners than from being peacemakers.

Both sides have "profoundly different and incompatible views of history" caused by "one-sided bias and chauvinism in everything from schools to the media to politics," notes Dan Lindley, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., in a recent report.

He suggests the two sides work to establish a "common history": "[This] project is not a fault-assigning exercise but it cannot avoid being in part 'a who did exactly what to whom described as factually as possible' exercise," he writes. "No doubt this is difficult, but so is living together."

One Greek Cypriot woman protesting at the checkpoint takes a more moderate line.

"We can live with them, why not?" says Elli Stavrou, whose husband, Petros, disappeared while fighting in 1974.

"They are not all bad," she adds. "We just want justice and peace, not war."

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