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Walls of woes
Divided Cyprus has a become a world center for dialogue

July 12, 2000
The Iranian

Divided Cyprus is a telling metaphor for the world's current human rights and wrongs. Walls of visible and invisible discrimination are built around us everywhere. Ever since 1963, a shabby wall has divided Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, to separate the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Following the war of 1974, a Green Line partitioned Cyprus. Like the Berlin Wall during the Cold War years, that partition is a testament to human folly.

A UN peacekeeping soldier stands guard at the wall. To the question whether we can photograph the ruins of the Turkish side, he forlornly nods yes. There is nothing to photograph.

Following the civil war, this Mediterranean island was divided into the Turkish north and the Greek south. A total of about 165,000 Greek Cypriots had to flee their homes and farms from the north, while 55,000 Turkish Cypriots escaped theirs in the carnage of a civil war. A kiosk of old and paling photographs on the side of the wall tells the tragic story. The bitter memory of that war lingers on.

As a strategic island located between the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Cyprus has been the staging ground for the great powers of history. The Assyrians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Lusignans, Venetians, Byzantines, Ottomans, and British have each left their mark here.

However, the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite on the road to Pafos appears as the most memorable of all landmarks. The Goddess of Love emerged out of the foam of the blue Mediterranean among solid rocks, one of which looks like a crouching lion.

The local legend holds that if the young bathe here naked at midnight with a full moon, Aphrodite would grant them eternal youth. If you have passed your youthful years, she will make you 10 years younger. Wow! A few splashes for a few months at full moon can bring you back to your teenage years.

That lovely legend stands in sharp contrast to the bitter political realities of a divided Cyprus. In 1960, after a prolonged period of struggle for independence, the island gained its independence from Britain.

From 1960 to 1974, fanned by the rivalries between its two great neighbors Greece and Turkey, tension between its Greek and Turkish population grew into violence. A faction of the islanders were calling for incorporation (enosis) of Cyprus into the Greek state. With the support of the Greek generals, that faction overthrew the legitimate government of Cyprus led by Archbishop Makarios and declared Cyprus a part of Greece.

In response, the Turkish military invaded Cyprus taking over 40 percent of the land. As a result of its Cyprus fiasco, two days later, the Greek military dictatorship fell. But some 6000 people died in the battle of 1974 Except for Turkey, no other state recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Once President Makarios was restored to power in the Republic of Cyprus, the international community continued to recognize it as the legitimate government of the entire island. The efforts by the United Nations to bring the two sides to the negotiating table has thus far failed.

However, there are some positive signs of change in the air. Turkey's application to join the European Union (EU) is contingent on its willingness to settle the Cyprus problem. On the other hand, the impending admission of Cyprus into EU will strengthen its prestige and bargaining position for reunification.

There are many obstacles. The repatriation of the refugees of both sides in the face of the land grabs of 1974 is a serious problem. Missing persons also present a powerful emotional impediment to peace. The establishment of a human rights regime that could guarantee the rights and responsibilities of all Cypriots regardless of their ethnic origin is a precondition to peace. Jurists also differ on whether a new constitution is needed or the Constitution of 1960 is adequate for a reunified Cyprus.

Most important of all, the last 25 years have witnessed dramatic changes in the economic fortunes of the two parts. While southern Cyprus has prospered, northern Cyprus has stagnated. Reunification of the two parts will bring about financial hardships that need to be calculated in its costs and benefits.

None of these problems is insurmountable. Given the current rapprochement between Greece and Turkey, and the desire of the Cypriots to reunify their country, solutions can be found. Cyprus has already become a world center for dialogue and peacebuilding. Palestinians and Israelis often meet here to negotiate.

Under the auspices of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and the Center for World Dialogue, on May 27-29, the International Commission for Security and Cooperation in West Asia met in Limassol to discuss the conditions for peace in the Persian Gulf region. Under the leadership of Hossein Alikhani, the Center for World Dialogue in Nicosia has been holding over 25 such gatherings to bring Christians and Muslims as well as Europeans and Asians together to discuss matters of mutual interest.

A reunited and independent Cyprus as part of the European Union will best serve peace and security of all countries of the region. A win-win rather than a win-lose solution is always required for durable peace. Aphrodite would smile on this outcome while adding youthful vigor to all of the peacemakers.


Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research. His latest books are Restructuring for World Peace: At the Threshold of the 21st Century (1992), Global Communication and World Politics: Domination, Development, and Discourse (1999), Worlds Apart: Human Security and Global Governance (1999), and Asian Peace: Security and Governance in the Asia Pacific Region (1999).

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