By Iakovos Kypri *
Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leaders recent decision to open up the border in the north to the Government controlled south presents both an opportunity and threat for both communities. For the first time in 29 years, the opening of the Ledra palace and Pergamos checkpoints to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots is a welcome development and signals a shift in the Turkish Cypriot regimes long-standing intransigent policy. Up until now, and in contravention to UN Security Resolutions, only a few Greek Cypriots with foreign passports have been able to visit the north and only under “official escort” until dusk.
In the last three days all this has changed. Over 20,000 Cypriots have crossed the borders for the first time in three decades to visit their hometowns. Embedded memories and childhood memories have been rekindled dreams. Many of those queuing in their cars to cross the border have already been quick to voice their determination to “return to their homes, farms, and businesses.” On one level this is welcome, long overdue and to be embraced.
On another, unless both sides carefully and diplomatically manage expectations, the opening of the border presents a huge threat to both communities. Put simply, the temptation for Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike to return to their homes, knock on their doors, and pluck fruit from the tree’s and farms that have since been harvested by strangers will be huge and potentially unsettling. Some will be able to put this into context. Others wont. Left unattended the behavior of hotheads could seriously hinder a return to the negotiation table and provide those with nationalistic political orientations like Denktash with ammunition and proof that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot live together and need to be separated. It wouldn’t be the first time.
While nearly all Cypriots from both sides welcome the opening, it does not provide a substitute for a fair and institutionalized reunification of the island. Kyrenia Mayor Constantinos Rologas summed the situation up perfectly when he remarked, “we are giving the impression that we are willing to visit our homes like tourists.” Unfortunate there is some truth in this. Until Denktash adopts a more constructive line, resumes substantive negotiations based on UN resolutions, and drops demands that Greek Cypriot’s visiting the north show their passports to again entry, they will remain just that-tourists.
Jakovos Kypri Phd
Senior Analyst and co-head of the Middle East Practice Group