Wall dividing island of Cyprus torn down but divisions still stand

Friday, March 9, 2007

Map of divided Cyprus.
This street is cut by the Green Line in Nicosia. From the platform, tourists overlook the no man's land and the Turkish part of the island.

On Thursday March 8, 2007 the government of the Southern Greek part of Cyprus used heavy machinery to allow its military to tear down the five-meter high concrete wall on the Green Line that divides the island.

The wall has stood in the Cyprus capital of Nicosia for more than 40 years. It has been a constant reminder of the political situation of the Mediterranean island (given independence from Britain in 1960) that has suffered divisions since communal violence in 1963 that was only prevented by establishing a United Nations Peacekeeping Force there in 1964. These divisions only deepened when Cyprus was invaded by Turkey’s military in mid-July 1974 after right-wing Greek Cypriots (backed by the military junta ruling Greece at the time) attempted a coup with the intent of joining the island to Greece. The result was a split between the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government in the south and the Turkish Cypriot north (only recognized by Turkey). The division at Nicosia has become a curiosity to tourists who look over it to see the buffer zone between the two factions (a no man’s land with abandoned homes and businesses where no civilians are allowed). The destruction of the wall also brought out curious Cypriots.

Much international pressure had been brought to bear on both sides, and thawing of the relationship between the opposing Cypriots began in 2003 when the Turkish side eased restrictions on travel. Still in 2004 before joining the E.U., Greek Cypriots rejected the UN reunification plan that called for a federation of two states. Then in December 2005 when the Turkish Cypriots created a footbridge for Turkey’s soldiers on the other side, the action drew protests from the Greek Cypriots voicing their security concerns. In January 2007 the Turkish Cypriots began dismantling the footbridge as a gesture of good faith.

At first both Cypriot governments expressed hope of reunification when asked about the demolition. Tassos Papadopoulos, the president in the Greek south stated "Tonight we have demolished the checkpoint on our side.” He went on to call for the Turkish Cypriots to act, saying civilians will not be able to cross “if the troops are not withdrawn”. Rasit Pertev, chief adviser to Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of Turkish Cyprus said: "This is extremely symbolic... The dynamism created by this move will lead to the opening of the crossing." Still when the government of Turkey dismissed the move as merely a result of international pressure that did not signify anything, and refused to dismiss its troops in the area (it maintains 40,000 soldiers on the island), sheets of aluminum were put up as a barricade on the Greek Cypriot side early on the morning of March 9, 2007.