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Nicosia’s Ledra Street opening would shatter symbol of division March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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Hopes remain high for Cyprus breakthrough if crossing is established

Peace talks… > Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias, who is to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat today, said he is ready for peace talks but stressed that there can be no quick fix solution.

21-03-08_ledra_street_crossing.jpg  A Cypriot soldier stands guard by a temporary bulkhead at a Cypriot outpost next to the UN buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot controlled areas of Nicosia.

The hustle and bustle of shoppers eyeing trendy boutiques on the southern side of Nicosia’s Ledra Street is not unlike what you would encounter in the commercial heart of any European city.

21-03-08_ledra_street1.jpg  Yet steps away from where couples huddle to sip coffee and buskers ply their trade stands an armed soldier guarding a barricade – a stark reminder that Nicosia remains Europe’s last divided capital in its last partitioned country.

Today, the island’s rival leaders are expected to agree on opening a crossing at Ledra Street – a deeply symbolic move that would give a lift to a fresh reunification drive. Up close, there is nothing remarkable about the 2.5 meter (8 foot) high barricade of aluminium and plastic boards.

21-03-08_ledra_street3.jpg  It certainly is less forbidding than the concrete wall torn down a year ago. But it rudely interrupts a vibrant street in the capital’s medieval core, shutting out a decaying no-man’s land of weed-strewn streets and crumbling buildings that slices the island into a Greek-Cypriot south and an occupied and military controlled Turkish-Cypriot north.

The UN-controlled buffer zone has been in limbo since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a failed coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. And the Ledra Street barricade has been the most poignant symbol of the enduring separation between the once-warring communities.

Expectations are high that Greek-Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will jointly announce a Ledra opening today to serve as a springboard for the start of talks on breaking years of deadlock on reunification. On Wednesday, President Christofias said Greek Cypriots were «ready to proceed with the opening at Ledra Street.»

The buildup to a Ledra opening has attained an air of inevitability. Nicosia’s Mayor Eleni Mavrou repeatedly said a crossing could be readied within five days of an announcement, despite months of work to shore up derelict buildings on either side of the pedestrian walkway.

Even a key Greek-Cypriot objection to Turkish army patrols near a future crossing that scuttled previous attempts at an opening appears to have been overcome: Aides to Christofias and Talat suggested last week that Turkish troops would pull back enough to remain out of sight of the crossing.

21-03-08_ledra_street2.jpg  Another breach in the buffer zone would be nothing new – five crossings have opened since 2003 when Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions. Greek and Turkish Cypriots have since crisscrossed the divide hundreds of thousands of times, setting aside old trepidation and mistrust to see old friends and visit homes they had been barred from visiting for nearly three decades.

But a Ledra Street crossing would resonate most with Cypriots jaded after decades of stalemate and a heap of failed peace initiatives. That’s because Ledra’s mystique as the embodiment of division would be shattered – offering fresh hope for unification.

«It could serve as an ice breaker, I think we are able work things out with the Turkish Cypriots,» said Chrysanthos Trokkoudes, 69, whose health food store is a stone’s throw away from the barrier.

Ledra Street has been a symbol of separation since January 1964 when British peacekeepers laid barbed wire across the street between Nicosia’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors after brokering a cease-fire agreement.

The street’s division was cemented in 1974 with the invasion. «A symbol of division may now turn out to become a symbol of reunification,» said veteran Turkish-Cypriot politician and former mayor of northern Nicosia Mustafa Akinci. Besides hope, a crossing would offer the tangible benefit of injecting new life in the old town nestled within 15th-century Venetian walls. Tourists and locals eager to satisfy their curiosity would boost commerce, especially in the less cosmopolitan Turkish-Cypriot north.

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