By Ariana Keshishian
On Monday November 12, Cypriot officials opened two new border crossings in the Southeastern village of Dherynia and Northwest town of Lefka for the first time in eight years. This was the latest push for peace after multiple failed United Nations negotiations last year.
The talks on the reunification of Cyprus took place over six months in July 2017 and ended without agreement. Although the talks initially appeared successful, they stalled and ended in deadlock over the issues of Turkey’s proposed military presence in Cyprus, and returning property to thousands of people who fled their homes during the hostiles, reports the BBC.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, the year Turkey used its guarantor rights to intervene in the island after a far-right military coup that sought to unite the island with Greece toppled the administration of then, President Makarios III. The military junta that controlled Athens at the time sponsored this coup. During this period, ethnic Turks were forced to live in enclaves after decades of inter-ethnic violence and terror.
The stalled reunification process created further tensions between Cyprus’s internationally Greek Cypriot government and Turkey’s claims for jurisdiction driven by natural gas resources and offshore oil. Even though Greece and Turkey are NATO allies, this matter continues to strain ties between the two countries.
On November 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey would not allow oil and gas extraction in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to the Daily Sabah, President Erdogan stated, “We do protect the rights of our country and of our brothers.”
According to Al Jazeera, the decision to open the border crossings was an attempt by the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akici to jumpstart stalled unification talks. UN Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, Elizabeth Sephar, hosted a meeting that effectively opened the 120-mile buffer zone and brought the total number of crossing points to nine. Sephar commented, saying, “Today is a good day for Cyprus. These crossing points will play an important role in helping to increase people to people contacts, contributing to build much-needed trust and confidence between the communities on the island.”
The opening of the Northwestern border in Lefka was very small in contrast to the opening of the Southern border in Dherynia. In the latter, hundreds of people lined up just a few kilometers from the town of Famagusta on the opposite side. Dheriyan mayor Audros Karayiannis had worked for years on opening the crossing. He was greeted by the Turkish Cypriot mayor of Famagusta, who presented him with olive saplings. In return, Karayiannis promised to plant them close to the checkpoint.
Turkish Cypriot foreign minister, Kudret Ozersay, announced that the opening of the two crossings was a positive move for the two countries. He said, “After our government came into power, we supported as we had promised the opening of the crossing points and to make the arrangement.” As reported in Cyprus Mail, Mayor Karayiannis said, “I never expected that our wish for the opening of the crossing would be embraced by so many people.”