Postcard from…Nicosia

Ledra Street Gate, photo by Joanne Esch

A new gate was opened this week in the wall of the world’s last divided capital, Nicosia. “It is like unclogging a main artery in the heart of the city,” said former mayor Mustafa Akinci, who has long supported reunification of the city.

The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey intervened in response to an attempted coup that would have brought Cyprus under Greek rule. Inter-communal violence on the island began more than 10 years earlier as a result of a Greek Cypriot nationalist struggle for union with Greece. The Ledra Street gate now connects pedestrian areas in the Greek Cypriot south and the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey.

The island’s future remains unclear. Some possibilities include a structural stalemate in which TRNC maintains a status similar to that of Taiwan, a cooperative power-sharing agreement, an amicable divorce á la Czechoslovakia, or a messy break-up more like Yugoslavia. The new government, which came to power last month, is likely to pursue a cooperative status quo.

The symbolic gesture of opening the Ledra Street gate has made many people optimistic about the new government’s commitment to solving the Cyprus problem. On the other hand, many see the symbolic gesture as just that; it by no means indicates that a solution is imminent.

Ledra Street is the third gate to open since 2003. Serdar Dentash, leader of the Demokrat Parti and son of the former president of TRNC, has been a key advocate of opening the gates of the Green Line. He believes that allowing people to move back and forth has been beneficial for two reasons: it has allowed both sides to see the reality of the other side and debunk myths and propaganda about the other community, and it has disproved the assumption that contact between the two communities would lead to fighting.

The crowd present at the official opening of the gate seemed less than sentimental. The skepticism was not unwarranted, considering that promises to open the gate have been made and then broken many times over the past few years. The opening of the Ledra Street gate is no collapse-of-the-Berlin-wall. But it is a step toward connecting people and creating better internal dynamics on the island.

Joanne Esch is an intern at Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org).