Turkish Cypriots celebrate 25 years behind Green Line

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The Independent Online
NICOSIA IS a city of dead ends. The streets end abruptly in makeshift military barricades that separate the Turkish north from the Greek south.

Every attempt to bring together the two sides at the negotiating table ended in failure. The oil drums and barbed wire will spend their 25th birthday dividing the Cypriot capital, and vegetation has long broken through the bricked-up windows of empty houses in the buffer zone.

Today Northern Cyprus will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Turkish invasion that partitioned the island between its Greek and Turkish communities. The streets are draped with banners showing a dove carrying an olive branch emblazoned across the Turkish flag, to mark an invasion known euphemistically here as the "peace operation".

Aziz Gece, a Turkish- Cypriot businessman, says: "If the Turkish army had come a day later I would be dead now." The invasion ended the worst outbreak of intercommunal violence the island has seen. Mr Gece lived in the Turkish quarter of Larnaca, now in the south, which came under Greek-Cypriot mortar attack.

Mehmet Tosun has never known a united Cyprus. On Sunday night, the 17- year-old peered over the barricades into a part of his city where he has never set foot, to glimpse a Greek-Cypriot rally, part of a series to protest against the anniversary. A bizarre mixture of Greek Orthodox hymns and revving motorbike engines echoed across the buffer zone. "These people are dogs," he says. "We want peace. We want the barricades to come down. They're the ones stopping it."

The mistrust is as ingrained on both sides of the dividing Green Line. Greek-Cypriot schoolchildren are regularly brought to the barricades to peer through at the land "illegally occupied" by the Turks.

In Nicosia, it is easy to see why the Cyprus problem remains intractable. In one restaurant in the north, the walls are covered with pictures of the owner brandishing guns from his days fighting the Greeks. In mainland Turkey the anniversary is seen as a national triumph. Here, there are too many painful memories for unbridled joy.

"I have to get drunk to remember that time," says Ozdemir Ozdas. "My blood runs cold when I explain it. I never killed anyone until I saw my friends killed before my eyes. Then I learnt to kill."

Halil Kodray fought in the Turkish-Cypriot militias for eight years. Now he is a tailor working in the shadow of the Green Line. Greek and Turkish flags fly high overhead: both sides compete to raise their flags highest along the barriers.

"What's wrong with partition?" Mr Kodray asks. "They're happy and we're happy. We can't live side by side with the Greeks again."

But the Greek-Cypriot government is unhappy with partition and still claims sovereignty over the whole island. Today, the north is marking more than just an end to violence. The unrecognised republic is using the anniversary to reinforce the fact that, despite a quarter of a century of international opposition, it still exists.

Bulent Ecevit, the Turkish Prime Minister who ordered the 1974 invasion, is now by a quirk of Turkey's politics premier again, and he is flying in today. For Mr Ecevit, it will be a triumph, at a time when his standing in Turkey has never been higher. But he is also coming to make clear that Turkey remains committed to Northern Cyprus.

South of the buffer zone, the press has been full of hope and speculation since the United Nations Security Council, prompted by the G7 group of industrial powers plus Russia, called for fresh talks this autumn. But the North has rejected the call, saying it will not negotiate until it is internationally recognised.

But only with Mr Ecevit's backing can Rauf Denktash, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, hold out. His self-declared republic is recognised by Turkey alone. Thirty thousand Turkish troops provide its defence; its economy is kept afloat by Turkish aid. Even as North Cyprus celebrates, its problems are evident. In economic terms, it lags far behind the south. The picture postcard port of Kyrenia would be jammed with tourists if it were in the south; in the north it hosts only a handful.

This is why Mr Denktash is so desperate to win international recognition. An international flight ban means flights to Cyprus have to touch down in Turkey first. Because of international embargoes, North Cyprus can sell its goods to the outside world only via Turkey.

The violence of 1974 erupted because of fear of a Greek-Cypriot coup aimed at enosis, union with Greece. Now North Cyprus is much closer to union with Turkey. The north refuses to share telephone lines with the south, so it is part of the Turkish exchange. International mail is routed through Turkey. As Turkish-Cypriots migrated because of economic problems, mainland Turks moved in. That leaves many Turkish-Cypriots grumbling. Cyprus itself may well be at another dead end. "Cypriotness is a myth," says the Northern Cyprus foreign minister, Tahsin Ertugruloglu.

"The only thing we have in common with the Greek- Cypriots is that we inhabit the same island."

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