Memory of 1974 keeps Cypriot peace deal grounded
Wednesday 18 December 1996
Twenty-two years later, not only is the plane still there, but the airport itself looks as if it has been trapped in time. Wall posters in the departure hall display advertisements for the kind of watches, cigarettes and beach holidays that people bought in 1974.
The perfectly preserved skeleton of a bird lies on the floor. Bullet- shattered windows remind visitors of the fighting that erupted in and around Nicosia all those summers ago.
Such scenes speak of the mountainous task facing Britain, its European Union partners and the United States as they try to launch the most serious effort at breaking the Cyprus deadlock since 1974. All declare that the status quo on Cyprus is unacceptable, yet the status quo at Nicosia airport has taken on the air of eternity.
It is the bleakest, emptiest airport in Europe, perhaps in the world. All the clocks, information boards, luggage conveyor belts and signs at check-in desks and passport control were taken down long ago.
There are no people and no vehicles outside, except an occasional van driven by a United Nations soldier. When no one is visiting, a UN officer locks the terminal building with a padlock labelled "Airport Keys".
The airport lies within a UN-protected area dividing the Turkish-held north from the Greek Cypriot, government-held south of Cyprus. No commercial plane has been allowed to fly into or out of Nicosia since 1974, an inconvenience which obliges most people heading for the capital's Greek sector to fly into Larnaca 30 miles away on the south coast.
There was once a plan to reopen the airport for civilians, part of a set of UN "confidence-building measures" to promote an overall settlement. Even under these proposals, Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have used different entrances and exits to the airport.
If the airport is stuck in time, so are the attitudes of many on both sides of the island. Crossing from the government- controlled sector of Nicosia to the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", one sees a poster proclaiming: "Turkish murderers out of Cyprus" and then, on the Turkish side, a poster proclaiming: "The clock cannot be put back to the 1963-74 period".
This harks back to the slaughter of Turkish Cypriots in 1963, three years after independence from Britain. It is an episode etched as searingly in theirmemory as is Turkey's 1974 invasion and occupation of the north for Greek Cypriots.
Now the outside world is urging both sides to shed prejudices inherited from 1963 and 1974. The aim is to open direct talks next spring between the two communities' leaders, President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash.
However, the world is making its long-awaited "big push on Cyprus" at a time when tensions on the island, and between Greece and Turkey, are higher than for many years. Five people have been killed in ethnic violence this year, and an arms race is gathering speed.
The difficulties were highlighted in a visit paid this week by Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary. After issuing a 10-point proposal for ending the stalemate, he was criticised by Greek Cypriots for talking about one "international personality" for Cyprus rather than a single undivided sovereignty.
At the same time, Mr Denktash stonewalled him by rejecting any linkage between a settlement of the Cyprus dispute and the island's application to join the EU.
The Greek Cypriot-led government favours EU entry, but Mr Denktash fears that EU membership would spell the death of his separatist republic.
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...
£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...