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 David Cameron refers to 83-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner as 'Jurassic Park'
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 Optical illusion turns blue demon into brunette
- 4 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 5 Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece debt crisis: Country on course to hold EU referendum as eurozone leaders reject new bailout request
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...
£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...