Memory of 1974 keeps Cypriot peace deal grounded

The gutted shell of a Cyprus Airways passenger jet lies on the tarmac of Nicosia airport, silent and sinister testimony to the failure of 22 years of international efforts to solve the island's problems. The aircraft, a Trident Sun Jet, bears the scars of gunfire from Turkish forces who foiled the pilot's attempt to take off with his passengers and crew and escape Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in July 1974.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before