Updated: Mar 8
by Tom Cleaver - Cyprium News
It has been exactly a year since Nicos Anastasiades took the decision to unilaterally close the Ledras / Lokmacı crossing point. At the time, it felt like an unprovoked act of aggression against the Turkish Cypriots. A year on, and with plenty of hindsight, it appears to me that it may have been a fatal blow for Cypriot reunification.
To put the move into context, during an unbroken period between April 2008 and 28th February last year, one could cross freely between Cyprus’ two sides on Ledras / Lokmacı Street, Nicosia’s effective high street. The street being open was an integral part of rebuilding relations between Cyprus’ two sides – it was the most-used crossing point, and being right in the heart of the capital city, the most normal. The Ledras / Lokmacı crossing point made Cyprus’ divide feel less deep, and encouraged at least a part of both communities to reach out to one another, usually first out of curiosity, but then with a growing understanding moving forward.
On 28th February 2020 there were no cases of coronavirus in Cyprus, north or south. Anastasiades’ closing of the crossing point was not an act of trying to stem an outbreak, but rather at best a preemptive measure, and at worst a cynical political decision. Furthermore, it set into motion a chain of events which may have just about killed off any last hope of reunification in Cyprus.
The pandemic could have been a fantastic opportunity for cooperation between Cyprus’ two communities. Being an island, Cyprus has a natural defence against transmission of disease from abroad, and the two sides could have worked together in order to keep as much open for as long as possible.
Coordinating regulations on people entering the island and sharing capacity in terms of both hospital beds and quarantine accommodation could have easily been done, and in all probability would have reduced the need for such draconian measures on the general population as we have seen. Later on, an island-wide vaccination programme could have got more vaccines to more people in a shorter period of time, saving more lives and allowing normality to resume much faster, all while building confidence between Cyprus’ two sides.
Anastasiades, in one move, made all of that impossible. In closing the main crossing point right at the beginning of the pandemic, before there had even been a single case of the virus on either side of Cyprus, he sent the Turkish Cypriots a clear message: “at the faintest sign of trouble, you’re on your own”.
This move began an effective tit-for-tat over the crossing points. Both sides have opened and closed different crossing points at different times, and introduced what feels like hundreds of different sets of regulations and requirements that one must adhere to in order to cross from one side to another. At different times in the last year, crossing between the two sides has been possible to a greater or lesser extent. I myself have been doing so as much as possible, but the change in what it feels like to cross now, as opposed to a year ago, is apparent.
For me, crossing between the two sides, especially at Ledras / Lokmacı, never felt like I was going anywhere. I am too young to remember a time before open crossing points, and the rather simple process of having your identity card scanned a couple of times while making your way through town was only a minor inconvenience. Sure, there was the occasional waste-of-space policeman who would go out of his way to make your life more difficult, and presumably feel some moral vindication out of doing so, but it was a relatively painless process.
These days, when I move between Cyprus’ two sides, the process is more painstaking. Between taking with me a proof of residency and a negative PCR test, explaining to the police where I’m going and why, and having them read letter by letter every piece of paper I’ve had to bring them, it now properly feels like I’m crossing an international border whenever I cross. For the first time in my lifetime, the north and south of Cyprus feel two different countries.
In allowing that to happen, Anastasiades has achieved more for a two-state solution than Ersin Tatar could have dreamed of a year ago. This is no secret, either. A prominent UBP-supporting journalist told me over a coffee that he loved Anastasiades for what he’s done to this island of late, and he was only half joking.
Speaking of Tatar, would he even have been elected had Anastasiades not closed Ledras / Lokmacı a year ago? Cyprus’ most prominent supporter of a two-state solution won the presidency by a little over four thousand votes, and small margins such as that suggest that decisions such as the one to shut Ledras / Lokmacı could have made all the difference. If he truly wants reunification, Anastasiades will now have to convince his opposite number that it is a good idea, which will be especially difficult, given that it seems he can barely convince himself.
What we have seen here is a continuation of the Greek Cypriot leadership’s “tactic” of attempting to isolate and force the Turkish Cypriots into submission. At various points throughout history, the Greek Cypriot leadership has chosen to try to cut the Turkish Cypriots off from the world as much as possible, in the hope that they’ll come running back and accept whatever conditions are offered to them. If it worked, it would be extortion, but it doesn’t. On most occasions, it has the opposite effect, and pushes the Turkish Cypriots closer to Turkey.
Whether it was the enclaves of 1963, the stalling of negotiations in 1974, voting down the Annan Plan in 2004, or closing Ledras / Lokmacı last year, it has never worked. There are rumours now of them potentially banning British non-residents (i.e. the largest and most financially important demographic of tourists for both sides of the island) from crossing under any circumstance. If this were to become law, it would be proof that the Greek Cypriot leadership have learnt absolutely nothing in sixty years.
Therein lies the overarching problem. When Anastiasiades reflects on the closing of Ledras / Lokmacı a year ago today, he probably doesn’t see the trail of destruction and the potential death of any last hope for a reunified Cyprus. He probably thinks that the Turkish Cypriots will come running back to him any moment now – just like Makarios did in 1963. Instead, he may arrive in Geneva in April to find the Turkish Cypriots running in the other direction.
Source: Cyprium News https://cypriumnews.com/2021/02/28/hwit-anastasiades-kill-reunification/?fbclid=IwAR1fw7wAMcsk-v5HQTrM63R7slB7vcqL-xtpUMRlvoTd4GHxVVkSSlKNNd0