Point of no return (The Cyprus Weekly, 4 September 2015)
By Esra Aygin
More than three months after an agreement by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades to open a crossing point in Dherynia, the sides are at a deadlock over the route to be used for the crossings.
“As the political leadership, we made a decision to open the Dherynia crossing point,” announced Akinci on Tuesday, after his meeting with Anastasiades.
“An alternative route came up after the technical committee handling the issue carried out work with various authorities. There is currently no agreement between the two sides over the route in Dherynia.”
While the Greek Cypriot side is insisting that the existing one-kilometer road should be used, the Turkish Cypriot side is proposing to build an alternative road some 700 meters in the west of the existing one.
The official reasons for proposing an alternative route are that there are mines in the area and that the area is symbolic and could be a stage for provocations. Greek Cypriots Tasos Isaak and Solomos Solomou were brutally murdered in 1996 by Turkish Cypriot security forces and extreme nationalists in that area.
Isaak was beaten to death during an anti-occupation demonstration on August 11, 1996. Three days later, on August 14, Isaak’s cousin, Solomou, was shot dead as he climbed a flagpole to remove the Turkish flag during a protest that followed the funeral of his cousin.
However, the disagreement in Dherynia does not arise simply from a security concern. It is essentially the Turkish army clinging on to keep its weakening grip on the northern part of Cyprus – one of its last strongholds – and trying to prove hegemony by refusing to accommodate political decisions.
“Whenever there is an initiative to open a crossing point, we witness the same clash of powers and resistance of the status quos,” explained a source close to the Turkish Cypriot leadership, who asked not to be named. “The opening of each crossing point becomes as complicated and challenging as solving the Cyprus problem.”
Behind closed doors, the Turkish Cypriot security forces – which is under the control of the Turkish General Staff – has refused to have the mines it claims are in the area unilaterally cleared. It has also conveyed to the Turkish Cypriot leadership its concern that if the area becomes a venue of protests, angry Greek Cypriot crowds may attempt to ‘trespass’ to Varosha.
The existing road, which is currently a civilian area up to the Turkish Cypriot security forces’ barricades, runs adjacent and parallel to the fenced-off city of Varosha, which is under the control of the Turkish army.
Demonstrations are held every year in August in protest of the murder of Isaak and Solomou. A high-ranking official with the Turkish Cypriot security forces, speaking on condition of anonymity, dismissed the possibility of the presence of mines around the existing road.
Many Turkish Cypriots, who carry out their compulsory military service in Dherynia or Varosha, have their training and shooting exercises in a wide area that covers the space in question. The only place that may have mines in that area is inside the sealed-off city of Varosha, he added.
This is not the first time the army displays resistance to the opening of a crossing point, for each crossing point represents another blow dealt to their status quo.
The most renowned case was in 2005, when the Turkish Cypriot leader of the time, Mehmet Ali Talat attempted to open the Ledra Street crossing point in Nicosia.
The Turkish Cypriot security forces, again citing “security reasons” required that a footbridge be built over the existing road in Ledra Street.
Talat had to show a whole lot of negotiation skills, courage and political will to convince the army and get the bridge finally demolished a year later, suffering public humiliation by the army in the process.
In 2007, Talat said during an interview that the process of opening the Ledra Street crossing point, “inflicted many injuries upon him”.
The Greek Cypriot leadership rejected the Turkish Cypriot side’s proposal to create an alternative route for the crossings in Dherynia on several grounds.
It would be cheaper and faster to upgrade the existing road, which runs in the centre, truly uniting the city if opened. In addition, the road in question is called the “Famagusta road,” and its opening would have a strong symbolic value for the Greek Cypriots.
The Turkish Cypriot side’s proposal of an alternative road has been unpopular not only among Greek Cypriots, but has also irked many Turkish Cypriots, who are reacting on social media.
The activists of the Famagusta initiative have also been very vocal about criticising the “alternative road” proposal and are straight forwardly rejecting it.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership is working very hard to overcome the deadlock over the Dherynia crossing point, the source close to the leadership said, adding that this might take time but sounding confident that the issue will sooner or later be resolved.