On Divided Cyprus, Greeks and Turks Find Measure of Harmony in Pyla
The village of Pyla is a Mediterranean anomaly, the only place where Greek Cypriots live in relative harmony next door to Turkish Cypriots, where Greek and Turkish flags snap in the sea breeze over two local schools, and where there is still a mayor for each community.
Pyla is in the buffer zone established by the United Nations after the 1974 invasion of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces.
Because of an accident of geography, neither side rules here. Security is looked after by five smiling Swedish policemen in khaki shorts who serve coffee or cocktails to visitors.
The town’s location, in the “dead zone” between the two sides, has been turned to financial advantage by both--from the restaurants that attract tourists by serving delicious fresh prawns imported from Turkey to the shops that sell counterfeit sporting goods and bootleg whiskey, both unavailable in the Greek Cypriot portion of the island.
Every day, after work on the surrounding farms, the village’s adult males filter into the village for a drink. Greek Cypriots go to the Greek cafe to read Greek newspapers and joke in Greek and drink “Cyprus coffee.” Turkish Cypriots go next door to the Turkish cafe, where they order Turkish coffee and the newspapers from Ankara.
Don’t Even Nod Hello
Everyone is polite, especially while a blue-helmeted U.N. soldier stands guard over the square, but the two sides don’t mix. They don’t even nod hello in the street.
Pyla’s town square tells the visitor a lot about this village of 1,064 (709 Greek Cypriots, 355 Turkish Cypriots), and about the long-simmering Cyprus problem as a whole.
The other day, the island’s Greek Cypriot government created a stir by virtually rejecting a “draft framework” for a peace settlement that had been drawn up by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and accepted by the Turkish Cypriots.
“I am concerned about the dangers inherent in the present situation,” Perez de Cuellar said after the Greek Cypriots made their decision on his proposal.
Later the U.N. secretary general was criticized by Greece and praised by Turkey--further evidence that the Cyprus problem is to some extent a reflection of the tension between the two countries as well as an issue between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
The fact that Greece and Turkey are strategically placed on the southeastern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and have at times come close to war over Cyprus, has officials in Washington concerned about the possibility of a further deterioration in relations.
Another concern is the future of a strategic listening post in the Troodos mountains, which is reportedly used by U.S. military personnel under the auspices of the British government to monitor Soviet activities in the Mediterranean. A Soviet delegation arrived not long ago to promote a peace initiative drafted in Moscow and the significance of this was lost on no one. The Soviet proposals, which has been accepted by the Greeks, calls for solving the Cyprus dispute at an international conference in which they would participate. It calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and the closing of all bases, a point that seems to be directed at the British, who have sovereign rights over two bases, Dhekelia and Akrotiri, as well as the Troodos communications site.
Britain ruled Cyprus from 1914 until the island was granted independence as a single, unitary state in 1960.
But such international concerns seem remote in Pyla, where people worry about more prosaic problems.
Greek Cypriots complain endlessly about the Turks’ failure to pay their electric power bills. The village gets its power from the Greek Cypriot south, but under the terms of disengagement cannot change the status quo in the village even to the extent of shutting off electricity.
Turkish Cypriots complain about unfair treatment at the hands of the Greek Cypriot-ruled south. They say that when the village roads were resurfaced recently, the workers left huge gaps in front of Turkish homes but exercised great care in front of Greek homes.
‘Nothing Has Changed’
“We’ve been living together for decades and nothing has changed,” said the town’s Greek mukhtar, or mayor, Costas Mutides. “The only differences are political ones.”
Husain Ahmet, a Turkish farmer, speaks kindly of his Greek Cypriot neighbors but adds with astonishing honestly that he would never have dinner with one. “We are not mixing together much,” he said.
The Greek Cypriots are concerned about the presence of Turkish troops on the island, represented in Pyla by an observation post surmounted by the Turkish flag.
The Turkish Cypriots say that the estimated 17,000 Turkish soldiers based on the northern third of the island are the only reason the Turkish minority, who make up 18% of the island’s 650,000 population, can sleep safely after years of intercommunal tension.
The presence of the Turkish troops touches on one of the fundamental problems of Cyprus. While the minority Turkish Cypriots are backed by superior military force, the majority Greek Cypriots have succeeded in monopolizing international recognition and exploiting the island’s economic potential.
Following the Turkish invasion in 1974, which divided the island after a coup attempt by Greece, the Greek Cypriots have enjoyed steady economic growth. The crowds of tourists passing through Larnaca airport to the beaches and the construction cranes stationed virtually everywhere are testimony to the boom.
Money from Lebanon, still suffering its own civil war, and from the rest of the Middle East helped the Greek Cypriots to prosper.
Courted Arab World
Because of the economic importance of the Middle East, the Greek Cypriots have carefully courted the Arab world. Following anti-Arab riots in the Greek part of the island last summer, the government sent Cabinet ministers to Arab countries to apologize.
While the south has prospered, economic growth in the northern part of the island has been slow under Turkish control. Recognized only by Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an international outcast, reachable only through airports in Turkey. Even telephone calls and mail must come in via Ankara.
By virtually integrating with the Turkish economy--the Turkish lira is the currency in the north--the Turkish Cypriots are suffering the same economic hardships as the mainland Turks.
Security vs. Prosperity
“The problem is that neither side has much incentive to negotiate,” a Western diplomat in Nicosia said. “The Turkish side has security, which it values more than economic considerations, and the Greeks have their prosperity, which might suffer if the island is reunited.”
The latest U.N. proposal to solve the problem would have had the two communities agree on the makeup of a federal government, on which they have no major disagreement, while deferring questions about troop withdrawals to later talks. It was this approach that the Greek Cypriots rejected.
The proposed document called for a Greek Cypriot president, Turkish Cypriot vice president and a proportionally divided legislature in what Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash recently termed a “partnership state.”
But the Greek Cypriots are seeking agreement first on three other issues: withdrawal of Turkish forces on the island; international guarantees for Cyprus that would deny Turkey unilateral intervention rights, and guarantees that Cypriots will have the right to own property and settle anywhere on the island.
Greek Cypriot President Spyros Kyprianou said that failure to agree on a date for the pullout of Turkish forces before the establishment of a transitional government would have “calamitous consequences” for Cyprus’ future.
“I don’t think the Greek Cypriots will change their minds as long as the world regards them as the legitimate government of Cyprus,” Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash said in an interview after the Greek rejection of the U.N. plan.
Rejection of the U.N. proposals appears to be a calculated gamble that the Turks will not retaliate militarily. The Greek Cypriots also fear that if partition of the island continues much longer, other countries will recognize the north.
Greek Cypriot officials concede that the recent flirtation with the Soviet Union was more of an effort to get the United States involved on the Greek side than a serious overture to Moscow.