More than 3,000 Greek Cypriot women, protesting the division of this Mediterranean island, clashed Sunday with Turkish Cypriot policemen.
At two spots on the 180-mile-long, U.N.-patrolled Green Line that forms the border between the Greek and Turkish portions of the island, the women pushed into Turkish-controlled territory and scuffled with security forces.
Cyprus Television, the official voice of the Greek-dominated south of the island, said nine women were injured, one suffering a fractured leg. More than 50 were reported arrested by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Ten were released Sunday evening at a U.N. checkpoint here in Nicosia, the divided capital.
The demonstration, labeled Women Walk Home, was the fourth in the past three years staged by Greek Cypriots and foreign supporters to denounce the Turkish occupation of the north. The aim was to protest the division of the island and to demand the right of Greek Cypriots to return to their former homes in the north.
“We stayed two hours, and I think we made our point,” said Kathy Holmes, an Irish activist from New York who joined an American contingent of the women’s protest. “But we weren’t treated as peaceful protesters by the police.”
Prime Minister’s Wife
Another outside participant, Margaret Papandreou, the estranged wife of the Greek prime minister, declared, “The women of Cyprus have a right to return to their homes.”
Rauf Denktash, head of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the self-proclaimed northern entity that is recognized only by Turkey, dismissed the protest as a “meaningless propaganda march” and suggested that it will have a negative effect on his current U.N.-sponsored talks with Cypriot President George Vassiliou on a political solution to the division of Cyprus.
In the wake of an abortive 1974 coup against the central Cypriot government, engineered by a rightist government in Greece, the Turkish army invaded the island, vowing to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. About 200,000 Greek Cypriots were driven out of the north, and 70,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the south abandoned their homes to move in the other direction.
The division underscored the bitter communal differences in Cyprus, a former British colony where Turks and Greeks once lived in harmony but have turned against each other in the political heat of the post-World War II decades.
The U.N. peacekeeping force here vowed to prevent a confrontation between the two sides in Sunday’s demonstration but was unable to control the Greek Cypriot women, who circled Nicosia and surrounding areas in big tourist buses to disguise their targets on the Green Line.
Clash at Village
The major clash took place at the village of Lymbia, 19 miles southeast of Nicosia, where the protesters crossed into Turkish-controlled territory to occupy the Chapel of St. George, a white-washed hilltop church that the Muslim Turks have turned into a guard post. Pushing past the few U.N. troops assembled there, the women clashed with a cordon of unarmed Turkish Cypriot policemen. Turkish reinforcements, wielding batons, forced them back down the hill and arrested 32 of the protesters, none of them foreigners.
Turkish Cypriots from a nearby village watched the scuffles under banners that declared “Better Apart Than Dead.”
At Akhna, a deserted village 25 miles southeast of the capital, 21 protesters were detained by Turkish security forces after briefly occupying a church. One elderly Greek Cypriot woman, quoted by an Associated Press reporter at the scene, begged the Turkish troops to let her see her former home.
“Once again before I die,” she pleaded. “What other chance will I have?”
A LAND DIVIDED Cyprus has been split since an abortive 1974 coup against the Cypriot government by Greece led to an invasion by the Turkish army. Thousands of Greek Cypriots fled south, while Turkish Cypriots fled north.
Clashes protesting the division took place at the villages of Lymbia and Akhna.