The Romeo and Juliet romance of a 16-year-old Greek Cypriot schoolgirl and a 17-year-old Turkish settler has stirred political passions on this divided east Mediterranean island.
The love story has underlined the deep-rooted divisions that plague Cyprus 15 years after Turkey invaded and seized the northern one-third of the island.
But it also in its own small way symbolizes hopes of reunification as leaders of the rival communities try to find ways to bring them together.
There was an uproar in the Greek Cypriot south in September when the Turkish Muslim, Cengis Coksun Seytan, and Alexia Chronia, a Christian, were married in a widely publicized Muslim ceremony in the north.
Alexia was only 15 at the time. She is only the second Greek Cypriot girl known to have married a Turk since the 1974 invasion.
Her family is part of a small, isolated Greek community in the Karpas region of the north following the flight or expulsion of 200,000 Greek Cypriots after the invasion.
Greek Cypriots Incensed
Greek Cypriots were incensed not just that one of their own would marry a Turk but one of the 50,000 mainland Turks shipped to the north to increase the Turkish Cypriot population, which is outnumbered 4 to 1 by Greek Cypriots.
The Greek Cypriots demand the withdrawal of all the settlers and about 30,000 Turkish troops from the north before a settlement can be reached on reunification.
Hard-line Greek Cypriots alleged that the girl had been kidnaped. Some officers in the U.N. peacekeeping force believe the hard-liners sought to undermine the talks between their political leaders.
The Greek Cypriot press angrily demanded action by the U.N. force, which supervises the living conditions of the Greek Cypriots left in Karpas, to rescue Alexia. High school students staged protest demonstrations demanding U.N. action.
U.N. officers reported that they found no evidence of coercion and that Alexia was happy. Greek Cypriots called that a cover-up.
Anger was fueled when Turkish Cypriot television, seen in the south, broadcast the marriage of Cengis and Alexia and announced that Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash had given the couple an expensive wedding present.
Greek Cypriot newspapers claimed that the marriage was a Turkish attempt to prove to the world that the mainland settlers were being assimilated and were even acceptable to Greek Cypriots.
In February, when Alexia crossed to the south, she claimed that she had indeed been kidnaped and forced to convert to Islam before being pushed into marrying Seytan.
A few weeks later, Seytan slipped across the so-called Green Line that divides the island to become a Christian so he and Alexia could live in the more prosperous south.
He was immediately arrested and held in jail on charges he had kidnaped Alexia and entered the republic of Cyprus illegally.
Alexia then changed her story, saying she had been forced by her own family to concoct the kidnap story to save them from the humiliation of her love for a Turk and conversion to Islam.
“I’d go to the end of the world to be with him,” she said of the curly haired Seytan.
Seytan said during a brief court appearance: “I love her. I want to see her. Why won’t they let me?”
Nonetheless, the Greek Cypriot authorities ruled that he should be deported as an illegal immigrant. They carried out the order March 14. He was flown to Athens and then to Istanbul, Turkey. Alexia said she doesn’t know what she will do, but had no plans to go to Turkey.
Some Greek Cypriots newspapers insist that Alexia’s denial of being kidnaped followed Turkish warnings they would harm her family still in the north if she told the truth.
But other newspapers have become sympathetic and urged tolerance.
“If these two youngsters are really in love, why don’t we accept the fact and let them live in peace,” the independent Epikeri weekly said in an editorial. “Why do we object so violently and fight this possibility?”