I had hoped that given the carnival weekend I would be able to write a more relaxed article this week, maybe going off piste and writing about the rugby or something more fun than the usual political grind, given the more good-natured feel that usually exists in Cyprus on this particular weekend.
I did not, however, countenance the ability of the Greek Cypriot administration to choose this weekend to close three crossing points including Ledras/Lokmacı, apparently in reaction to the coronavirus. On Saturday there were vehement protests against the move and of course an explosion of opinions in the media and on social media.
First of all, i’m no doctor but I don’t believe that coronavirus is anywhere near as serious a problem as it’s being painted. People love being worked into a frenzy over things these days, and this is no different. Sure, it can be very bad news for people with pre-existing health conditions, but so can flu, and you don’t see countries taking the extreme measures we have seen of late because someone’s got a bout of normal flu.
That being said, the closure of the crossing points had absolutely nothing to do with the coronavirus. It was a measure to see what the Greek Cypriot administration could get away with, with regards to cutting ties with the rest of the island; testing the waters, if you will. There are no cases of coronavirus anywhere on the island, and so closing roads between its two sides will quite obviously have no effect on it, because it isn’t here.
If the Greek Cypriot administration was really bricking it about the coronavirus, the first thing they would close would be the airports, from which you can fly direct to countries where the coronavirus actually is, rather than to places in Cyprus than it isn’t. Further, if it was about the coronavirus they would have shut all of the crossing points. Is the coronavirus a picky strain of a virus that will happily come and go as it pleases at Ledras/Lokmacı but will flat out refuse to go near Agios Dometios/Metehan? Did they ask it?
Greek Cypriot nationalists these days seem to think Cyprus stops in Nicosia, not Kyrenia
Simply put, this is an act of entrenching the division of Cyprus into the minds of the people. Another beat of the drum played by Greek Cypriot nationalists these days that says “Cyprus stops at the top of Ledras/Lokmacı, not at the Kyrenia Castle”. Permanent partition of this island is not only on the horizon now but rushing towards us at quite a rate of knots, if things keep going the way that they are.
As the news broke, protests against it were hastily organised and on Friday afternoon a couple of people had made it to the closed crossing point on Ledras/Lokmacı. On Saturday lunchtime it was more than a couple, as people came to demand to be given back their right to pass freely up and down the capital city’s main street. I was not at the protests, but following on social media I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people were there.
However, and unfortunately there does have to be a however, one of the things that happened there was absolutely unacceptable. As the protest continued on Saturday, people began to attempt to push through the line of barricades, soldiers, and policemen in order to enter the buffer zone. Up to this point, I have no problem with it. It would have been a beautiful moment when people did manage to barge past the line and defy the closure of the road, forcing it open even if just for a few seconds, and most definitely making their point.
What is not acceptable, however, is what one person actually did. As people were trying to barge through the barricades, and the police and soldiers were desperately trying to hold them back, one protester tried to pull a soldier off the barricade he was clinging to. The soldier responded by pushing back, and within a few seconds the protester had struck the soldier.
Now, whatever you may think of the soldier’s presence there, he was just following orders, and (ironically) defenceless. There’s no excuse for assaulting him at that moment, when (as far as I can see from the video) he as an individual had done nothing wrong up to that point. It was senseless, and having watched the extended video I think the protester knew it, given that he went to apologise to the soldier.
It is a shame that it happened, however, as that moment of breaking through the barrier is now tarnished with the assault of a soldier, and of course that is what most people have been talking about since. That moment is a slightly damaging one for those of us who want reunification, and the only way to move forward from it is to face up to it. No matter how right we believe we are, we must be open and honest when people do wrong in our name, and we definitely do not aid our own cause by deflecting or avoiding the truth.
The Greek Cypriot right wing does not have a monopoly on emotion
The above does not negate everything else that happened yesterday; the policeman who assaulted an innocent protester deserves (but unfortunately will not receive) just as much vilification as the aforementioned protester who struck the soldier. As a general point, the Greek Cypriot police at Ledras/Lokmacı are some of the most arrogant and rude people on this island and that particular individual was a prime example of that.
The two assaults do not cancel each other out, nor are they effective arguments against each other. Two assaults took place on Ledras/Lokmacı on Saturday. Neither was pretty, neither was right, and neither was justified, and nobody wins anything by pretending that that is not the case.
Assaults aside, however, the protesters are right. As I’ve said, if the Greek Cypriot administration really believes that its borders are in Kyrenia, then it must begin to act like it, and reopen the closed gates in the middle of Nicosia.
Whatever people’s political views may be, I think everyone should accept that moving freely around this island should be a basic right, and before anyone jumps down my throat about 1974, allow me to say this: the Greek Cypriot right wing does not have a monopoly on emotion. Look at Saturday’s protest for long enough and you’ll see what I mean.
Your emotions are not more important than theirs
There were elderly people who lived it all and at the very least just want to be able to go to and see their old villages, people who formed genuine and close friendships across the line in the last seventeen years and want that to continue, and young people who’s lives now exist on both sides of the line. I respect that for some, the emotion may be too raw to ever want to cross the green line, but I expect that those people respect in return the emotion that makes others so eager to cross it.
You as a Greek Cypriot nationalist might feel perfectly justified in your will to never see the northern third of this island ever again, but those on the other side of the argument feel just as sure about their opinions. They don’t want to have their freedom restricted. To that, you may wish to reply that it’s “the Turkish invader” doing that. My simple answer is to tell you to go to Ledras/Lokmacı and see what language is being spoken by the soldiers who are blocking the road.
In short, if you don’t like open crossing points, don’t go to one, but don’t try to stand in the way of those who want to use them. Your emotions are not more important than theirs. Next, assault is assault and both cases should be dealt with accordingly, and you’re not doing your cause any favours by pretending otherwise. Finally, if you’re genuinely petrified of the coronavirus in Cyprus, wash your hands. It’s a much more easy and effective defence against it than closing roads that lead to a place where there is no coronavirus.