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    Here’s what I think: Refusing help in an emergency

    Last week, the hills above Limasol were subject to devastating fires, the likes of which Cyprus has not seen in at least a generation. An unrelenting dry heat had engulfed the island in the last weeks of June, and that in combination with the apparent irresponsible nature of certain people (subject to police investigations) proved to be a perfect storm. Many homes and businesses were lost, and, tragically, four people died in the fires.

    Here's what I think: Refusing help in an emergency 1
    Tom Cleaver

    Naturally, this immediately became a crisis. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades was immediately begging Israel, Greece, the European Union, anyone for help putting the fires out. Anyone, it would turn out, except for the Turkish Cypriots. Ersin Tatar made a telephone call to Anastasiades, offering whatever help he and his community may need. Anastasiades told him he would “evaluate the offer”, and never got back to him.

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    Credit must go to Ersin Tatar in this situation – relations between Cyprus’ two sides are as frosty as they have been in my lifetime, but he should be applauded for acting with human decency and doing the right thing in this situation. Whatever you may think of his previous actions or his ideology, he is deserving of praise on this occasion. As for Anastasiades, however, I think his reaction is deserving of nothing but scorn. During a crisis as immediate and as dangerous as an out-of-control forest fire, when you’re begging the rest of the world for help, to refuse it from your closest neighbour is pig-headed and inconceivably stupid. I genuinely could not believe he would choose that moment to attempt to score nationalist points.

    The late Northern Irish politician John Humes once said “you can’t eat a flag”, and you can’t put a fire out with one either. In fact, it’s almost certain that as a consequence of refusing help from the Turkish Cypriots, the response to the fires was much slower than it could have been. Help fortunately did arrive from other countries eventually, but time was clearly lost in comparison to what a response from people and equipment already on the island could have been. I don’t know enough about the spread of fires or response times to say how many properties, or potentially even lives could have been saved if Ersin Tatar had been taken up on his offer, but it’s worth thinking about.

    I am sure they would rather the fires be put out with machinery from Northern Cyprus than see their houses burn down

    I do wonder whether those who lost their homes know that those properties were potentially sacrificed by their president on the altar of nationalism, that they could maybe have been saved if their president had swallowed his pride. I’m sure each and every one of them would rather the fires be put out with machinery from northern Cyprus, than see their houses burn down.

    That their leader disagrees is a sad state of affairs, and emblematic of the current direction of travel in Cyprus. It’s now been four years since the ill-fated Crans Montana talks, and since then we have seen nothing but unbroken and ever-faster divergence between Cyprus’ two sides. A few days after offering aid to the wildfires, Ersin Tatar claimed that “the book has been closed on federation”, and it’s difficult not to believe him. While Tatar may not have the political capital to decide what a solution will look like at the moment, he can for as long as he is in power decide what it won’t be.

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    Of course, this divergence is not at all one-sided. It was of course Anastasiades who walked away from Crans Montana, unilaterally closed the Lokmacı crossing point last year, and refused help from the Turkish Cypriots during a deadly fire. Of course, Anastasiades still tells the media and his citizens that he wants a federal solution, but hasn’t acted like it for at least half a decade. It also mustn’t go unsaid that Anastasiades has in private conversations endorsed a two-state solution, though publicly can never.

    Leaving aside the larger game for one week, however, the simple fact of the matter is this: Nicos Anastasiades saw it fit during a deadly fire to refuse urgently- and desperately-needed help in order to score political points. Whatever your political opinions may be, that should be unforgivable.

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