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Cyprus: the trapped treasures of a divided island

For over 40 years Cyprus has been divided between its Turkish and Greek communities. Many however strive for reunification, which could boost the island's economy.

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Cyprus: the trapped treasures of a divided island

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“Good morning everybody, welcome to this amazing walking and talking tour of the wonderful city of Famagusta,” says archaeologist and art historian guide Anna Marangou. As always, she and her fellow guide Orhan have words in Greek and Turkish to welcome their party.

Point of view

We can live together and we have proved it, because the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been working together

Anna Marangou Archaeologist & Art historian

Their bi-communal effort was one of the examples recognized by the Stelios Foundation bi-communal initiative awards.

Anna is Greek Cypriot, and co-guide Orhan is Turkish Cypriot. Together they take their fellow islanders around discovering Cyprus’s rich cultural heritage. The island has been divided since 1974, with Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north.

Today they are taking a group of Greek Cypriots around the medieval city of Famagusta, in the north. It was once Cyprus’s biggest port, and a shared past is everywhere.

“We shared this cultural heritage from the very ancient times until today. We can live together and we have proved it, because the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been working together,” says Anna.

Common prosperity is one of the driving hopes of those who strive for reunification.
Many sectors could benefit, not the least tourism.
But it is not what motivates Anna and Orhan the most.

“We are doing it, not for benefits, not to earn money, but to earn our future, and to make a good country for our future for our children and grand-children,” says Orhan Tolun.

The visit ends at one of the conflict’s most symbolic sites, Varosha, the former beachside district of Famagusta.

Under the watchful eye of the Turkish army the area has been abandoned since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled over 40 years ago.

“Filming is not allowed in the ghost town of Varosha, the symbol of divided Cyprus,” reports euronews’ Valerie Gauriat. “But if reunification took place, it could become a symbol of a new golden age for the island.”

Andreas and Ceren want to believe that.
He is Greek Cypriot, she is Turkish Cypriot. Both are architects, and are part of an ambitious reconstruction project. They imagine Famagusta as an eco-city, a possible model for sustainable development and also the flagship of reunification.

“It can become a hub of civilisations and commerce, with a Levantine coastline across. It can aim to sustain the existing buildings, preserving memories, and at the same time benefit from 21st century infrastructure and practices regarding ecological performance,” says Andreas Lordos.

For his Turkish Cypriot colleague, the project could be a model of reconciliation.

“I think this project is giving voice to many trapped souls. And we’re trying to pull them from behind this unreal curtain.These people once lived in here, and they want to live again. And half of their soul is there. And half of our soul is also empty. Because we cannot get integrated,” she says.

The Cypriot business world also strive for an integration which could boost the economy as a whole.
The president of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce north of Nicosia, believes a political solution would produce a great leap forward .

“The Turkish Cypriot community will be freed of sanctions. And we will be able to benefit from the entire Cypriot market. Not to mention other European markets.

The geopolitics in the eastern Mediterranean will benefit hugely, because it will enhance regional cooperation. The Greek Cypriot community will immediately enjoy the economic benefits of being able to trade with Turkey,” says Fikri Toros.

Meanwhile, “You still need to go through checkpoints to get from one side of the island to the other. Trade is limited by the so-called green line regulations and, in the absence of a political solution, represents less than 10% of the potential commerce,” says Valérie Gauriat.

Some companies have been able to maintain an enduring cross-border dialogue, and are merely waiting for the restrictions to be lifted says the president of the Cypriot Republic’s Chamber of Commerce in southern Nicosia.
So are foreign investors.

“The business communities are already talking to each other, about possible partnerships, joint ventures, or cooperation. Talking to investors, I believe that there will be a renewed interest for large projects. Let’s not forget that Cyprus is on the route of transporting to Europe natural gas, a lot of which has been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean basin.” says Phidias K. Pilides.

According to some recent studies economic integration could triple Cyprus’s annual growth rate and relaunch the stagnant jobs market.

Gregoris, a Greek Cypriot, and Sertac, a Turkish Cypriot, have jointly authored a report on youth unemployment, much higher in Cyprus than the EU average.

Although the causes for this differ from north to south, the effects are the same they say.

“Turkish Cypriots are under economic isolation, and this has inhibited the development of the private sector. We have many University graduates, and we don’t have many jobs for them. Unless the Turkish Cypriot private sector becomes part of the global economy, it will be very difficult for us to create high quality jobs,” says political scientist Sertac Sonan.

“Many people, especially young people, qualified people with degrees, are looking for jobs abroad. I think that if there is reunification, because of the new investments that will take place and because of the new needs that will emerge, this will be able to stop this drift of young people abroad,” says sociologist Gregoris Ioannou.

Armed with his freshly-minted International Relations degree Turkish Cypriot Hakan Çoban feels horizons in Cyprus are blocked because of a lack of a political solution. He is going to try his luck in Portugal.

“I have a couple of friends who have been studying engineering, and are still working in a bank, or in supermarkets. Because there’s no job opportunities for our youth. So I booked a ticket, I said instead of waiting here, let me go to Lisbon and apply for jobs there, but I don’t want to wait here,” he says.

Andria Georgiou is Greek Cypriot and has a Management degree. She has found a job for which she is overqualified, and underpaid, she says. She was dreaming of leaving. Not any more.

“Recently, I decided that I want to stay here, because it’s my country, and my family and my friends are here. If we all leave from here, if the young people leave Cyprus, who’s going to stay here to develop our country and make it change?”

A dream which until now has been undermined by the recurring failure of peace negociations.