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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Cyprus keeps its hidden barrier
By Tabitha Morgan
BBC News, Nicosia

A crossing point in Nicosia between Greek and Turkish Cyprus
The island of Cyprus has been divided in two since 1974
Although Greek and Turkish Cypriots are now able to mix together freely and cross to the opposite sides of the island there is still little trust between the two communities and relatively little contact.

The UN buffer zone - the Green Line - stretches across Cyprus from east to west and runs right through the centre of Nicosia. It is off-limits for all but UN personnel.

On either side there are several miles of derelict buildings, untouched since their occupants left in 1974.

For Greek Cypriot anthropologist Yiannis Papadakis this - largely silent - abandoned zone symbolises the two communities' reluctance to engage with each other.

"When you have a dead zone in the middle, this creates a strong dynamic of censorship on both sides," Mr Papadakis says.

There is no sign of both groups getting together
Emine Erk
Turkish Cypriot lawyer

"If a Greek Cypriot dares to mention any of the suffering of Turkish Cypriots he will be accused of talking like a Turkish Cypriot extremist. And the same goes for Turkish Cypriots."

What has developed on the island, then, is a culture of self-censorship and an unwillingness to acknowledge the wrongs done to the other community.

Change plea

In the Turkish Cypriot Museum of Barbarism there are photographs of Turkish Cypriot children slaughtered in their baths and many other images from the years of inter-ethnic conflict.

History here is recounted exclusively from the Turkish Cypriot perspective.

Local lawyer Emine Erk represents some of the families of those who were killed in the violence, whose bodies are still missing.

She believes it is time that both sides stopped exploiting the subject for political ends.

"The Turkish Cypriot missing is an issue and a wound in the north for those people - the Greek Cypriot missing is an issue, and a wound in the south," Ms Erk says.

"There is no sign of both groups getting together and realising that their grief is the same, the crime against them is the same. That's the culture that unfortunately still needs a lot of change."

'Cypriot nation'

A quiet game of backgammon takes place under the citrus trees at a Turkish Cypriot club for retired civil servants.

This is the generation that worked and lived alongside Greek Cypriots in the early days of their county's independence - when, for a few years, the two communities co-existed relatively peacefully.

Greek Cypriot refugees, 1974
Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes by war

But many Turkish Cypriots - like retired Foreign Minister Vedat Celik - argue that the island was never ethnically integrated.

"We cannot accept the Greek claim that we are all Cypriots as one people. There is no Cypriot, there is the Greek Cypriot and there is the Turkish Cypriot," Mr Celik says.

"These two communities have not merged. There were Turkish villages and there were Greek villages but even with the limited mixed areas there was the Turkish quarter, there was the Greek quarter."

Invisible barrier

Despite the fact that Cypriots can travel around their island, only a tiny group of enthusiasts has gathered for the latest bi-communal poetry reading.

"There are no results of all those 20 years of citizens being involved, like a bi-communal school, bi-communal exchanges of trade, maybe companies founded together," says Greek Cypriot Katie Economidou, a bi-communal activist.

"There are no pages on our newspaper on the life of the other side. The Green Line is open physically for us to move but there is an invisible barrier that stops us."

Removing that barrier will take more than just opening the borders.

Limited contact may be taking place at an informal level but it will need the co-operation of both communities to build institutions they can share before the psychological barriers that keep them apart can be removed.


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