There is not much that can combine Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. But when wildfires broke out across the Mediterranean island last week, they put aside their differences to fight the flames together. This was so rare that the permanent representative of the United Nations in the war-torn country praised the “very positive” display of unity on Monday.
“It illustrates an essential point on this island, which is solidarity among Cypriots,” Colin Stewart said Monday after meeting Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades. “When the time came, the Greek Cypriots offered help without hesitation to the Turkish Cypriots who found themselves in this difficult situation, and I think this is a very positive thing.”
The fires reduced thousands of acres of forest to ash and forced villages in the Kyrenia mountain range to evacuate their homes. With the flames ablaze, the state called for help. The internationally recognized republic in the Greek-speaking south immediately responded by sending firefighting planes and a helicopter, as well as aid sent from British military bases in Cyprus and Israel.
Relations between the two communities, which have taken root on both sides of the cease-fire since 1974, are at an all-time low. An attempt by the United Nations to start talks last year before negotiations could begin failed. Antonio Guterres, the organization’s Secretary-General, declared that “not enough common ground” had been found.
‘They don’t want anything to do with us’
The election of Ersin Tatar, a hardliner in the separatist north, left the only thing Greek and Turkish Cypriots could agree on, a two-region federation. The Turkish Cypriot leader argues with Ankara’s open support for a two-state solution with the island being divided.
In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper last summer, Tatar complained that Greek Cypriot authorities had refused to help the north when a forest fire of a similar size broke out. “Our friends in the south don’t want anything with us,” he lamented.
Stewart, the head of the UN mission, said it was critical to prioritize confidence-building now. It concludes that “both sides need to build confidence to move forward in the political process.”
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