By Stephen Roberts……
When a Turkish Cypriot acquaintance suggested I join him at a peace rally in the UN buffer zone in Nicosia on Monday 21st November I was initially sceptical. I said I didn’t want to stand around and listen to a load of politicians making speeches! (especially as I speak only a smattering of Turkish and no Greek). He assure me the evening would not be like that, so I agreed to go, and I’m pleased I did.
The event was organised by the Bi-communal Peace Initiative United Cyprus, which consists of 74 trade unions, civic organisations and movements on the island. It was also supported by the PEO trade union federation in the south (their equivalent of the TUC and the Solution and Peace Platform (made up of 49 civil society organisations) in the north. There were people present from across Cypriot Civil Society, from several political parties, CTP, TDP, BKP, DISY, AKEL, the Green Party, business and trade unions, young and older people.
The venue was the UN buffer zone on a site next to the Home for Co-Operation, and just opposite the Ledra Palace Hotel. It is usually a barren, vacant piece of land with just a few United Nations vehicles parked on it, but for Monday evening a stage was erected with a sound system and lights, and even some seating. The start time was advertised as 6:30/7:30, yet even with two time zones on the island in winter the advertised time was still really “Cyprus time!” I wondered if many people would turn up, especially as this was organised with only a few days notice.
Yet within half an hour of the advertised start time I saw large numbers of people coming in from north Nicosia through the pedestrian crossing point. Some were carrying political party or trade union flags, and a few had banners. I met Izzet Izcan, the Leader of the BKP (United Cyprus Party), and members of the Dev-Is trade union and the North Cyprus Journalists Union. I also spotted many faces I’ve seen in the newspapers or on TV, including north Nicosia Mayor Mehmet Harmanci, and AKEL Leader Andros Kyprianou.
By now similar numbers were arriving form the south side, many from the PEO as expected, but also a number of people from across the political spectrum. I would estimate there were a couple of thousand people there, plus about a hundred who watched the event from the high walls of Cetinkaya field.
The evening started with a performance by the BiCommunal Choir who sung songs from Cyprus in Turkish and Greek. This choir performs all over the island, and celebrates its 20 birthday next year. They were very entertaining and are well worth seeing if you get the chance.
Other groups of musicians also played traditional tunes, and we saw dancing displays too. One troupe of dancers featured a man who balanced a large stack of glasses on his head while dancing, how he did this I just don’t know, but it was so skillful.
Olive branches were given out to the crowd, and many waved these as white balloons and doves were released as a symbol of peace.
Unfortunately my language limitations meant I couldn’t understand the statement that was read out at the gathering, except for the fact that it was supported by 120 Turkish and Greek Cypriot organisations. However I was given the English translation of the wording the day after the rally, and this is below:
“We urge the leaders of the communities, Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci, to proceed urgently and courageously to overcome the final barriers of the negotiations. Reaching this agreement will be a victory for all the people of Cyprus, Every step of progress in the remaining negotiations is a victory of peace and hope that will allow our country to break free from the chains of the past, shatter the barbed wire, the structures and ideologies of hatred and division and unleash the creative energies of the future to generate the Cyprus we dream of.”
“We support the efforts for an agreed solution and we call upon the two leaders to negotiate seriously and reach an agreement that meets the expectations of the Cypriot people, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots”
Many people I spoke to at the rally were hopeful about the future of Cyprus, but in view of past history were not over-optimistic that a breakthrough would be announced after the Mont Pelerin talks. Whatever the future holds politically, the people of this island need to find a way to live on it and coexist without fear or tension. This rally showed that this can happen, but there needs to be continued communication and dialogue amongst with all those who call this island home.