We used to have one of those educational toys that comes with charts of flags and capitals of the world, which my sister and I spent hours staring at on boring Sunday afternoons. It was in this way that I first learned about the island of Cyprus, with its curious shape outlined in the middle of its white flag.
The game did not specify which part of the island had that flag, nor did it reference anything to do with a division in the country. It was not until I moved to North Cyprus twenty-something years later that I learned, rather quickly, that I was living in what is arguably deemed “occupied territory”.
I’ve been living here for over a year and a half now, yet I’ve been reluctant to write about Cyprus and its “conflict” in fear that I would not, as a Latin American, truly get what the problem is between the Turkish and Greek cultures of the island and what exactly happened that led them to the uncomfortable situation they have been living for the past 40 years.
There is one Latin American, and perhaps only one, who could speak accurately and with all the needed knowledge about the Cypriot conflict: Álvaro de Soto. In 1999 the Peruvian diplomat was appointed Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Cyprus. He then spent the next five years coordinating and leading peace talks between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders, which finally culminated in a treaty being signed and then taken to a public referendum in 2004, where it would be up to the people on each side of the island to approve it. The Turkish Cypriots voted positively, welcoming the idea of a reconciliation, while the Greek Cypriots voted against the treaty, undoing in one day what had been negotiated for four years. It was at this time that Greek Cyprus was admitted into the EU, something both sides of the island had been offered if they were to reach a compromise. Not until last year, when South Cyprus filed bankruptcy and the EU had to bail them out, did Turkish Cypriots found some comfort in the 2004 episode.
Now Cyprus is back on the news. Peace talks, apparently, are to start again, as they have found natural resources that could mean that this forgotten little island might just get a bit of action. As always, where there is a natural resource to be exploited, the US stepped in to “guide the way”. Peace, it seems, is not possible when two sides hold resentments, but when they hold ambition.
In light of the light that suddenly lighted up at the end of the Cypriot tunnel, I finally resolved to put these words forward for you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions. We’ll need the voices of each side of the conflict, but this time, let us not concentrate on the politicians, but on the public who might, once again, have a chance to have the last word.