Cyprus’ ambassador to the United States visited the University on Friday amid recent news that the divided Greek and Turkish island will likely reunite and join the European Union next year.
Since 1974, the country has been split in two, with Greek Cypriots living in the north and Turkish Cypriots living in the south. The Turkish military had invaded the northern part of the island to stop a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
“The recent developments have raised hopes that we have probably entered the final path to reunification,” Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis said.
Since 1974, the United Nations has pressured Turkey, without success, to open border crossings. On April 16, Greek Cypriots signed a treaty on behalf of the whole island to join the European Union.
In a surprise move, Turkish Cypriot leaders lifted travel restrictions two weeks ago, with an enormous response.
“Thousands of people from both sides have crossed at the three checkpoints to visit their homelands,” Kozakou-Marcoullis said.
Images of Turkish Cypriots waving European Union flags and people from both sides enjoying their freedom was a reality Kozakou-Marcoullis said she had waited many years to see.
“I have been passionately reading all the stories coming from this situation,” she said. “I cannot really describe the emotions I felt and how many times I have cried.”
Kozakou-Marcoullis said Turkey has had a negative attitude toward Cyprus and leaders have argued the people cannot live in peace together.
“This has indeed proven that those skeptics were wrong,” she said. “Not only can they live together but they want to live together.”
To convince Turkish Cypriot leaders reunification was in everyone’s best interest, Kozakou-Marcoullis said, the debate was framed in the context of the European Union.
“People agreed that a united Cyprus member of the European Union would be beneficial to all,” she said.
“We believed that the very prospect of being part of the European Union would gradually bring together Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots,” she said.
History professor Theofanis Stavrou, who arranged the ambassador’s visit, said the conflict has slowly made its way into EU and international discussions.
“It’s been kind of a quiet crisis,” he said.
The ambassador’s visit was part of the 26th Annual Celebration of Modern Greek Letters, held at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Humphrey Institute Dean J. Brian Atwood said he was happy to hear about the news in Cyprus from the ambassador. Atwood visited Cyprus as an assistant secretary of state under the Jimmy Carter administration.
“The two sides are talking to one another now,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time to have the ambassador here.”
Eventually, Kozakou-Marcoullis said, Cyprus can set an example for other regions where two distinct groups of people can live in peace.
“(Cyprus represents) the coexistence between Christianity and Islam,” she said. “This could have possible spillover effects.”
Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]