Nicosia 20090128

Professor Padraig O’Malley and I travelled to Cyprus for a series of meetings with municipal officials and other representatives of the divided city of Nicosia. It was a busy two days, packed with many appointments. I had about one hour of free time, which I used primarily to find a gift necklace for Madame Oui. Below is a brief review of the trip.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Had to head back to my office after forgetting business cards, but Translink train and Belfast City Airport shuttle bus get me in my plenty of time for the evening flight. Get a hot meal of sausages and chips. Read The Economist on a decent bmi flight. But magic was getting out of Heathrow Airport quickly, with no luggage to collect, then taking Tube one stop to Hatton Cross with a 3-minute walk to Jury’s Inn. Airplane to hotel room door in 20 minutes.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Good sleep, plenty of time to get organised, have a continental breakfast, and get back to Heathrow. This is a more intelligent way of making a flight connection from Belfast, than a 4.00 or 5.00am wakeup for an early flight.

On the 4-hour journey to Larnaca, I finished my issue of The Economist, then read through my briefing papers for our next two days of meetings. Upon arrival, Padraig opts for the 50 euro taxi journey to Nicosia (we had just missed the rather less expensive, at 7.50 euro, shuttle bus).

Padraig and I have an enjoyable meal, recalling various political personalities, e.g. John Alderdice, John Cushnahan, John Hume, Seamus Mallon, etc. Padraig worked late on a letter to Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou, while I catch up on some blog postings.

Thursday, 29 January 2009
Thunder and lightening storm last night wakes me. It pours rain through the night. Woke up alert and took an early shower, but I go back to rest, knowing that this I won’t be able to do this for the next two mornings.

11.00 Eleni Mavrou
After a full hotel breakfast, Padraig and I head to the Mayor’s office, sans appointment. We actually see her outdoors, waving goodbye to some visiting delegation. I should have taken a photo, as it was as close to Mayor Mavrou that we were going to get. Padraig and I go to the Mayor’s office and plead our case. We get to see one of her administrative colleagues.

With a brief time gap before our next meeting, I decide to go for a walkabout, knowing this would be my best opportunity. I made the most of my hour. Drank a refreshing cold Lipton’s green tea drink, went up to a small museum with great aerial views of the entire city, including the northern side, and even managed to buy Beverley a handmade, sterling silver necklace. The pendant is of the Cypriot goddess Aprodite, which is stamped on the Cypriot euro coins.

15.00 Alpay Durduran
Alpay Durduran is the Foreign Secretary of the New Cyprus Party. Alpay emphasises the negative role of the Turkish army and the rest of the apparatus of Turkish state in the Cyprus question.

Padraig and I go through the Turkish checkpoint, and each receive a slip of paper with an official stamp. I was relieved that this stamp wasn’t placed in my passport itself. Alpay is there waiting for us, and along the way to his office, we learn that Turkish Cypriots can easily get visas to visit the USA: although their Turkish Cyprus “passports” aren’t internationally legal, the US authorities recognise them a sufficient document, and thus issue applicants a visa on a separate piece of paper.

Alpay gave us his perspective of the Cyprus question. He began with British colonial rule and the “green lines”, then the creation/entrenchment of Turkish-Cypriot enclaves after independence, and now (post 1974) a Turkish-Cypriot versus Greek-Cypriot situation. His argument was that the historic Turkish and Greek population on the island did not have a long enmity, but that real power lies with the Government of Turkey.

Upon our return to the southern side of Nicosia, I noticed how the Greek-Cypriot border officer quickly returned and dismissed our slips of paper with TRNC visa stamps, clearly demonstrating his contempt for such “invalid” documentation. He was only interested to verify that we were European citizens.

18.15 PRIO/Marios Michaelides
Marios met us at our hotel, and drove us to Ledra Palace Hotel, the venue for a PRIO Cyprus Centre report launch, “The Day After II: Reconstructed a Reunited Cyprus”. The launch event itself was good enough. I thought their projected GDP figures were wildly optimistic, at a constant 5-7% over the next 10 years (although one attendee thought reunification would produce even higher growth). But I was impressed by the last speaker’s appreciation and understanding of the Greek and Turkish banking sector, and how relatively healthy they are because of better capital ratios. This provides a good opportunity for financing this situation.

After the event, Marios escorted us to a nearby restaurant where he had made a reservation for us and a few guests, which included the Irish Ambassador to Cyprus, Tom Byron. It was a pleasant meal — I had grilled sole — and an enjoyable conversation with the Ambassador.

One of Marios’ friends (former student), walked us back to our hotel. I liked her comments about how the Greeks make fun of how much Greek-Cypiots talk about the Cyprus problem. If a Greek-Cypriot says the phrase, “Don’t forget,” a Greek will say, “Ah, you must be talking about the Cyprus problem” (regardless of whatever they were talking about).

She also told us about how Greeks don’t understand the Greek-Cypriot accent, because the Greek language that Greek-Cypriots learn from books isn’t the same as that spoken. She gave the example of her Greek-Cypriot parents trying to ask for directions, in Greek, in Greece, but the locals not understanding them. The Greek locals asked whether she and her parents were Armenian!

Friday, 30 January 2009
10.00 Cemal Bulutogullari
Cemal is the current mayor of the Turkish Municipality of Nicosia. He discussed the practice of professional counterparts cooperating. He gave the specific example of the Architecture Engineering Office, where his cousin Ahmet Hüseyin works (or worked).

12.00 Mustafa Akinci and Lello Demetriades
This was a highlight of the two-days of meetings. Akinci was waiting for us at the TMN offices, an hour before schedule. Even before we left the building, it was so obvious how highly he is regarded, as many staff went up to him to shake his hand and express their kind regards.

Akinci took us on a quick car tour through the city. This included close up views of St Sofia (?) Church (now used as a mosque) and a square that he was responsible for its renovation. We collected Lellos at Ledra Palace checkpoint, then went to a favourite restaurat of Akinci’s, called Naniz (?).

15.30 Ali Erel
Erel was the former Chairman of the Nicosia Chamber of Commerce. We met at the Cyprus EU Association. He said that in Cyprus, those suffering are not the decision makers (are not in power to make decisions that affect them). By this he meant decisions are ultimately made in Ankara, Turkey. Or as the European Court of Human Rights defines it, the TRNC is a “subordinate local administrative unit of Turkey”.

17.00 Kutlay Erk
I didn’t understand why we were meeting Kutlay Erk, the immediately previous Mayor of TMN, at the Office of the President, Mr Talat. The answer was that Erk is Mr Talat’s special representative!

For Kutlay, the priority is to preserve the identity of the city of Nicosia, which goes back 8,000 years; has been the capital of Cyprus for the past 1,000 years; has represents a melting pot of many civilisations. It is also important to preserve the cultural heritage of all sides (communities) in Nicosia. He added that unfortunately, this value doesn’t receive sufficient popular support.

He recalled a revisit to Berlin in 2005, after originally visiting that city in 1980. He said that he had difficulty during his second visit of locating where the original checkpoints were. I added that I had a similar experience, having visited Berlin in 1989 and 2007.

Kutlay said that Nicosia must become one singular, integrated city.

Saturday, 1 February 2009
I have learnt much from this brief visit to Nicosia, about the complexity of the situation. Yet I am optimistic about the political leaders’ willingness to attempt the achievement of some practical cooperation (while recognising “the Cyprus Problem” is a bigger fish). I look forward to the opportunity of returning to Nicosia. Next time, I’ll have to be better organised and include some personal time for the beaches.

Predictably, the two days of rain stops as we prepare to leave for the airport. From our hotel room balcony a long, fully arching rainbow appears. It spans both sides of the city, which I thought was a fitting ending of our trip.


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