Annan plan may be key to refugees’ fate

NICOSIA – Ahmet Oral left his shoe shop behind. Andreas Gregoriou hung on to the keys to his coffee shop. Ahmet, a Turkish Cypriot, and Andreas, a Greek Cypriot, are both long-time refugees who in the near future could become part of Europe’s biggest population migration since the 1990s Balkan conflicts. A UN peace plan has raised the prospect of a reunited Cyprus after 30 years of segregation. The topic of if and when who will go where has dominated conversation since the peace plan was announced. «I never had a problem with Turkish Cypriots. I used to work with them when I was an ironmonger,» said Andreas, 78, from a village in the Turkish-inhabited north which may again become his home under the UN plan announced on November 11. «I would go back crawling on my knees,» he said, standing under a long-faded sign of a symbolic handshake between the two communities. Ahmet has no desire to return to a place he no longer considers home. «I do not view myself as a refugee. We are now established here in Girne (a town Greek Cypriots call Kyrenia),» he said. «We had the largest shoe shop in Limassol. We left everything behind, thousands of pairs of shoes.» Under the terms of the UN blueprint, some 85,000 of the 162,000 officially registered Greek-Cypriot refugees should be able to return to their homes under a Greek-Cypriot administration. About 42,000 Turkish Cypriots, some already refugees from 1974, would again be displaced when land would be returned to Greeks. Turkish Cypriots make up about 20 percent of Cyprus’s 750,000 population and control about a third of the land and nearly 60 percent of the island’s coastline. The island split along ethnic lines when Turkish troops invaded in 1974 after a Greek-Cypriot coup backed by Athens. «I heard on the radio that my village is one of the ones that the Turks will hand back but I didn’t see it printed in the papers today,» said Kyriakos, a health worker. Is it a good or bad peace plan? Kyriakos puffs on his cigarette before answering. «Frankly, if I was the government, I would throw a party,» he says. «When have the Turks ever ceded anything without a war?» Strovolos Three is the oldest of more than a dozen refugee camps in southern parts of the island. It is a cluster of apartments and detached homes made with cement slabs that leak in the winter and are unbearably hot in the scorching summer months. In typically Cypriot custom, many youngsters have long moved out to spacious homes surrounding the camp, built for them by their parents who scrimped and saved after the invasion. Some say they would not want to leave their lifestyles behind for what is, essentially, a venture into the unknown. It is a view shared by many Turkish Cypriots. Ayhan Acarkan, a former resident of Limassol, worked as a dentist and between 1970-1976 served as a member of Parliament representing Limassol. «I honestly do not think that any Turkish Cypriot who has moved from the south as a result of the Turkish intervention in 1974, and has set up their lives in the north would want to move back to live in Limassol,» Acarkan said. «How can I go back to Limassol? When I arrive there may be a home for me. I may have somewhere to open a clinic, but life does not depend only on property,» Acarkan said. «We have made this soil a nation in the north.» But former coffee shop owner Andreas has no doubts about where to spend his final days. He says he still has deeds to five properties in his now Turkish-inhabited home village of Sharri. «I’ll share the properties among my seven children and live in a room above the coffee shop,» he says. «I’ve still got the shop keys.»

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