NEWS

Turkish Cypriots’ giant flag faces uncertain future

NICOSIA – Turkish Cypriots have long taken pride in their giant flag painted on mountains facing Greek-Cypriot rivals, but now – with the prospect of a settlement in the island – nationalist sentiment is in a frenzy at the possibility of wiping off the much-coveted symbol. Hardline Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, a fierce opponent of a UN plan to reunify Cyprus, lashed out at his Greek-Cypriot counterpart Tassos Papadopoulos last month when the latter reportedly asked for the removal of the flag, which Greek Cypriots see as blatant provocation. Nationalist activists are now even faced with the possibility of the flag being scrubbed off if – an event which now seems unlikely in the face of Greek-Cypriot opposition – both communities vote «yes» in separate referenda tomorrow on the UN plan to reunify Cyprus. «If anybody attempts that, blood will be shed and it will be very sad… That flag over there cannot be wiped off as long as we live here. We have taken an oath,» Tanju Muezzinoglu, the head of a «Committee for the Illumination of the Flag,» told AFP. «This flag means everything to us. It is our heart and soul. It is the symbol of Turkish soldiers,» he said. If both communities endorse the UN settlement proposal to set up a Cyprus federation of Turkish and Greek zones, the new state will have a brand-new flag with a blue, a yellow and a red stripe. It will also have a new national anthem. The current Cypriot flag, which is used only by the Greek Cypriots, features a yellow map of the island on a white background, with a green olive branch underneath. That flag would also be consigned to history. The flag of Denktash’s breakaway state in the north of Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, features white and red stripes as well as the star and the crescent of Turkey’s flag. The giant «flag,» which covers 112,500 square meters (1.2 million square feet), was painted on rocks overlooking the island’s south several years after the proclamation of the Turkish-Cypriot state in 1983. Last year, a nationalist civic group attempted to illuminate the flag amid protests from Greek Cypriots. The project was dropped.