Greek school reopens in Turkish-occupied Cyprus

RIZOKARPASSO – A secondary school for Greek-Cypriot children opened its doors this week in the northern Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus for the first time since shortly after the island was divided 30 years ago. «I am very happy, this is a great day for me,» the school’s principal, Xenia Archontidou, beamed as she watched 11 students sign up for classes that began yesterday. Archontidou, in her 50s, and her husband Thassos, the maths teacher, were born and live in this small town near the tip of the Cypriot panhandle. The other teachers, expected to number about a dozen, will have to commute daily from the Greek-Cypriot side, Archontidou told AFP, and the total number of students is expected to be around 15. Books for the school, whose official names are, simply enough, the Rizokarpasso Greek Secondary School, in Turkish and, in Greek, the Rizokarpasso Gymnasium, were brought over by officials of the United Nations, which has kept a peacekeeping force on the island since 1964. Turkey’s NTV news network spoke to some of the schoolchildren, who all seemed delighted. «I am very happy to be here with my friends,» said one unidentified girl, «and to learn my lessons in my own language.» She spoke in Turkish. The town already has an elementary school – with nine pupils – that is also run by a local husband-and-wife team of teachers. In Nicosia, the Greek-Cypriot government expressed satisfaction that the first day at the Rizokarpasso school had gone without a hitch. Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said: «Today, the school opened under normal procedures, as agreed, with five teachers present on the first day. Eleven students have registered and we expect this figure to rise to 15.» He added, «The Education Ministry has not reported any problems so far.» Rizokarpasso’s original population was almost entirely Greek, but only about 300 remain today. The rest fled to the south after Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup by Greek-Cypriot ultra-nationalists aiming, at the instigation of the regime then in power in Athens, to unite the island with Greece. The Turkish invasion resulted in the de facto division of the island, and almost all Greeks in the north moved south, while Turks in the south moved north. Various attempts over the years at resolving the problem failed and the northern part of the island broke away in 1983 to form a statelet recognized only by Turkey. The latest UN-negotiated blueprint for reunification was submitted to separate referenda in the island’s two parts in April, but the plan failed when, despite a «Yes» vote by the Turks, it was massively rejected by the Greek Cypriots. A local official, Ahmet Musaogullari, told Turkey’s semi-official Antolia news agency that the opening of the school constitutes «an act of good will» by the breakaway state.

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