NICOSIA, Cyprus Mending Cyprus’ 28-year division is painstaking work, and tailors on both sides of the Green Line warn it will take time to seal an accord that won’t come apart at the seams.
Cypriot leaders who resisted pressure for an 11th-hour deal last week at the European Union summit in Copenhagen are often backed by a pragmatic populace that wants a solution, but not at any price.
If and when talks conclude, reunification must proceed with care, giving Cypriot Greeks and Turks a chance to acclimatize to cultures nearly forgotten or never known.
“Slowly, slowly,” advises Costas Artemiou, 52, a Greek Cypriot, in his shop in southern Nicosia’s Old City.
Optimistic compared with others, Mr. Artemiou nonetheless remembers his friend Mikhailis, killed when Greeks and Turks split in 1974, and his brother-in-law among the more than 2,000 missing from both sides for at least 28 years.
Also fresh in his mind is the house he had just built before marrying, now occupied by Turkish troops in Byroi near the United Nations buffer-zone airport.
“Every hour, every day, every minute, this is missing from my life,” he said.
Mr. Artemiou and his family can stand at the dividing Green Line and see people in the two-story house, which his 24-year-old son, Andreas, has grown close to without ever setting foot in.
“I can remember every detail, every corner,” Mr. Artemiou said.
In northern Nicosia, Osman the tailor as he likes to be known, has reasons to be wary too.
Two Turkish-Cypriot friends were stopped on a road by Greek nationalists back in 1959, taken into a field and shot, he recalls. One survived and moved to Britain.
“If we mix again, the same things will happen. One shot will be enough for a big fire,” he warned. But “maybe in the future, who knows in 30, 40, 50 years time, maybe.”
Back on the Greek side of Nicosia, tailor Renos Stefanides remembers back 50 years when southern Cyprus was much poorer than the north is now.
“During Ramadan and Eid al-Adha we would go to the Turkish quarters at night to work six more hours for two shillings,” a small amount even then.
“We went more for the food, because there were good meals” during the Islamic holidays, and Turkish pastries were better than Greek ones, he mused.
Mr. Stefanides, now 82, and friends stayed on for dusk-to-dawn celebrations, and he said all of Nicosia flocked to the Turkish fairs.
Unlike many Greeks, he remembers that Turks were not treated well, even though civil services, the police force in particular, hired a quota of roughly 40 percent.
Mr. Artemiou recalls Turkish friend and employee Mustafa and how at the age of 22 they learned each others’ language but not each others’ last names.
If U.N. efforts to erase the Green Line succeed, Mr. Artemiou jokes, Greek Cypriots would head straight for the now-almost-mythic northern port of Kyrenia to eat fish.
He plans to go first to the home he built, and then to the Orthodox church and school in his native village of Tymbou just outside Nicosia.
While trusting the island’s ultimate fate to God, he also wants the European Union, which Cyprus will formally join in May 2004, to provide a provisional peacekeeping force and to see to it that Greek and Turkish troops leave the island.
Back up north, Osman opts for Turkish and British peacekeepers, saying of the latter: “They are almost Cypriot, they have their own [sovereign] bases” already on the island.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the northern third after a failed Athens-engineered coup sought to unite the country with Greece.
But since 1963, intercommunal strife has killed 3,000 to 5,000 people. And Osman cannot forget the violence of those years.
“They must not think God built Cyprus for the Greeks,” he said.
He likens the future to a rocky path on which he has already tripped twice.
“I don’t want to fall down for the third or fourth time, I want to live in peace.”
Osman’s client Youdjel Kioseoglu said that each side still seeks a tailor-made solution, but concludes: “We must learn to rule and be ruled together.”
Mr. Stefanides thinks mending the island’s divisions might start in schools and on work sites, with Greek contractors paying Turkish workers fair wages for jobs now held by Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Bulgarians and Romanians.
What about meetings with Turks his age so students could hear yarns about what cross-cultural life was like?
“They would think they are fairy tales,” the old tailor chuckled.
Considering the island’s painful patterns, he said that if Cyprus were a piece of clothing, “it would be a badly sewn suit.”