Nicos Anastasiades: "Historical Reference" Not a Policy Change

Αssociated press

A Cypriot military guard post flies a Greek, left, and Cypriot flags next to a Turkish military guard post with Turkish, second right, and Turkish Cypriot breakaway flags, between UN buffer zone, in Nicosia, Cyprus, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' president on Monday rebuffed claims by breakaway Turkish Cypriots that new legislation making the annual commemoration of a 1950 vote in support of union with Greece compulsory in Greek Cypriot schools threatens to derail peace talks.

President Nicos Anastasiades said in a written statement that the legislation "about a mere reference to a historical fact" in no way reflects a change in Greek Cypriot policy to reunify the ethnically split island as a federation.

He repeated his commitment to negotiating a peace accord in line with an agreed framework.

In a joint statement, Greek Cypriot political parties also condemned what they called the legislation's "deliberate distortion" by Turkish Cypriots to suggest a policy shift, something they said "hasn't been raised and will never be raised."

Cyprus' parliament passed the legislation — proposed by the far-right ELAM party — last week amid much rancor on both sides of the divide.

Officials said the commemoration would involve taking a few minutes of the school day on the anniversary of the vote to note the event and elaborate on its significance. But Education Minister Costas Kadis called the commemoration "unnecessary" since the vote is already being taught as part of the school curriculum.

The 1950 vote, in which more than 95 percent of Greek Cypriots voted in favor of union with Greece, was the precursor to a 1955 armed uprising against British colonial rule.

The island gained independence from Britain in 1960, but seething ethnic tensions buffeted the young republic, degenerating into armed clashes.

In 1974, a Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aiming at union with Greece split Cyprus into a breakaway Turkish speaking north and an internationally recognized, Greek speaking south.