NICOSIA – Greek-Cypriot firefighters called in to help Turkish colleagues on the occupied side of the island worked with them, both drawing praise for working side-by-side while political rhetoric has become incendiary.
Fires raged across the divided island but both sides set aside differences during a time of rising tension to combat the common enemy of the blazes, a rare sign of consensus amidst much bitterness.
“It illustrates a fundamental point about this island, and that is the solidarity among Cypriots,” said Colin Stewart, the United Nations envoy said after meeeting Cypriot President Nicos Ansastasiades, who dispatched help to the Turkish-Cypriot firefighters cope with the blazes.
“When the time came, there was unhesitating and unquestioned assistance from Greeks Cypriots for Turkish Cypriots who were in this difficult situation, and I think this is a very positive thing,” said Stewart, reported the British newspaper The Guardian about a rare occurrence there.
It happened during a down period of the leaders of the two sides, Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar at a standstill about how to solve the dilemma of an island split since unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions.
The hardliner Tatar said he won’t even talk about reunification, an approach that has failed for decades, and demanded instead that the UN recognize the occupied territory where Turkey keeps 35,000 troops.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in July 2017 was at talks at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana between Anastasides and then Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci but failed to broker a deal or any progress.
The UN helped coordinate the firefighter efforts in a rare show of unity between the sides, the tension driven by political leaders although citizens groups both Greek and Turkish said they want peace.
As the flames spread, the Turkish-Cypriots appealed for help and the Greek-Cypriot side that’s a member of the European Union sent firefighting planes and a helicopter to help.
In an interview with the Guardian in the summer of 2021, Tatar complained Greek-Cypriot authorities refused his offer to help deal with fires on their side. “Our friends in the south don’t want to have anything to do with us,” he said.
Stewart, the UN mission chief, said it was vital that trust-building was now prioritised. “(Both sides) need to build trust as a foundation for finding some way to move forward on the political process,” he said, the paper reported.