NICOSIA: Ali Dnizgezn never thought that one day he would become a revolutionary. Revolt, he says, was a far-fetched notion when he moved from “lovely London” to his roots in northern Cyprus six years ago. But at 23 he embodies the growing anger and despair which pushed an unprecedented 70,000 Turkish Cypriots on to the streets this week to demand reunification.

Emboldened by international support, the protesters hint that unless the territory’s veteran leader, Rauf Denktash, takes heed, the velvet revolution may take more violent forms.

“Every night I dream of running away,” says Ali, a builder. On Sehit Zekayi street, where Ali and his wife Selma live in poverty, such sentiments are not uncommon. Next door Gulray Tutucu is sullen to the point of seething. Last week his two sickly children, who sleep in their parents’ damp-infested home, were admitted to hospital with respiratory problems. If it were not for Ali’s father, says Mr Tutucu, he and his wife would be hard pressed to survive.

“There are no opportunities, no opportunities,” he repeats. “We need a solution. We need an identity. We need to join the world.” On Friday the quest to meet all three of those demands resumed in earnest when the septuagenarian Mr Denktash renewed negotiations with his Greek rival, Glafcos Clerides, on the UN proposals to enable Cyprus to enter the EU reunited. They have until February 28 to reach agreement or see the Greek Cypriots, who were invited to join last month, accede alone.

“That’s the big date,” says Ali. “Denktash has to sign. You listen to him and all he says is how the Greeks hate us and how they want to kill us and all the terrible things they did in 1963. He only talks about the past but we’re here in the present with all of our economic problems.”

It is nearly 20 years since the north of the island declared its independence, and almost 29 years since a Greek- engineered coup prompted Turkey to invade, seize the northern third and, in the name of peace, install 35,000 service personnel.

Only Ankara recognises the state. The misery unleashed by decades of international isolation and unremitting trade blockades is now compounded by the prospect of missing EU benefits.

In sharp contrast to the unmistakably cosmopolitan Greek-controlled south, the north is engulfed in despondency. Turkish Cypriot politicians, bereft of outside contact, apologise for their old-fashioned English and visitors are welcomed by a giant yellow-and-red billboard proclaiming “The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus forever”. Middle class citizens complain about the possessions they have had to part with — cars, homes, prime land — to make ends meet.

“All these shops were open three or four years ago,” Kader Hafiz says, pointing to a row of locked premises on Mufti Raci Street. “Now they’re all closed because business is so bad.” Mr Hafiz, who came to the island with 100,000 Turkish settlers 11 years ago, expresses disquiet with Mr Denktash. “We don’t like the UN plan, because it will mean they’ll send us back to Turkey, but we like Denktash even less,” she says.

But Mr Denktash shows little inclination to reach an agreement. The UN plan, he argues, is full of “traps” that would wipe out the minority Turkish Cypriot community.

“He goes on about the past because he wants to guarantee our future,” his grandson Can Denktash, head of the Revolution Trading Company, which imports iron from Turkey, says. “We may be a minority numerically but we don’t want to be a minority in status. I think Reccep Erdogan [Turkey’s unofficial leader] is wrong [to push for a solution]. He doesn’t know what he is saying.”

This view is echoed by older Turkish Cypriots, who say the younger generation has not experienced the ethnic strife which led to the division of the island when they were pushed into ghettos in the 1960s. Then Mr Denktash symbolised the minority’s “heroic fight” against Greek Cypriot excesses.

“How can we like the Greeks?” Shazir, a shopkeeper in his 70s, says. “They made us eat vine leaves we were so hungry, and one moment they were our neighbours, and the next they were killing us.”

Saydam Broglu, a shopkeeper in his 60s, makes a different point: “Both sides I think have been given a lesson. The separation has taught us not to hate.”

Only time will tell, says Ali. But of one thing he is sure: if there is no deal on February 28 he and his wife will “make a new life” in the Greek-controlled south.

“We sneaked over recently and Selma was totally shocked. She couldn’t believe that she was actually in the same country.”—Dawn/The Guardian News Service

Opinion

Editorial

Security concerns
23 Jul, 2024

Security concerns

All stakeholders want what is best for the country and its people; their differing approaches shouldn’t be viewed with such suspicion all the time.
Frankfurt vandalism
23 Jul, 2024

Frankfurt vandalism

THE state needs to seek serious answers from the German authorities regarding the July 20 mob attack targeting...
Stressed cotton economy
23 Jul, 2024

Stressed cotton economy

DECREASING cotton production should be a worry for the government because of its socioeconomic implications. Early...
Population calamity
Updated 22 Jul, 2024

Population calamity

Pakistan can also control its growth rate by following the examples of its peers and implementing functional family planning programmes and campaigns.
Blow to occupation
22 Jul, 2024

Blow to occupation

THE International Court of Justice has delivered a legal blow to the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian...
Seeking Priya Kumari
22 Jul, 2024

Seeking Priya Kumari

PRIYA Kumari — the minor girl who vanished on Ashura in 2021 while serving water at a sabeel in Sukkur district ...