Fed up with separation Cypriot youths seek change

NICOSIA Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:23pm EST

1 of 2. A demonstrator sleeps in a hammock in the U.N. buffer zone dividing Cyprus, near tents pitched by Greek and Turkish Cypriots, during a protest against the island's continuous division November 28, 2011. The protest started on November 19, and demonstrators say they will not move away from the buffer zone until the island's division is resolved. Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Credit: Reuters/Andreas Manolis

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Fed up with decades of separation between Cyprus' ethnic Greek and Turkish communities and wary of reunification talks resuming Monday, Orestis Georgiou and Umut Yasar want to start a revolution.

So they have started an occupation.

Inspired by occupy movements in other countries, a handful of youths have pitched their tents in a tiny strip of no-man's land in Cyprus, one of the most potent reminders of conflict in their bullet-scarred capital.

What fuels this protest, among other things, is the youths' lack of faith in Cyprus' Greek and Turkish leaders and in negotiations, which were resuming at an abandoned airport in Nicosia as part of a fresh push for reunification.

"No one in Cyprus believes the negotiations are going anywhere. It's a game, an illusion to make the population believe they are trying reunite Cyprus. But they don't really want it because they are happy with the power they have," Georgiou said of talks that have been going on since September 2008.

Camped on a tiny sliver of land that forms part of a United Nations-controlled buffer zone in the heart of Nicosia, these 18-year-olds and their friends are calling for a return to a way of life they have never known, one in which their communities can mix freely.

"I want to see a bicommunal revolution, with people rising up from the coffee shops to start questioning the way we are living," said Georgiou, a Greek Cypriot who, despite the negative image of Turkish Cypriots passed onto him by his schooling, says he is determined to see the lifting of a 1974 ceasefire agreement that left the island divided.

Cypriots from both sides are saddled by decades of separation and mistrust.

Turkish troops invaded in 1974 and seized the northern third of the island in response to a coup by militant Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara. Greek Cypriots represent the whole of Cyprus in the EU but their authority is effectively confined to its south.

It is fitting that the youths' movement is on Ledra Street, a bustling thoroughfare where the first seeds of Cyprus's separation were sown in the 1950s.

After more than four decades of being cut by stacks of sandbags and army outposts, rival sides dismantled fortifications and set up checkpoints to regulate the flow of pedestrian traffic from one community to the other in 2008.

The United Nations controls what lies between the rival checkpoints, a corridor of crumbling and booby trapped buildings, and, since mid November, Georgiou, Yasar and their friends. The group brought tents, furniture, gas stoves, a generator and hundreds of banners.

The group is small, sometimes just Georgiou and Yasar, sometimes in the evening 30-40 people. But it is determined not to move out until the island is reunited.

"It's the new generation that is bringing these changes about," said Turkish Cypriot Yasar, who, like many of his fellow demonstrators, believes that the division of Cyprus and the inequalities of global capitalism are linked.

Normally supportive of such bicommunal activities, the U.N. forces that patrol the 180km long buffer zone did not immediately seek the removal of the protesters. But after two weeks, the peacekeepers' patience appeared to be running thin and protesters were informed that bicommunal events in the buffer zone need prior permission.

Their response: "This is not a bicommunal event. It's an occupation."

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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