For four decades, Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia had been a symbol of a divided Cyprus. And then, two years ago this April, the wall that split the capital into north and south was opened. Slowly, people who had not mingled for 44 years began to renew their ties and rediscover one another. It was a window onto what the future might bring.
Last week, I visited the Ledra Street crossing. Officially, I was there to inaugurate a reconstruction plan for buildings that had fallen into disrepair in the old buffer zone. More personally, I wanted to see for myself the divide that for too long had kept Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots apart. As I walked the street, people from both communities crowded around and began chanting, “Solution now! Solution now!”
As a Korean, I know only too well the pain of a land divided. I also know how difficult reconciliation can be. That is why I went to Cyprus — to show my personal support for the efforts to reunify the island, and to push for further progress.
Cyprus is at a critical juncture. The Greek Cypriot leader, Demetris Christofias, and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, are working hard to reach an agreement. But it will elude them without a further concerted push.
The United Nations is in Cyprus to help however it can. UN Peacekeepers have stood watch for more than 45 years. My envoy, Alexander Downer, is facilitating the negotiations.
I had lengthy discussions with both leaders — individually and together — and told them that the destiny of Cyprus is entirely in their hands. I believe that a solution is within reach.
First, there is a strong, shared commitment between Christofias and Talat. They have met almost 70 times over the past 16 months, including two weeks of intensive talks immediately prior to my visit.
Second, negotiators are finding common ground. While I was there, the leaders joined together in highlighting progress that they have already made on crucial issues such as governance and power-sharing.
Third, both sides are staying at the table. As the leaders have said, “Time is not on the side of settlement.” That is why they have committed to continue their talks, rather than pause ahead of the upcoming elections in the north in April.
Finally, Greece and Turkey — the two key regional actors — support the current talks and are willing to be helpful in finding a solution.
Building on this momentum is vital. No one is under the illusion that any of this is easy — peace negotiations never are. The issues are exceedingly complex and embedded in a troubled history.
There will be skeptics and critics every step, and there will be those who seek to divert or derail the process in pursuit of their own interests and agendas.
Courage and conviction will be required of leaders to do what they know to be right. Any agreement will face a popular referendum within both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Yet it is clear that a solution to the Cyprus problem would be overwhelmingly in the interests of the island’s people, North and South.
A settlement would also send a message to the world that disputes as long-standing and complex as that in Cyprus can be resolved peacefully. That is why, despite all the obstacles, the negotiators must persevere along the road to peace. The people’s call on Ledra Street must be heard. For Cyprus, it is time for a “solution now.”