By Stefanos Evripidou
STUDENTS of the English School deserve much more than to live in a divided country, said President Nicos Anastasiades on Thursday in an address to mark the 54th anniversary of the Cyprus Republic’s independence.
In the speech, made to a packed assembly hall at the historic inter-communal school, Anastasiades acknowledged the mistakes of the past and the failure to tackle inter-communal tensions, while also calling on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership now to take the necessary steps to redress recent provocative moves in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The president’s address was delayed by 45-minutes after a bomb threat was phoned in to a local paper a little before 9am. Members of the bomb squad were called in with their dogs to carry out a sweep of the hall, before giving the all clear.
Anastasiades said he felt privileged to address all of his compatriots, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites and Latins, as well as students from other countries, in the school, “which has a rich and proud history of more than one hundred years”.
He noted that when the school passed from colonial administration to the Cyprus Republic in 1960, there were facilities for all pupils to practice their own form of religion, while Cyprus had more than a 110 mixed villages at the time.
After independence, a board of management appointed by and accountable to cabinet was made responsible for overseeing the English School’s operations.
Up until 1974, and despite the outbreak of inter-communal fighting in 1963, the school continued serving all the communities of Cyprus, said Anastasiades.
“It thus constituted a living and bright example of the aspiration of both communities, and particularly of the younger generation, to continue to collaborate, co-operate and live together as they had been doing for centuries.”
“However, we need to be honest and acknowledge that although the Cyprus problem has been decisively shaped by a number of external factors, we, the Cypriots, have also committed mistakes.
“We must have the courage to admit that we have failed to adequately address the challenges posed by the growing tensions that infiltrated the two communities and resulted in a deterioration of inter-communal bonding,” said the president.
After the checkpoints opened in April 2003, easing restrictions on travel across the buffer zone, that same year, the English School readmitted Turkish Cypriot students for the first time in 29 years.
Currently, more than 120 Turkish Cypriot students are enrolled at the school, while three Turkish Cypriot teachers are also employed.
“I do hope that these numbers will increase even further in the years to come,” said Anastasiades.
Speaking directly to the students, he said he would work tirelessly to achieve his personal vision: “You deserve much more than a divided country and this is my duty as the President of the Republic of Cyprus: To reunite our country and provide the opportunity to your generation to live and create together, under conditions of prosperity, stability, security and safety..
“I do hope that the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community and, most importantly, Turkey will redress its recent provocations and undertake the necessary practical and substantial steps towards this end,” he added.