By Angelos Anastasiou
President Nicos Anastasiades crossed to the north on Saturday to have a coffee with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who also reciprocated with a stroll and another coffee in the Ledra and Phaneromeni area of the capital.
Each leader spent around 45 minutes on either side, walking around and talking to people on the streets. On their return to the government-controlled side, Anastasiades posted a photo with Akinci, and tweeted in Greek and English: Together we create the future #Cyprus.
He also offered Akinci an olive branch, and Turkish Cypriot negotiator Ozdil Nami a silver olive branch for his birthday, the Cyprus News Agency reported.
And following the event, the Cypriot President tweeted: “We ought to deliver peace and prosperity #ReUnited #Cyprus”.
UN mediator Espen Barth Eide joined in shortly afterward, retweeting a comment originally posted by the Finnish embassy. “History in the making in #Cyprus! Bravo @AnastasiadesCY @MustafaAkinci_1 building #trust”, it said.
In impromptu remarks after the coffee, both stressed their message of hope and expressed their determination to push their hardest for a solution.
“We received a strong message, but I want to send the strongest message that we shall work tirelessly to find a solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible,” Anastasiades said.
“We are condemned by history, it is our duty. Peace for everyone.”
“I believe that today is an important day for Cyprus,” Akinci said in his own statement.
“We would like very much to send the message of hope after so many disappointments. There is the impression that Greek and Turkish Cypriots eat and drink well together, but when it comes to discussions, not so well. We have to prove the opposite. We have made a good start but we must continue to do better. I want to give my best wishes to the Greek Cypriot community. We are determined and have the political will and the shared vision, to finally see and achieve better days for our younger generations.”
The remarks were followed by a warm handshake under extended and enthusiastic applause by the gathered crowd.
But the first reaction on the Greek Cypriot side was not a future-focused, hopeful one.
Shortly after the event was over, EVROKO leader Demetris Syllouris – ostensibly on the government coalition – said pointless social walks do Cyprus “great harm”.
“A stroll is neither good nor bad,” he said. “Many strolls, plain wandering with no result, do Cyprus great harm.”
The Citizens’ Alliance was equally dismissive, countering an assertion no one made.
“The Cyprus problem will not be solved with social meetings – it is not a social problem, but a geopolitical international problem of invasion,” the party said.
“If history was made [on Saturday], it was in that for the first time a head of state went for a stroll and a coffee in his own country’s occupied land. This was a first in global history!”
In contrast, AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou cautiously said that “although the messages so far are encouraging, messages are not enough”.
And even hardliners EDEK issued a moderate statement.
“Every social meeting undoubtedly has its own significance and may create a climate of better understanding and possible improvement of the negotiations’ climate,” it said, before warning that they shouldn’t become an excuse for further concessions on our side.
Both leaders went tie-less for the social event.
Anastasiades, surrounded by heavy security, crossed over at Ledra Street around 11am where around 100 people, including a mandolin-playing Turkish Cypriot man greeted him. Nicosia Mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis was also waiting sipping coffee and talking to Nicosia residents at a small premises next to the crossing point.
Anastasiades greeted the people gathered at the crossing and was applauded by the crowd as he crossed into the Green Line where he was met halfway by Akinci and they headed off for coffee under the media spotlight. On their way for coffee in the Buyuk Han area, both leaders spoke to shopkeepers and residents. The two leaders sat for their second coffee at the Halara cafe in Phaneromeni after strolling around the old town and talking to people. They were offered snacks and a glass of water by businessman Nicos Shacolas who waited outside his Debenhams store to greet them.
The President was accompanied by Yiorkadjis, Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides and Greek Cypriot negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis. Prominent Greek Cypriots also attended the event, including former Nicosia mayor Lellos Demetriades, who worked closely with Akinci during their common stints as mayors of the divided capital from the mid-1970s to 1990 to join the city’s sewerage system.
“I know these comings-and-goings, I did them 30 years ago,” Demetriades told the Cyprus Mail.
“Today I came here mainly to tell Akinci that I found today an old UNDP publication which contained words which we said on the occasion of the publication, and we said the same words as now. History is very funny sometimes.”
Akinci was accompanied by his spokesman Baris Burcu, Turkish Cypriot mayor Mehmet Harmanci and negotiator Ozdil Nami. “It’s a very nice, sunny day, which is telling of the importance of this occasion, that the two leaders are going to have a nice social get-together, over a cup of coffee,” Nami told the Cyprus Mail.
“I think it reflects the good mood that exists between the two leaders, and we hope it will lead us to rapid progress and a settlement as soon as possible.”
The social meetings in between official negotiations are due to become a regular thing. The next leaders’ meeting is scheduled for May 28.