By Andria Kades
The crossing over by both leaders to each side of the capital on Saturday caused a bit of a frenzy with people eagerly trying to shake their hands, take selfies with them, congratulate them as they cheered “bravo” in their direction, while shops tried to make sure their stalls did not collapse when a gaggle of media pushed back by heavy security created a hectic and loud atmosphere in old Nicosia.
Children were heard shouting “mum I saw him! I saw the president!” while others called on President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to have coffee in their premises and offering them olive branches, flowers, snacks and souvenirs that traditionally symbolise keeping bad luck at bay.
In the background, a man playing music wished for peace as on lookers gazed at the historic – and symbolic- event unfolding before them with huge grins and shocked expressions at the crowds dutifully following behind chanting and applauding. “We are all Cypriot and we are all the same,” one Greek-Cypriot who crossed to the north to witness the event said.
“This is something we have been waiting for, for many years. I feel that hope is resurfacing. That there is a prospect this country can be reunited and go back to how it was before 1963,” another told the Cyprus Mail.
The leaders matched the smiles of the people as they walked through the streets in the north of Nicosia and when they finally sat down for their beverage, dozens clambered around trying to catch a glimpse or snap a picture.
Standing precariously on unsteady tables, running up stairs to catch a good angle or mercilessly pushing some very stubborn photographers and journalists, everyone was oblivious to the unseasonal heat as they tried to get an eyeful.
“I was optimistic from the first day he (Akinci) was elected,” one Turkish Cypriot woman said while another added: “We always wanted peace. Why should we fight?”
The buzzing chatter, loud shouting and music, made statements by Anastasiades and Akinci almost indiscernible but no one seemed to mind as the cameras continued to click and everyone’s smiles remained plastered on their face.
People were keen to break down the divide between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. “We are all Cypriot and we are exactly the same,” one Greek Cypriot said while another enthusiastic woman said “do you want to know how I feel?” and turned around to show the word “CYPRIOT” printed on the back of her shirt.
This spirit of kindredship was shared between most of the people present, with a lady saying “I feel there is something different in the air, a breath of optimism.”
“We are very optimistic. We hope that the two leaders grab the chance, have good chemistry and they can solve the Cyprus problem by the end of 2015,” added a Turkish Cypriot man.
The sense of euphoria did not dissipate an hour later when the leaders crossed over to Ledra Street. People were once again applauding, cheering and shouting their greetings standing up on anything they could see that would give them a good look while some ogled, stunned at the mad shower of attention following leaders around, realising that attempting to try shake their hands would probably get them trampled.
“I think this is a wonderful day and Cypriots deserve this,” one British woman said while a Greek-Cypriot grandmother said: “How do I feel today? Unbelievably great. Look, this little grandchild came to remember this day. It is the start of a great big solution and a new beginning.”
One Turkish-Cypriot described the day’s events as “fantastic. I hope we start the reunification of our island.”
Despite the general optimism, there was still some hesitance as to whether this was all a charade or an actual step to a concrete solution.
“If we don’t see anything in written form how will we be convinced? It’s been 40 years that they are mocking us with these things. How will we believe them?” a Greek-Cypriot on Ledra Street said.
“Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince us. If Turkey and particularly England and America don’t want anything, nothing will happen…It is always Turkey that wins something every time something happens. This is our complaint,” he added.
Nevertheless, the certainty is that people felt now was the time they would see a solution. “If nothing happens now, I believe it never will. I believe this is a chance for both groups. May God help us,” one man said while the leaders sat for coffee at Phaneromeni.