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Cyprus’ new division: two time zones now a reality  

Ledra Street crossing: a few metres from one side to the othr but two time zones now in force

NICOSIA, aside from being the only divided capital, as of today is now also probably the world’s only city of its size to have two time zones following the decision in the north not to return to daylight-saving time, which came into effect in the early hours.

There is now a one-hour difference between the north and south of the island with the Turkish Cypriots remaining an hour ahead and while many find it amusing, there will be practical issues, especially for Turkish Cypriots who work in the south of the island.

Many saw political expediencies behind this as the ‘cabinet’ in the north took this decision last month following Turkey’s announcement that it would not return to daylight-saving time meaning it would not turn its clocks back an hour on October 30.

Actually, Nicosia, whose total area spans over 111 square kilometres, is not the smallest place to have two time zones. The top spot goes to a small uninhabited island in the Baltic Sea, Markets Fyr, which covers an area of 3.3 hectares (33,000 square metres), co-owned by Sweden and Finland. The Swedish side keeps to Swedish time and the Finnish side to Finnish time.

But Cyprus could very well now be included in the list of countries with more than one time zones, albeit much bigger ones or those with sovereignty over other areas. France for instance, has the most time zones, 12, as it also has sovereignty over a number of islands and areas in the Caribbean, Polynesia, South America and the Indian Ocean. The US and Russia have 11, whereas India and China, despite their massive size, have opted for single time zones across their entire territories.

The decision, which was announced last month was mostly met with amusement from many Cypriots on both sides.  But the ‘government’ in the north said that it was necessary for practical reasons. Last year Turkey waited a week to fall in line with the rest of the world before changing to daylight saving time, causing frustration both in Turkey and in the north as computers and smartphones automatically dialled back an hour.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had said in September that it was deemed as necessary purely for practical reasons and he dismissed arguments linking the move with political criteria. He added that they wanted to avoid problems with flight schedules, as in the north planes arrive only from Turkey. Another reason, he said, was to also avoid a change in the rules of the market and an effect on the financial sector. “If you ask me I surely do not wish for different time zones on our island,” Akinci had said.

The way out is a solution of the settlement agreement so that they could “rid” themselves from “unnatural things like this,” he added.

But despite the claim by authorities in the north that there were no political motives behind the decision, it still stirred the feelings of Turkish Cypriots, “a mixture of everything; anger, amusement, irony,” Mete Hatay researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (Prio) Cyprus Centre told the Sunday Mail.

“It is tragicomic. I don’t think Turkey was thinking of Cyprus when they made this decision but for the government (in the north), they are right wing, Turkey is their ‘motherland’,” Hatay said. He added that the decision has political implications as it puts yet another emphasises on ‘the other part’ of the island.

For Turkish Cypriot journalist Ulaş Bariş, even though the ‘official side’ in the north said it would too not return to daylight-saving time for practical reasons, the decision was related to the Cyprus problem.

“We divided this island and now we will also have two time zones. This is absurd and unacceptable,” Bariş said. “In my opinion, we have to solve the Cyprus problem to solve this”.

“This is nonsense. It will have a negative psychological effect as people will feel strange crossing to the other side and to a different time zone,” Bariş said. He added that many will need to adjust to the new state of affairs as many Turkish Cypriots work in the south and there are Greek Cypriots working in the north.

For some this is expected to have implications that might affect talks at a practical level.

“When the two leaders arrange to meet, on which side’s time will that be?  If their meeting is let’s say at 11am, will they be discussing whether it will be on the one of the other side’s time?” asked Sofocles, a 23-year-old student.

Commenting on the decision taken by the Turkish Cypriot side to implement Turkey’s decision to stick to summer time all year-round, a spokesman of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) had said that they were focusing on facilitating efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible and that it was up to the two sides “how to address such issues”.

But the prospect of a dual time zone capital, also sparked an original idea as to how New Year’s Eve could be celebrated this year.

Bicommunal couple Tanur and Michalis Tsiknakis launched the idea of a ‘Dual Time Zone New Year Party’ in Nicosia on December 31 on their Facebook page.

The idea according to the organisers is for celebrations for the New Year to begin first in the north part of Nicosia, and “after midnight we will time-travel to the south to celebrate it again in one hour”. The event, they said, will be a peaceful protest.

“The idea began as a joke. We thought about it the night Turkey had announced it wouldn’t follow the daylight-saving changes and when they decided in the north to do the same, we launched the event and it became viral,” Tanur Tsiknakis told the Sunday Mail.

She added that they thought the whole idea to have two time zones on the island was ridiculous. “We decided to actually make it like a protest to idiocy”.

Having two time zones, she said, it will be confusing. “It will be difficult as I’m a Turkish speaking Cypriot and my husband is a Greek speaking Cypriot and it will create problems. We have family on both sides of the divide,” Tsiknakis said.

So far, Tsiknakis said, around 130 people said they would attend the party and more than 260 expressed interest.

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