This is one of a series of articles from our new feature ‘Background briefing: The Divided Island‘. It is a comprehensive interactive information guide on the Cyprus problem which we are publishing at this critical moment in the settlement negotiations. There is a menu bar to the full package to the right of this article. Just click on any of the items.
Morphou, a town in north-western Cyprus, was a major stumbling block in November 2016 negotiations on territorial adjustments that would come with the island’s reunification.
The 2002-2004 Annan Plan provided for the return of Morphou town and surrounding villages to its original Greek Cypriot inhabitants.
Turkish Cypriots in Morphou voted in line with the majority of their wider community to accept the plan. They would have had up to three-and-a-half years to leave while a new town in a Turkish Cypriot-administered area was built for them and new jobs created to provide them with a living.
Now many say they are no longer willing to leave because they have lived there for more than four decades and their children were born and grew up in the town they call Guzelyurt, which means ‘beautiful land’ in Turkish.
However, Morphou, famous for its citrus production, is an emotive issue for Greek Cypriots who regard failure to hand it back as a deal-breaker. Its return would enable a significant number of Greek Cypriot refugees to move back to an area that would be under Greek Cypriot administration. This, in turn, would substantially reduce the cost of a settlement because they would not have to be compensated for the loss of their homes and land.
Moreover, if the Morphou district’s coastline is included in the area to be returned – which it was not in the Annan plan – it would help redress the imbalanced division of a key economic asset: the island’s coastline. Fifty-seven per cent of this has been controlled by the Turkish Cypriots since 1974.
A census of the island’s population in 1960 showed that Morphou was inhabited by 6,480 Greek Cypriots, 123 Turkish Cypriots and 32 Maronites. The town’s Greek Cypriots were displaced by the 1974 Turkish invasion, which radically altered its demography. Their homes and fields were taken over mainly by Turkish Cypriot refugees, most of them from the Paphos district along with some from villages in the Limassol area.
Today, Morphou and over a dozen villages nearby are home to 19,000 Turkish Cypriots, according to northern Cyprus’ ‘State Planning Organisation’. Because Morphou was always earmarked for return to an area that would come under Greek Cypriot administration, few Turkish Cypriots put down roots there, knowing they would have to move in the event of a Cyprus settlement. Seeing themselves as caretakers, few invested heavily in improving the properties they lived in. Others left Morphou over the years, moving mainly to Nicosia.
The only major investment in the Morphou district was the construction of a Middle East Technical University campus which, like roads and sewerage works, Turkish Cypriots say was built in areas that would not have been returned under the Annan Plan. The town’s nucleus has been left largely unchanged.
Since the Turkish invasion the district’s main source of wealth – citrus production – has declined drastically. This was mainly due to a European Court of Justice ruling in 1994 that prohibited European imports of citrus and potatoes bearing certificates issued by the unrecognised ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.
Another reason was the shortage of water resulting from the depletion of the Morphou aquifer.
If the current reunification talks fail, some Cypriots on both sides of the divide have expressed concern that the Morphou area’s demography could change yet again, deepening the island’s de facto division. This is because northern Cyprus now has a regular water supply piped directly from Turkey, some of which could be used to make the Morphou area fertile again. This could see more settlers coming from Turkey to work in the citrus groves along with the building of more houses to cater for them.
The following article by Michael Theodoulou was published in The Times (London) on September 3 2004 under the headline: Worship Unites Cypriots Across Divide
MOIST-EYED, they queued in the heat to kiss the icon of Saint Mamas, an Anatolian-born 3rd-century martyr, and light candles before entering the celebrated church named after him for its first religious service in 30 years.
“This is the church where I was baptised and got married,” Andreas Demetriou, 67, a retired teacher, said. Stella Savvidou, a 33-year-old social worker, said: “I want to cry with happiness and sadness.”
Some 2,000 Greek Cypriots had crossed the island’s green line into the Turkish-held north for the reopening of the church in the town of Morphou. Bishop Neophytos of Morphou delivered a stirring call for reconciliation between the estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
“We, the everyday people, cannot do anything about the walls outside us, but we can do something about the walls inside us. We can pull down the walls of fear, of prejudice,” he told the congregation inside the packed, ornately decorated, chandelier-lit church, where old men in black rubbed shoulders with young mothers cradling infants.
Last year Bishop Neophytos was prevented by Turkish Cypriot guards from holding a service in the church, famous for its rare blend of Byzantine and Gothic architecture.
Yesterday’s Mass and Wednesday’s vespers took place amid tight security. Worshippers entering the partly cloistered courtyard filed between lines of Turkish Cypriot police equipped with metal detectors. A helicopter clattered overhead.
Part of the church of St Mamas, who is depicted as a young man astride a lion and bearing a lamb in his arms, was damaged last week when a small bomb planted by suspected Turkish extremists exploded in the entrance.
Some Turkish Cypriots had complained that they did not want to wake up to the sound of church bells. None pealed at this week’s services.
Greek Cypriot nationalists also opposed the celebration, arguing that holding the services at the church, which has been used as an icon museum for the past three decades, was tantamount to accepting the loss of Greek Cypriot land and recognising the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state.
The Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church was split. One powerful bishop called the services “a blessing”, but Bishop Pavlos of Kyrenia, a district that would remain under Turkish Cypriot control in the event of a settlement, urged Greek Cypriots not to attend.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the island following a short-lived, Athens-inspired coup in Nicosia. An internationally backed attempt to reunify the island ended in failure this year when 75 per cent of
Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations peace plan which they said favoured Turkey. It was endorsed by 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots in a separate referendum in April.
Mehmet Ali Talat, the Prime Minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, had keenly supported the UN plan and agreed to the reopening of the St Mamas Church as a goodwill gesture. He strongly condemned last Friday’s predawn bombing of the church and honoured his pledge to repair the damage in time for this week’s services.
Mr Talat made a surprise appearance outside the church during the vespers, which were attended by pro-settlement Greek Cypriot politicians. He wished the worshippers well with their prayers. A bicommunal peace rally was held near the church.
Greek Cypriots said they had encountered only goodwill in the streets of Morphou. “It’s been a great chance to speak to my old Turkish Cypriot friends,” Mr Demetriou said as he stopped to shake hands with a grizzled, white-haired Turkish Cypriot who spoke Greek.
Most of the worshippers were refugees who were displaced in 1974 from homes in Morphou, which would have been returned to the Greek Cypriots under the UN plan.
Others came to show goodwill and support the cause of peace. Argyrou Efthymiou, a 55-year-old teacher, said: “I’m here because I am pro ‘yes’ (to a settlement). I’m for reuniting the country.”
Bishop Neophytos was given a hero’s welcome by worshippers when he arrived to officiate.
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