Bringing Down Barriers to Peace
Cyprus has been divided since 1974. The buffer zone (or green line) stretches 180 kilometers across the island, from West to East, separating the Turkish Cypriot community in the north, from the Greek Cypriot community in the south.
The road from the village of Limnitis/Yeşilırmak leading to Kato Pyrgos runs through some of Cyprus's most beautiful areas. The two villages are just seven kilometers away from each other, one in the northern part of the island, the other in the southern. The green grass of the UN-controlled buffer zone lies in between.
The road connecting the two villages was closed in 1974. The presence of landmines and the poor condition of the alternative roads forced residents and ambulances to undertake long and difficult journeys to reach workplaces or hospitals in Nicosia.
Local economies suffered from the division. While many strong relationships existed between the two communities, they gradually grew apart over time. Civilian movements or activities in the buffer zone required specific authorization from the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
- 80,000 crossing have taken place along the newly improved road
- Travel time for ambulances cut by over 75 percent
- 90 % of youth travel to their college or university along the road
In 2010, following the agreement of the two leaders to open the new crossing – and enabled through the support of the Good Offices Mission in Cyprus and UNFICYP – the European Union (EU), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Government of Cyprus agreed to fund the upgrade of the two sections of the road, reuniting the two communities.
Since the road runs approximately 1.6 kilometres through the buffer zone and 4.4 kilometres in the northern part of the island, getting agreement on who should be entrusted with the construction proved challenging.
UNDP was called by all parties to oversee implementation of the project. UNDP designed the project, served as the liaison between the two communities, their authorities and technical departments, and secured an agreement on the design of the road and who would carry out the construction.
The feasibility study and the construction was performed through joint ventures between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot engineering and construction companies—evidence that business partnerships between the two communities are possible and valuable in terms of the benefits they can bring to the reunification process.
Specifically, the project entailed the improvement of the road alignment and the carrying capacity, the enlargement of the width for two lanes, as well as the necessary provisions for traffic management and safety. These measures led to the opening, on 14 October 2010, of the seventh crossing on the island.
Recently, the people of Kato Pyrgos described the benefits they have gained from the opening of the crossing point. Most farmers of the village produce fruit. Before the crossing was opened it took them almost six hours to reach Nicosia to sell their produce. Going through small mountains roads, and especially during the summer heat, most of their products would rot during the trip. Today, because of the new crossing, it takes them only about one hour to reach Nicosia.
The most significant advantage from a health standpoint is that ambulances now reach Nicosia General Hospital in 75 minutes, as opposed to six hours before. In addition, they can cross without significant formalities, an indication of better relations on both sides.
Before, entire families would move to Nicosia, abandoning Kato Pyrgos until the kids completed school. Now they can continue living in the village and go to school in Nicosia. Some 90 percent of local youth travel on the new road to attend their college or university.
The crossing has also strengthened families. Previously, men would leave their wives and children in the village, rent a house in Nicosia and come back during the weekends. Now they can commute.
Costas Michaelides, representative of Kato Pyrgos, said the relationship between his village and Limnitis/Yeşilırmak has improved.
“Before the crossing was opened people looked at each other with fear, considering ‘the other’ an enemy. But since the opening, we have started to mix”. On a recent day, women from Limnitis/Yeşilırmak came to Kato Pyrgos for a manicure; men drank coffee together in the local coffee shop.
Ersoy Kӧycϋ representative of Limnitis/Yeşilırmak, said business has also started to flourish. “Before the opening, my village was a dead area. Now the road is busy, and this has brought new businesses: a restaurant, two grocery shops and a market”.
Part of a larger initiative
This crossing is the third that UNDP has helped to open in Cyprus. (The other two are Zodeia/Bostancı and Ledra/Lokmacı, projects that have been fully funded by the EU).
For each UNDP has facilitated decision-making and confidence-building. UNDP has strongly promoted and supported the implementation of joint ventures between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Furthermore, it has closely supervised the implementation work outside and within the UN-controlled buffer zone.
By 2011 more than 80,000 crossings had taken place on the newly improved road. For the first time in 37 years, a strawberry festival took place in Limnitis/Yeşilırmak in June 2011, and villagers from both sides were able to attend and meet old friends thanks to the newly refurbished road.
The most recent crossings at Limnitis/Yesilirmak and Ledra/Lockmacı, as well as the five others since 2003, have created momentum behind inter-communal confidence-building. Making a tangible difference in the everyday lives of many Cypriots, the crossings have helped support the ongoing peace talks.