The Ledras Street road-block is removed
At 9.00 a.m., on Thursday, 3 April 2008, the road-block of Ledras Street opened. The road-block – present for half a century, excluding the period of 1960-1963 – had been the symbol of Nicosia’s division. However, it has been stressed that the opening of Ledras Street does not mean that the Cyprus problem has been solved, but rather that the opening contributes to the creation of a positive climate, which is necessary for the success of the efforts for a comprehensive solution.
There was a complication on the first night of the crossing point’s operation when the agreement on the opening of Ledras Street was violated by the occupation army. This resulted in the closing of the crossing point for a few hours. Due to the seriousness of the situation, the President of the Republic deemed it necessary to interrupt his trip to London. On his arrival, President Christofias told the press that “we shall deal with the situation calmly”, and added: “I would like to inform the people of Cyprus that I do not consider Mr Talat to be responsible for these violations. I sincerely believe that he does not feel at ease with this situation either”. (04.04.2008).
On the same day, President Christofias held meetings with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Ms Elizabeth Spehar. During the meetings, according to a statement by Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou, “It was confirmed that the buffer zone fell under UN jurisdiction and that they would take on this responsibility with determination”.
The opening of Ledras Street was welcomed by international organizations and foreign governments, while the international press coverage was very positive.
How it happened
How did we come to 3 April, the day when the Ledras Street road block was removed, creating a crack in the wall that divides Nicosia?
Following the election of the President of the Republic Mr Demetris Christofias, a new momentum was given to the efforts concerning the opening of Ledras Street. During his first press conference on 19.3.2008, President Christofias stressed the Greek Cypriot side’s readiness to open Ledras Street.
With the initiative of the Greek Cypriot side, a meeting between the Presidential Commissioner Mr George Iacovou and the special representative of the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr Ozdil Nami was pursued, and finally held, under the auspices of the Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General in Cyprus, Mr Michael Møller, on 12 March 2008. During the meeting, substantive, as well as practical measures were discussed, regarding the tearing down of the road-block, a symbol of the island’s division. The ultimate goal of the meeting was to announce the opening by the leaders of the two communities, during their meeting on 21 March 2008, which was eventually achieved.
President Christofias wished, apart from the political approach of the issue, to respond to the expectations of the people and take note of their concerns on this important issue. For this he received a delegation of the Common Committee of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots for the Opening of the Pyrgos, Limnitis and Kokkina Crossing points and the Committee for the opening of Ledras Street. (18.3.2008)
The simple citizens
Moreover, following the decision by President Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr Talat for opening Ledras Street, a peaceful “demonstration” was held, on the same afternoon, at both sides of the road-block, by civil society groups, in favour of the opening of Ledras Street. Participants held signs that read slogans like “stop partition, it’s time for peace” and “solution, reunification now”. (21.3.2008)
Many shopkeepers in Ledras street are older than the crossing point itself. They had experienced the golden age of Ledras street, which used to pulsate with life, but they also lived through the sadness of division. In statements to the media on 21.03.2008, the shopkeepers expressed the hope that the partition would fall just as the wall fell one night, a year ago. In this way they would be able to increase their customers, liven up the street alleys and reopen the rusted windows and doors to welcome traditional coffee shops that would serve Cypriot sweets and beverages like in the good old times. The shopkeepers have high hopes that the opening of Ledras street will increase trade in the centre of the town and become the starting point for the development of good relations between the two communities that would break the ice.
Completion of demining
On 26 March 2008, a team of UNFICYP experts equipped with special uniforms and equipment began and completed the process of the demining of the buffer zone in Ledras street. In the following days, technical teams from both sides began work, under the supervision of UNFICYP, on clearing and asphalting the road, supporting buildings that were derelict and reinstalling electricity.
During the last four years, various efforts have been made under the auspices of the United Nations for the opening of Ledras street. Meetings of the representatives of the two communities, proposals, counterproposals, the building of a bridge (25.11.2005) and the demolition of a bridge (29.12.2006) by the Turkish Cypriots, an intervention by the Turkish army (6.1.2007), the demolition of the wall at the end of the street by the Greek Cypriots (8.3.2007), composed the story of Ledras street, but the efforts yielded no results.
The vision became a reality due to the correct and flexible handling of the issue by the new President of the Republic Mr Demetris Christofias, who within only 22 days from the official assumption of his duties, at his meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader Mr Talat under the aegis of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Cyprus Mr Michael Moller (21.3.2008), announced the opening of the Ledras street crossing point. Apart from the symbolism it encapsulates, the opening of Ledras Street will encourage contacts between the people of the two communities and help rejuvenate the trade in the area with positive results for the traders on both sides of the dividing line.
The first division line of Ledras street came in 1956 due to the conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The English colonists placed barbed wire to separate the Greek and Turkish neighbourhoods of the town. The barbed wire was removed after the signing of the agreements for the declaration of the Republic.
However, the intercommunal fighting that broke out in December 1963, in the old city of Nicosia, once more resulted in the division of Ledras street. In January 1964 the barbed wire was put back in place, dividing the capital. Specifically, following a British initiative headed by the British Secretary for Commonwealth Relations Dunkan Sands, an agreement was signed on 30 December 1963 between the leaders of the two communities, putting an end to the hostilities. Based on this agreement, Joint Force Commander General Young marked on the map of Nicosia a line between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot positions. For this he used a green felt-tip pen, and thus the “Green Line” came into being, which divided the capital into the Greek and Turkish sectors.
In 1968 “a crack” was opened in the dividing wall, with the easing of the restrictions in the movement of Turkish Cypriots to the Greek sector. Greek Cypriots, however, were not allowed to cross over to the other side.
In 1974, the Turkish troops advanced and occupied a part of Ledras street, to the north of the position where the barbed wire had been placed in 1964, reaching up to Kykkos street. Therefore, Ledras street was sealed again and remained closed until 3 April 2008.
The importance of Ledras street
As crossing points increase so does the movement of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots from and to the free areas of the Republic, thus contributing to the building of confidence between the two communities: this is something that will also help in achieving the final goal, which is none other than the reunification of the island in the framework of a solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation. The Cyprus Government has, in any case, communicated its position in favour of opening more checkpoints, and the Limnitis checkpoint in particular.
Being the main commercial street of the capital, Ledras street has always been very lively. With shops selling a large variety of goods – clothes and shoes, fabrics, textiles and jewellery – and coffee shops, Ledras street was also a meeting point for Nicosia residents – Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot – as well as others.
Following the latest positive developments, one question naturally arises of whether Nicosia’s “makridromos” (“long road”) will regain its old prestige stemming from a decades-long tradition of being the capital’s commercial centre. Only time will tell. Judging by the excitement of citizens, from both sides of the divide, the prospects seem encouraging.
10 April 2008
Press and Information Office
Photo: P.I.O Photo Archive, “Politis” Newspaper