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The night that Ledras opened

Ι remember this day back in 2008. On 21 April 2008 I wrote:

Το άνοιγμα του οδοφράγματος της Λήδρας δεν σημαίνει λύση στο Κυπριακό πρόβλημα. Είναι όμως ακόμα ένα βήμα προς αυτήν. Σήμερα η ώρα 5μμ θα είμαστε εκεί, με σκοπό να δώσουμε ξεκάθαρο το μήνυμα της επανένωσης.
The opening of the checkpoint at Ledras does not signify the solution of the Cyprus problem. Nonetheless, it is another step towards finding a solution. Today at 5pm we will be there in order to send a clear message for reunification.

I was serving my mandatory army duty back then. It was the day that we’ve met at the checkpoint at Ledras Street. When it finally opened it was the first time Greek and Turkish Cypriots could walk to the other side of Nicosia. The opening of the checkpoints, which started in 2003 was a big bet. Our political elites had been telling us that there are too many things that differentiate the two communities and that it would be impossible to live together. Today, ten years later, we have lots of bicommunal activity to show but relatively little civil society interaction beyond the sterilized buffer zone. Nevertheless, as Cyprus Mail wrote the opening of the checkpoints changed the way we see each other. We are now “less prejudiced, more trusting of each other and more willing to live together”.

It was late in the afternoon and I was at the end of Ledras Street, a long road full of shops that unites the North and South parts of Nicosia. Guard House 317 was situated at the end of that road. International news agencies often visited Guardhouse 317 in order to take pictures for their editorials. They liked the view seen through the holes of the Guardhouse wall that looked directly into the buffer zone. That night there was no guardhouse. It had been demolished the day before in order to open a path for people to cross the checkpoint.

I didn’t cross that night. Most people didn’t. I think it was only open for a couple of hours. I had my camera with me but I couldn’t take any decent pictures because it was dark and because many people obstructed the view. Not that there was anything to see. People gathered there to witness the end of an era rather than to enjoy a spectacle.

It was a time before twitter and mobile internet became mainstream. I was sending SMS messages to a half-Greek-half-Cypriot friend who was at the time living in Thessaloniki. It was only a few years later that she decided to make the big step, move to Cyprus and start a new life here. I tried to convey the emotions I felt in a few brief lines. I was feeling optimistic. This is the main emotion that I can recall. I wasn’t sure what the opening of Ledras would bring. Nevertheless, I felt euphoric and confident. Reunification was a realistic possibility at the time. It seemed possible. If we tried hard enough we could make it.

The atmosphere was emotionally charged. Ephemeral curiosity mixed with the realisation of the historical significance of the day, along with uncertainty, optimism and some fear. I was afraid that the nationalists of both sides would yet again try to turn the situation to their advantage. They did try – to this day they claim that those that cross the checkpoints undermine the Republic of Cyprus because they indirectly recognise the authority of the North.

That night I was standing at the end of Ledras Stret trying to manage all those contradicting feelings. Despite the emotional convolution I was optimistic. Afterall, when it comes to the Cyprus problem any change is a good change. Today, I am jealous of my teenager self and of the feelings that he felt that night. I still haven’t given up, albeit with less optimism.

(Update: some minor editing because I got some dates wrong)

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