LIMASSOL, Cyprus — The rival leaders of Cyprus attended a theatrical play on June 8 that implores the divided island’s Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities to confront the wrongs of a tortured history to drive home their shared commitment for a reunification deal.
In an added touch of symbolism, Nicos Anastasiades, the 69-year-old President of the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the 67-year-old leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, watched the play in their common hometown of Limassol, a bustling, cosmopolitan tourist resort on the island’s south coast.
It’s the first time opposing leaders in Cyprus have watched a play together in long-standing efforts to reunify the small, east Mediterranean island nation, split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
“On this island, we committed mistakes, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” Akinci said after the play. “The point is to derive lessons from these past mistakes and build a better future for younger generations.”
Akinci said Anastasiades would reciprocate a visit to the breakaway north to attend a similar event.
Anastasiades said he would ask his education minister to perform the play in all Greek Cypriot schools in order to convey the message that mistakes were made on both sides from the time the island gained independence from British colonial rule 55 years ago.
“We will work tirelessly with my dearest friend Mustafa to bring peace, to give a chance to younger generations to live in peace and prosperity,” Anastasiades said.
Anastasiades greeted Akinci on the steps of the historic Rialto Theater with some onlookers clapping their approval.
“I want a solution and this is a step forward, things can’t stand still and without bold steps forward you regress,” said 53-year-old Lefki Antoniou, a bystander who was among the crowd to cheer the two leaders on as they arrived at the theater.
The play by Turkish Cypriot poet Faize Ozdemirciler is an unbiased lamentation and a lashing out at Cypriots’ collective suffering — and responsibility — for managing to drive a wedge between both sides, said University of Cyprus Turkish studies professor Niazi Kizilyurek who helped translate the work from Turkish to Greek.
“The author engages in a dialogue with Cypriots and speaks as a Cypriot to all, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots with empathy, but also critically,” Kizilyurek said.
With skepticism widespread among a weary public on both sides of the divide after decades of failed talks, the leaders have chosen novel ways to demonstrate their determination at achieving peace.
In another first for rival Cypriot leaders last month, the two men toured both sides of the divided capital and shared local appetizers at Turkish and Greek Cypriot cafes.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said more such meetings are planned because they help foster a positive climate that he called a prerequisite to fruitful peace talks that resumed last month after an eight-month hiatus.