Are Greek Cypriots ready to embrace Turks?

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We are being told the peace process in Cyprus is on course and that a solution to the decades-old problem is closer than ever. It is true that Turkish and Greek Cypriots are negotiating in earnest and the leaders of the two sides of Cyprus are sending out positive signals and messages. We can at least be hopeful that finally something may be achieved on the eastern Mediterranean island.

However, when we look at the realities on the island and the negative attitude of Greek Cypriots in general, should we start thinking twice about our optimism? Do the Greek Cypriots want to live side by side with the Turks on the island? Are they ready for it?

The latest incident to come from Cyprus involves a football player who wanted to set an example of peace and friendship when he transferred from a Greek Cypriot club to a Turkish Cypriot club. Dimitris Vassiliou became the first Greek Cypriot to play for a Turkish Cypriot team. The 35-year-old player signed a contract with second division club Değirmenlik. He was scheduled to play his first game in northern Cyprus on Saturday in a game between Değirmenlik and Hamitköy. Yet, Dimitris could not travel from the south to the north to play in the game because he was blocked from doing so.

Vassiliou's transfer to the Turkish Cypriot team created an uproar among Greek Cypriots, some of whom went as far as to call him a traitor. Greek Cypriots were vocal in their anger and resentment, and their reactions came to such a point that police had to be called in to provide protection to the family home of the player in southern Cyprus. Vassiliou is on the record as saying he wanted to set an example that Turks and Greeks can at least play football together.

The Turkish Cypriot Football Federation president tried to contact his Greek Cypriot counterpart to discuss the situation but the other refused to talk to him. Ironically, while this was going on, back in Turkey a leading Greek national player, Theofanis Gekas, was being cheered by Turkish football fans as he buried defending league champions Fenerbahçe, scoring two goals to lead his Akhisar Belediyesi team to victory in the Turkish top flight. Gekas has become a favorite for both fans and the media in Turkey.

What has happened to Vassiliou does not go down well when we start talking about Turks and Greeks living together, or at least side by side, on the island. It is clear that those who cannot even digest the transfer of a second division team football player are not prepared for a greater form of togetherness. The Greek Cypriots have to address this problem. After all, it is the result the seeds of enmity sown by Greek Cypriot leaders against Turks that has brought us to this stage.

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