Turkish Cypriots came under attack late Monday by members of the National Popular Front (ELAM), a group founded by far-right Greek Cypriots. The attack, which left several cars damaged and two Turkish Cypriots injured, overshadows the hopeful momentum in negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots for the reunification of divided Cyprus.
Members of ELAM staged a demonstration on Monday against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) one day after it marked the 32nd anniversary of its declaration of independence, at a gathering around Ledra Palace, a crossing point between the TRNC and the Greek Cypriot part of the island. Eyewitnesses said the angry mob armed with stones and sticks attacked cars with Turkish license plates during the rally, while victims claimed Greek Cypriot police did not intervene in the incident that happened on the Greek Cypriot side.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades condemned the attack via Twitter in a message in Turkish and defined attackers as "stupid." Anastasiades said the attacks harmed efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus question. "Attacks on Turkish Cypriot citizens are unacceptable. This attack by stupid people is against the will of two communities to live together in peace. Such incidents only help boost the argument that guarantor states are needed in Cyprus and the attacks clearly aim to keep the island divided," he said.
TRNC President Mustafa Akıncı also denounced the attack and called on the Greek Cypriot administration to bring the criminals to justice immediately.
Victims said they were traveling by car in a Greek Cypriot-controlled part of the island when ELAM members hurled stones and firecrackers at their cars. One victim's eye was injured while another was hit on the chest by a projectile. Another Turkish Cypriot that was hit by stones fled to the Turkish Cypriot side of the border. The border crossing manned by a United Nations peacekeeping force was briefly closed following the incident.
Cenk Gürçağ, executive assistant to President Akıncı, was among those who welcomed victims on the border crossing. Gürçağ said the attack was originally started by a group of Greek Cypriot students and ELAM members, who then joined the mob. "It doesn't matter who carried out this attack. What matters is the harm done to the ongoing process," he said, referring to talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, which gained momentum after President Akıncı was elected last May.
Burak Anıldı, who escaped the attack uninjured, said they went through an ordeal. "We were about to enter a public building when we came across some 150 people waving Greek flags. They saw our car had a Turkish license plate and started to attack. We had nowhere to go as we were stuck in traffic. We locked the doors and desperately waited for them to leave. They damaged the car," he said. Anıldı said he saw police officers at the scene but they did not do anything to stop assailants. Ali Yurdal, another eyewitness, said attackers were mostly teenagers wearing T-shirts with ELAM emblazoned on them. "Suddenly, they attacked us. A passerby stopped them briefly. That was when we managed to flee," he said.
ELAM, founded in 2008, became a political party in 2011. It is known for its rallies against Turkish Cypriots and migrants. It has close ties with Greece's far-right Golden Dawn. Its first known attack was in 2010. In 2014, ELAM members had disrupted an event attended by Mehmet Ali Talat, the former Turkish Cypriot president.
The group's four members were jailed after an attack on a Turkish Cypriot band performing at a concert on the Greek Cypriot side of the island in 2011. Four convicts were released on Monday, hours before the attack on Turkish Cypriots took place on the border crossing.