Studies show that since the opening of the border between north and south Cyprus almost 10 years ago, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lost some of their mutual prejudice, have gained more trust of each and are more willing to live together.
In a lecture commemorating the opening of the border 10 years ago, Haris Psalitis of the University of Cyprus said that since 2003, about 7.5 million crossing have taken place from the south side and 13.5 million from the north.
Most Greek Cypriots, it is said, cross to the north to visit churches and see where they used to live. Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand go over to shop.
Addressing the question of improved relationships between both communities, Psalitis said that there had been improvement but there would always be some, especially Greek Cypriots who did not go to the north because it would tacitly acknowledge the existence of the TRNC, or they did not want to spend money there and/or the idea might be emotionally difficult.
He added that merely crossing the border was not the same thing as having contact. He cited a survey made in 2011 which found that although Greek Cypriots may cross the border on a religious pilgrimage or to visit what used to be their homes, they did not have any contact with Turkish Cypriots. He also said that Turks tended to cross the border more than Greeks did.
Also, where one in three Turks reported to have a least one Greek Cypriot friend, only 15 per cent of Greek Cypriots could say the same.
Nevertheless, Greek Cypriots tend to become more trusting and less prejudiced against Turkish Cypriots once they do get to contact them, over and above the expected outcome of international studies. As a result both sides became more trusting and grew to favour reunification of the island as a result, Psaltis stated.
In a discussion with the audience, co-ordinated by Psaltis’ colleague, Nizayi Kizilyurek, one Greek Cypriot woman said that although the two communities did live together in the past, they did in fact, keep to themselves even then.
Psaltis pointed out that collective memory differs on this point. Turkish Cypriots remember being isolated from Greek Cypriots, whereas Greek Cypriots remember a time of close friendship.
“We should think about why this is”, he said.