1 village, 2 mayors: Pyla shows peace is possible in Cyprus

A new generation of Cypriots may be ready for peace, but will old wounds sabotage the latest efforts to reunify the island?

Peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are back on after breaking down for nearly two-months

Fotini Mythilou visits her family's grave. Her older brother's remains were found earlier this year, more than 40 years after he disappeared during the 1974 conflict in Cyprus. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

The people of Pyla possess a precious commodity — what they've got in this Mediterranean village is peace.

While their island, Cyprus, is still divided into the Greek Cypriot South and the Turkish Cypriot North, Turkish and Greek Cypriots live side-by-side in Pyla, on the southeastern tip of the island.

It's one village with two mayors, to represent both communities. And both men have a message for those trying to bring peace to the island of just over a million people.

"They have to think about the following generations," said Simon Mytides, who represents the Greek Cypriots in Pyla. 

Symon Mytides, left, is the Greek Cypriot mayor of Pyla. Necdet Enver is the Turkish Cypriot mayor of Pyla. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

"Cyprus is such a small island to be divided and [for people] to be showing passports in your own country," Mytides said.

Necdet Enver, Pyla's Turkish Cypriot mayor, put it plainly when CBC News visited Pyla in February.

"One day there will be peace on the island," he said. "Why we don't do it now?"

The two sides and the United Nations are now back at the negotiating table after tensions put them on hiatus. Words like "last chance" and "historic" are in the headlines as the two sides inch closer to a deal.

It is a legacy project  for the island's leaders, but even if they can secure a deal, Cypriots will have the final say in a referendum vote.

'We should not be afraid'

Many young Cypriots are hungry for what Pyla has.

They've created an online group called Cyprus Peace Challenge where friends from both sides of the island nominate each other to post messages of peace.

The road to Pyla, a Cypriot village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived together for centuries. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

"A lot of energy has been used to keep this conflict alive," Ayse Lisa Allison said in a video post. "I believe we're at a pivotal stage in our history. We are closer to a solution that we've ever been before. And for me this is exciting, I feel very optimistic."

Zoe Panayi posted: "The past has gone and many of us are not responsible for that. Today I strongly believe it is our time to move a step further and unite the island. We should not be afraid."

Many of the young Cypriots sharing #unitedbyhope were not alive during the worst moments in the island's history, but Alexandros Demetriades was.

"I remember a lot of things," Demetriades said. "At seven, they get imprinted on your brain."

But one story of kindness amid the horror of war, he didn't hear until he was much older.  It's a story his own father, Andreas, helped write.

'You are under my protection'

Andreas Demetriades was a surgeon bracing for casualties in the summer of 1974 when Turkish troops deployed to Cyprus.

"It was hell. The bombs were coming like a rain," the elder Demetriades recalled, clearly still awed by what he saw and survived.

Greek Cypriots maintain it was an invasion. Turkey insists it was there to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority on the island, after a coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists who wanted the island to become part of Greece.

Demetriades: 'It changed my life as a human being'

6 years ago
Duration 0:54
2 men from opposite sides of a war reunite in friendship after 35 years

Ergin Konuksever, an experienced photojournalist who'd covered several wars, travelled from Turkey to cover the clash. He got shot while covering the conflict, and was rushed to a Greek Cypriot hospital.

But when he got there, the nurses who were meant to treat him starting hitting him instead, saying 'a Turk is here!'

A stranger stepped in.

"I pushed everyone away. I told them 'don't bother him!" Demetriades, the surgeon, now in his 80s said, gesturing with his hands. "I told him you are under my protection."

He operated on Konuksever's shoulder and even after that, kept a close watch.

"All night I slept nearby, so I never let him alone."

Greek Cypriot fighters are taken as prisoners of war in the summer of 1974. (Ergin Konuksever)

Konuksever was whisked out of the hospital and off the island by aid workers, and returned to his wife and children in Turkey. Dr. Demetriades returned to his patients.

"It could have been so much worse," Konuksever said, had he not encountered such a "great man."

In 2009 the two men met again, 35 years after their first encounter.

"He embraced me,' the surgeon said of the journalist. "He cried. I cried. We stayed there for two hours." They've stayed in touch since and their sons are close friends.

Konuksever and Demetriades are now grandfathers. Their lives have thrived while Cyprus, in many ways, is still stuck.

Demetriades believes the interests of Turkey, Greece, even Great Britain have always interfered in the success of peace talks. "Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci, they are not left alone," he said, speaking of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders leading the peace negotiations.

Hulya Eroz, a Turkish Cypriot-Canadian who survived the 1974 war on the island, is skeptical that after so many years a peace deal can be reached. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

If there was less meddling, Demetriades said, they would come together.

"They have no other choice. Common ideals, common future. This is life."

But not everyone is ready to forgive.

Long road ahead

Fotini Mythilou can't bring herself to imagine a reunited Cyprus, though she herself has found a measure of peace after decades of anguish. Her brother Yiorgos Mythilos was a reservist in 1974, killed by Turkish troops.

His remains were found earlier this year and she can now visit his grave regularly.

"I know what I'm going to say doesn't represent everybody, all the people, but I cannot, I feel now that I cannot eat, drink or be with the Turks together, the way they treated my brother doesn't leave me the opportunity to forgive them."

Identifying the dead and missing

7 years ago
Duration 1:30
Members of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus discuss the painstaking nature of their work to catalogue the remains of those killed or gone missing in the island's decades-long civil conflict.

Hulya Eroz, who was six when the war broke out, remembers life on Cyprus before polarization poisoned everything. 

"All of my neighbours were Greek, all my friends were Greek," she said. "Then one day the sirens went off. I just remember being so scared crying and just peeing my pants because I was so scared."

Eroz, who was visiting Northern Cyprus after living in Canada for decade, said she "doesn't hold any resentment" but isn't optimistic about the prospects for peace.

She says many Turkish Cypriots on the island fear that reunification might mean forced assimilation rather than co-existence.

But for Alexandros Demetriades, the nightmares of the bombs and violence have long faded. He sees an island ready for peace.

"People just want to get on with their lives. Peace is more important than anything else," he said.


Nil Köksal is the host of World Report, CBC's flagship national radio news show. She begins her mornings with more than a million loyal listeners. She returned from her post as CBC’s foreign correspondent in Turkey in 2018.