The European vote in Cyprus produced a landmark result on Sunday when a Turkish Cypriot was elected as an MEP for the first time on the ethnically divided island.
The majority Greek Cypriot and minority Turkish Cypriot communities are separated by barbed wire but both sides came together to vote for candidates on the same ballot in Sunday’s vote.
Among the six MEPs elected was university professor Niyazi Kizilyurek, 59, who was on the ticket of the main Greek Cypriot opposition party, the communist Akel.
A Greek Cypriot party having a Turkish Cypriot running was unique for Cyprus, as was the stream of 5,600 voters who crossed the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to cast ballots in the government-controlled south.
Akel leader Andros Kyprianou thanked Turkish Cypriots who worked with the party saying, “peace in Cyprus cannot be prevented”.
Turkish Cypriots are considered EU citizens and have the right to run and vote in European elections, even though under the current constitution they cannot participate in parliamentary ballots in the south.
There were an unprecedented nine Turkish Cypriots in the running to be MEPs.
But the election result did little for gender equality, as Cyprus returned no women to the European Parliament.
– ‘Help overcome problems’ –
Turkey has had thousands of troops stationed in the northern third of the island since it invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek military junta-engineered coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
The northern part was declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognised by Ankara. Turkey does not recognise EU member the Republic of Cyprus.
UN-brokered efforts to reunify the island failed at a summit in July 2017, and all moves to restart the peace talks have faltered since then.
Kizilyurek, a self-confessed European federalist, campaigned on both sides of the divide on a pro-reunification platform.
The vote comes at a time of rising tensions with Turkey amid a dispute with the Cyprus government over energy drilling rights.
It is the first time since the outbreak of inter-communal violence in 1963 that a Turkish Cypriot has been elected to office in the Republic of Cyprus and given Turkish Cypriots a voice in public affairs.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades hailed the participation of Turkish Cypriots in the European elections.
“Turkish Cypriot participation creates the conditions for all citizens to understand that Europe can help us overcome problems facing the talks and create the conditions where we could be happy living in a reunited country,” he told reporters.
After Greek Cypriots failed to back a UN reunification blueprint in a referendum, Cyprus entered the European Union as a divided island in 2004. With EU law suspended in the north, Cyprus’s six MEPs have always been Greek Cypriots.