With negotiations seemingly stalled and talk of a permanent division of their island getting louder, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders decided to at least create the impression of goodwill by hosting a dinner for United Nations officials at the island's only ethnically mixed village. From the AP's report on the dinner, which took place Thursday in the village of Pyla:
The gathering in Pyla came ahead of a crucial session with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York later this month.
Accompanied by their wives, Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu braved midwinter drizzle to greet villagers and exchange New Year’s wishes in the village square before sitting down for a meal at a Greek Cypriot fish tavern, followed by coffee at a Turkish Cypriot cafe.
The event was effectively a photo-op designed to underscore the leaders’ commitment to a peace deal, even though there has been scant progress in recent months.
Straddling the U.N. controlled buffer zone in the island’s southeast, Pyla remains the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to live together since 1974, when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Although it sounds like a nice idea, even dinner can be a politically fraught event on Cyprus, where cuisine has frequently been dragged into the conflict between Greeks and Turks. Clearly aware of the culinary minefield he was about to potentially step into, Alexander Downer, the UN's Special Adviser on the Cyprus issue, tried to defuse the situation by joking with local reporters that the dinner will consist of "three courses, two courses in one restaurant and one in the other but the one in the other will be very substantial. The two will be smaller courses so it will all be perfectly symmetrical and fair.”
As any visitor to the island knows, Greek Cypriots proudly (or, perhaps, pointedly) call the thick brew they serve at the end of a meal "Cypriot coffee." And, as reported in this previous post, Greek Cypriots have also laid claim to other dishes often thought of to be Turkish, such as baklava and lahmacun. From the Turkish perspective, that's no joking matter.