An important encounter
There is a crucial soccer match on Thursday. Turkey’s Fenerbahçe will be playing in the UEFA Europa League against southern Cyprus champions AEL Limassol.
Fenerbahçe has instructed its supporters wishing to travel to southern Cyprus for the game not to take Turkish or Turkish Cypriot flags. Why? Obviously, Fenerbahçe, one of Turkey’s most prominent clubs, is concerned with a repeat of Greek Cypriot vandalism during a basketball match against a Turkish team a few years ago. The then-President of Turkish Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat intervened at Turkey’s request and the Greek Cypriot administration reluctantly provided meager security for Turkish players and fans stranded at the ground due to Greek Cypriot fans who went berserk. The security arrangements at that game were incredibly deficient.
Fenerbahçe wants to avoid a repeat of previous unrest with a flag ban at the upcoming match, which, unlike the basketball encounter, will not be held a few hundred meters away from the Turkish Cypriot border but some 40 kilometers away in Limassol. Once stranded, there can be no hope of escaping north to safety in Turkish Cyprus.
AEL Limassol, however, issued a statement yesterday announcing not only that it had parted ways with its successful coach Pambos Christodoulou but also informing Turks that they may come to the game with whatever flag they want to carry. If Limassol has made this statement after contacting the Greek Cypriot authorities and obtaining security assurances, then there is yet another reason for everyone to celebrate. The Greek Cypriot state remembering its responsibilities and abandoning obsessive Turkish enmity even for the brief period of a football match is a reason to celebrate.
Indeed, this soccer game might be a good opportunity for social diplomacy, should Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias want to achieve a breakthrough toward a Cyprus settlement. Had he invited his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Derviş Eroğlu, Turkish and Greek leaders to the match, we might have had a four-party stadium summit.
Can you imagine Eroğlu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan driving through Metehan, crossing into south Cyprus and meeting with the Greek and Greek Cypriot leaders at the Limassol stadium? A second such summit later in Istanbul?
Would Erdoğan accept such an invitation? I do not have any doubt he would, if Eroğlu was invited as well. Of course, such an action needs a leader of caliber, and unfortunately that is scarce nowadays.
Who knows, even though going to Limassol would have symbolic importance, perhaps Erdoğan may invite the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders for the return match in Istanbul. But, before having such high hopes, perhaps we ought to wait and pray for a safe match in Limassol.