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January 7, 2016

For first time since war, Greek Cypriots mark Epiphany in ghost town

 
January 7, 2016

FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus: For the first time in decades, Greek Cypriots celebrated Epiphany on the northern side of ethnically-split Cyprus on Wednesday, as momentum builds for a possible breakthrough this year in peace talks.

Against the backdrop of abandoned hotels and homes ringed with barbed wire, a robed Greek Orthodox priest tossed a cross into the sea, symbolising a blessing of the waters, and the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. About fifteen people plunged into the icy waters.

In Orthodox tradition, the person who retrieves the cross is blessed.

The east Mediterranean island was ethnically split in a Turkish invasion in 1974, triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Greek Cypriots live in its south and Turkish Cypriots in its north, separated by a ceasefire line monitored by United Nations peacekeepers.

Though Turkish Cypriot authorities have permitted crossings of Greek Cypriots to the north since 2003, religious events by Greek Cypriots have required permission.

In a sign of an improving climate between the two sides which many hope can translate into progress in peace talks, Turkish Cypriot authorities sanctioned the Epiphany celebrations on a beach at Famagusta for the first time since the war.