By Patrick Galey, July 2, 2015, published in Business Insider


© AFP/File Florian Choblet

Famagusta (Cyprus) (AFP) – Cyprus’s Othello Tower, named after the ill-fated Shakespearean hero, reopened Thursday after a facelift with a performance of the tragedy that organisers hope will spread unity among long-divided communities.

The year-long, EU-funded project to renovate the mediaeval tower in the port of Famagusta’s 14th century castle comes as Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are locked in talks to reach a breakthrough on the decades-old split.

Thursday’s retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic love story featured actors from both communities, a rare act of cultural coexistence on an island cleaved by politics.

“We don’t have lots of opportunities for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to work together. It’s a very good opportunity to know each other and do something with art together,” said actor Vasiliki Andreou, 31.

In 1974, Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in response to an Athens-engineered coup, and later occupied the territory.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was declared in 1982, recognised only by Ankara, and decades of UN-brokered peace talks have failed to reach a peaceful conclusion.

The Mediterranean island remains split and around 1,000 United Nations peacekeepers patrol a ceasefire line that cuts through the heart of Nicosia, the last remaining divided capital in Europe.

While most of the play is set in Cyprus, Othello isn’t known for its depiction of brotherliness. But director Izel Seylani insisted the drama remained relevant to the island’s present predicament.

“It has many things in it: the desire for power. We needed to underline this,” he said as the last rays of sunlight slipped down from the stage, surrounded by ancient castle walls.

For Seylani, the location of his troupe’s performance was as significant as its content.

“Othello Tower has a value for Cyprus, the north and the south. We are sharing it together.”

Talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders restarted in May following the election of Mustafa Akinci as leader of the TRNC.

A former mayor of Nicosia and stanchly pro-reunification, analysts say Akinci’s victory could offer the best chance in years at a breakthrough to the divide.

“After the elections in the north, things are getting faster and we have more hope in this process,” Seylani said.

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