Several countries came to the aid of South Cyprus following an appeal to tackle a huge wildfire in Limassol District, but offers of help from neighbouring North Cyprus were ignored, much to the disappointment of Turkish Cypriots.
The fire broke out in the village of Arakapas on Saturday afternoon and quickly spread across forest in the southeast foothills of the Troodos mountain range, killing four people.
Residents of multiple villages including Melini, Odou, Eptagonia, Sykopetra, Ora, Farmakas and Ayioi Vavatsinias were evacuated as the blaze devasted everything in its wake.
By the time it had been brought under control on Monday morning, the fire had destroyed over 55 square kilometres of forest and farmland, as well as dozens of homes and cars.
The four victims were all Egyptian nationals working in Cyprus, and were aged 35, 29, 28, and 24, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Sunday. Their charred bodies were found close to Odou 24 hours after being reported missing on Saturday afternoon.
“It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus,” Charalambos Alexandrou, director of the Department of Forests, told local media.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
These four pictures are worth five words:
“A tragedy for our #Cyprus”
Unbelievably horrific in many ways. Worst fires in the history of CY. Four lives lost…#LossOfHumanLives #Criminal #Disaster #CyprusFires #fire #fires #PrayforCyprus https://t.co/IZ3hBf4bm4 pic.twitter.com/gizJeVNyCK
— Euripides L Evriviades (@eevriviades) July 4, 2021
Ersin Tatar, President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), said Turkish Cypriots were on standby ready to help if needed.
According to a statement from the TRNC White House, President Tatar called Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiadis (pictured top), conveying his sympathies for the deadly fire, and said Turkish Cypriot firefighters were ready to assist. President Tatar had also instructed his Special Representative Ergün Olgun to follow the developments.
“Humanitarian issues are our greatest concern; such situations do not have a religion, language or race. We are ready to help if our southern neighbour so wishes,” said President Tatar.
President Anastasiades told the Turkish Cypriot leader that he would “evaluate the Turkish side’s offer of assistance”, but the offer of help was not taken up.
Despite North Cyprus being gifted a new firefighting Kamov 32 helicopter two weeks ago, and being just 40 miles (65 km) away from the heart of the blaze, the Greek Cypriot leader chose to ignore the Turkish Cypriot side, and instead issue an appeal for help from the international community.
Among those to respond were Britain, which has two military bases on the island, Israel, located 350 miles away, and Greece and Italy, which are respectively 700 and over 1,000 miles from Cyprus.
As news of the aid refusal emerged, disappointed Turkish Cypriots took to social media to convey their views.
“They [Greek Cypriot government] are very guilty here… they’ve even been condemned by Greek Cypriot citizens. To be so full hatred and pride in such a situation…” wrote İbrahim Özduran under a Facebook post about the fire by former TRNC Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay.
“Shame on the Greek Cypriot side. They mix vital issues with politics, wrote Zübeyde Tuğsal under the same post, while Esin Sevgin lamented on the failure of the two sides to co-operate given the severity of the situation. She also noted its implications for Cyprus reunification:
“Given we can’t even come together for disasters, the answer to when we can [stand together] is when they [Greek Cypriots] stop using politics as a tool, which is when? Perhaps never,” wrote Sevgin.
Activist group Young Turkish Cypriots also commented on the failure of the Greek Cypriot side to accept assistance from North Cyprus in a post on their Instagram page:
“It is a shame that the Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades has rejected Turkish Cypriot aid and support, despite people losing their lives and livelihoods. Anastasiades has instead called upon Greece, Italy and Israel to help them instead, despite being on the same island as the TRNC”.
The delayed help may have led to far more damage in South Cyprus as the fire rapidly spread across woodland within a few hours on Saturday afternoon.
Local and international firefighting aircraft managed to drop water to check the progress of the fire and reduce the risk of new outbreaks. By Monday morning, the Greek Cypriot government confirmed the blaze was under control. However, with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius and strong winds, officials warned fires could rekindle.
Greek Cypriot police said they had arrested and were questioning a 67-year-old person in connection with the blaze. The man was allegedly burning stubble, which spread to nearby dry reed and rapidly took hold.
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Last year, Greek Cypriots responded positively to an appeal for help from Turkish Cypriot authorities when a terrible fire broke out in forests around Tepebaşı, Akdeniz, Kalkanlı, and Koruçam (also known as Kormacit) in northwest Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot government sent one aircraft from the forestry department and a helicopter following conversations between President Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı last May.
“At the moment we have only provided aerial help, but we are prepared to send help on the ground if it is asked of us,” fire services spokesman Andreas Kettis told the Cyprus Mail at the time.
Cyprus has been politically divided since January 1964, with separate administrations for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The island was formally split into two ethnic zones after the 1974 War, and despite local and international efforts, there is very little official contact between the two sides.
Main image, top, of Nicos Anastasiades at the EPP Summit, Brussels, May 2019. Photo, cropped, © European People’s Party, CC BY 2.0