I have just returned from the celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Haringey Cypriot Community Centre with which I have been closely associated throughout its history.
The Centre was conceived by a dozen local Cypriot groups in 1977 in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion which had seen the existing Cypriot communities in Haringey (already numbering between 40,000 and 50,000) augmented by some 11,000 refugees. The concept was a Centre that would bridge the communal divide (there were both substantial Greek speaking and Turkish speaking communities in the Borough) and provide support structures within the communities themselves.
Thirty years on, the Centre still flourishes, continues to act as a bridge between the different sections of the Cypriot community, and provides a range of valued services (including a luncheon club for elders and a meals-on-wheels service, classes and training, advice services etc).
Guest of honour today was the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias – quite something for a local centre to be singled out in this way by a Head of State (although he and his wife have visited the Centre in the past before he was President).
The significance, of course, is that President Christofias is now engaged in face-to-face talks with Mr Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on the island – talks which may lead to a settlement of the divisions on Cyprus.
The Haringey Cypriot Centre, where the leadership of the Centre (both Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking) cooperate together to deliver services that meet the needs of all sections of the community, is a living model of what a future united Cyprus might be.
In his speech, however, the President did not minimise the difficulties that remain. Although it is ground-breaking that 35 years after the invasion direct face-to-face talks are happening, there remain substantial issues: not least over the objective of a unified Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single citizenship and undivided sovereignty (as specified in successive UN resolutions) versus the concept of a confederation of two equal states tacitly favoured by the Turkish government.
The people of Cyprus – of all communities – deserve a successful outcome to the talks. The Community Centre in Haringey demonstrates that collaboration and cooperation between the communities can work. And in that vein, I wished the President well in his negotiations.