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The Green Line: How to stop the killing

The small island nation of Cyprus is located in the Mediterranean Sea, just over 40 miles off the coast of Turkey. Up until 1963, the island was home to peaceful Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, who, for a small time, co-existed peacefully after the island gained independence from the U.K. in 1960. In 1963, violence erupted as Greek Cypriot gunmen shot down Turkish Cypriots and evaded pursuing law enforcement in the rugged mountains of the small island. 

For the next few years, violence between the two communities grew, with Greek Cypriots seeing a union with Greece as the only possible future for the island. Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, feared that the union, known as enosis, would lead to further oppression and violence against the Turkish minority. In 1974, citing ethnic violence as a cause, Turkish forces invaded Cyprus from the north, easily forcing out Greek forces with overwhelming firepower. After a short five-day conflict, the Turkish forces had forced 150,000 Greek Cypriots out of the Turkish half of the island and controlled 40% of Cyprus. Killing squads from both sides of the conflict roamed the battlefields, killing without rhyme or reason. To quell the violence, British forces in Cyprus drew a literal line on the map, now known as the Green Line, to divide the island in two.

The line runs directly through Nicosia, the nation’s capital, and saw an almost immediate effect. Direct conflict stopped, and although there were still shootings along the Green Line for years, casualties were shockingly low for such a simple solution to a conflict that almost drew NATO into a civil war. Now, with so-called “frozen conflict zones” popping up all over the world, the question is whether the Green Line could be a good solution to other conflicts worldwide. The answer, without a doubt, is yes.

Frozen conflict zones aren’t a common occurrence worldwide, but they aren’t exactly rare, either. From the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the Donetsk region of Ukraine, plenty of nations are piling forces up on one side or another of an imaginary line, each daring the other to make the first move. Although the final solution in Cyprus might stray a bit away from an ideal one, the fact of the matter is that it’s working. Casualties in Cyprus saw an enormous drop after the implementation of the demilitarized zone, and although tensions are still high between the halves of the island, neither the Greek nor the Turkish halves have seen a marked interest in changing the way things are. Each side is more or less self-sufficient, although the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey, which means no significant trade flows through the country and the only flights coming into Ercan International Airport are from Istanbul. Sure, some of the finer details aren’t exactly desirable, but the bottom line is that nobody is getting shot. Even in South Korea, the fatalities over the DMZ, which is also a frozen conflict zone, as there was never a peace treaty signed in the Korean War, are few and far in between in the last half-century.

It’s time to face the facts; the surprisingly simple solution to a lot of conflicts is just drawing a line on a map and telling everyone to keep to one side or another. It works. It works in Cyprus, it works in Korea, it could work elsewhere. Of course, ethnic, racial and cultural tensions are harder to eliminate; that’s just a fact that we have to accept. But if the first and foremost goal is to save and preserve human life in an international conflict, the Green Line might be the next step in peacekeeping.

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