In talks beginning this week in Cyprus, leaders are taking possibly crucial steps towards ending 41 years of painful, bitter division of their island.

Often described as the longest running unresolved conflict in Europe, Cyprus has been divided into a Greek and Turkish part, despite successful efforts in other parts of the continent to bring people together.

But that may now change.

Once we sort out the difficulties, then there will be no need for armies on Cypriot soil.

Mustafa Akinci, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus 

Both sides, as well as officials from Greece and Turkey - the guarantors of any deal - are more optimistic than ever and say the ingredients are there for a resolution of the dispute and the eventual reunification of the Mediterranean island. "The stars are aligned", said the British foreign secretary recently.

One reason for optimism is that the central players in the talks - which began on Wednesday - are relatively new and ready for a new approach. One of them, Mustafa Akinci, was elected president of Northern (Turkish) Cyprus just two months ago.

In an exlusive interview for "Talk to Al Jazeera", he says he is convinced recent confidence building measures agreed upon by him and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, President Nicos Anastasiades, have created a basis for constructive talks: "With my election there is hope", he says, but adds its crucial to maintain the momentum now.

The conflict goes back to 1974, when supporters of a union with Greece staged a coup. Turkey responded by invading a part of the island, in support of Turkish Cypriots.

After furious fighting between the two sides, a ceasefire agreement took effect. But, by then, the island was divided. Families lost homes in the process, personal relationships were destroyed, thousands were displaced.

The UN eventually created a buffer zone surrounded by fences and walls. But by then political trust was gone and the long road to reunification was just a distant dream.

The newly-elected President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Mustafa Akinci explains why he is optimistic that the day may finally be here for Cypriots to unite, as he sits down with James Bays for Talk to Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera