It’s hard to come to Cyprus and ignore the fact that the island is split in two. On the southern side you have the Greek-Cypriots and on the northern side you have the Turkish- Cypriots, all separated by the so-called Green Line. No there is no physical green line, it’s named so because of a General Young of the British Army who used a green pencil to identify a division of political and social unrest during the 1960’s. By 1974, the line had become the permanent border between the two. The Green Line runs from one side of the island to another, in some places by walls and sentry posts, in others merely a thin strip of barbed wire – either way it’s a glaring sign that even the most peaceful of islands can fall victim political and religious differences.
Cypriots have only been allowed to cross over to the other side for the past eight years, before then it was a definite no go. But the change over those years has been dramatic, the once grey and intimidating walls with peering military eyes has now become a tourist attraction, which brings with it the tacky souvenirs and touting restaurant
This trip to Cyprus we have ventured over three times. The first was a walk over crossing at the end of Ledra Street. I remember as a youngster walking down this pedestrianised street at Christmas time, and I clearly remember reaching the bottom and having to turn back up laden with my shopping bags as you physically couldn’t go any further. Now the wall has been removed and the gates are open for business.
Susan still couldn’t quite grasp that you need to go through border control and have your passports at the ready, at this check point though they stamp a piece of paper which you fill out rather than your passport. If they did stamp your passport no other country would accept you – as technically – you have visited an illegal/non-existent country.
Once over the line it’s like a time warp. It’s the Cyprus of the 1950’s. From the architecture to the faces you meet it’s a totally different world. Remnants of the conflict are evident with abandoned buildings, bullet holes and barbed wire still seen in abundance.
The time warp continued as we made our second trip over to the harbour
of Kyrenia via the amazing St Hilarion castle and the picturesque Bellapais Abbey. St Hilarion Castle is a must for anyone crossing over the line, perched high up on the Kyrenia ranges it makes you wonder how such an architectural feat was built using donkeys and bare hands. We made the hike up the side of the mountain and apart from both of us really feeling how unfit we are, the views were out of this world. The Turks scored when they got this place!
Kyrenia harbour too is well worth a visit but has been taken over by the tourist dollar, but wondering the back streets still has its charm. A close Cypriot friend of mine explained how Kyrenia was the lovers town for the guys and gals of the 1960’s. Wooing couples would come over the mountain from Nicosia for an ice cream and a walk along the beach (her parents have now been married for over 35 years now so it must have worked!) You can see how it must have been romantic, and walking through the lanes there is evidence of a quaint, historic port. We also discovered the Sultans Delight shops – as opposed
to Turkish Delight – which is more a sweet marshmallow with nuts and fruity goodness.
Our last trip over was one that I have wanted to do since I was a child. Looking at a map of Cyprus, it has a long stretch of land that juts out eastward. We have called this the ‘panhandle’ of Cyprus and has always been a place that excited me. Of course whilst growing up I couldn’t go over thanks to the closed border but now with the freedom and a car I made sure we went. Crossing over at Famagusta, location of the famous Famagusta Fort complete with Othello tower (it’s said that Shakespeare based his play here) we made the long trek up. As is the norm with Northern Cyprus the roads were bad, the sign posts were lacking and the rubbish was everywhere but it was well worth the trip. The beautiful countryside, wild donkeys and turquoise seas made up for it.
Susan and I both perched ourselves at the tip of the island and marveled at being able to see the south and north side of the island converge at one point. You can’t help but marvel at
how much has taken place on this tiny little rock in the sea that is home to about 800,000 people.
On the journey back with visited Apostolos Andreas (Andrew the Apostle) a monastery which still bears its Greek name. The building which was first built in the 12th century is a 'Lourdes' of Cyprus with many pilgrims making their way here over the years, however since the division the magnificent building has been left to ruin. Minor restoration has been carried out but it is still sad to see it slowly decaying away. The same feeling seemed to be shared by a visiting Cypriot priest we came across, even with a friendly "yiasou" it was easy to tell, he too, was unhappy at the state of this important location.
Many people ask how your feelings feel about the north; I still have many Cypriot friends who will not cross the border out of principle. “I don’t want to have to show my passport in my own country” “Until they leave I will never go over” “My mother and father were kicked out of their homes” are some of the many responses you receive. There is still a lot
of anger at the Green Line and what it represents.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus still does not feel right to me. There are many awe inspiring locations and lovely people but you can’t help but feel that it’s not right. Counting the number of red and white flags on the northern side you can’t help but feel there is still a lot of bragging over who owns what. Even driving in to the capital city you are faced with two huge Turkish flags etched into the mountainside, a very large two fingers into the faces of the Cypriots.
Before the division, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots lived side by side for hundreds of years; it took the interference of political power seekers to start the issues. After the conflict it didn’t help that the Turkish regime brought over thousands of Anatolian peasants to fill the houses deserted by the Cypriot refugees forced to go south. This is one of the reasons why poverty is so prevalent on the northern side. On our trip up to the panhandle there were villages without power or running water, which shocks you after driving through the Gucci and Prada lined streets of
At the end of the day, there are two signs at the Ledra Street border which sum it up. The first says “Nicosia- last divided capital”, the second is a simple sign that says “Peace”. One message of anger, the second one of reconciliation. Whether this will ever truly happen – still remains to be seen.
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