I’ve done a bit of research and asked a few questions, and this is my quick synopsis: Cyprus is a strategic island in the Mediterranean Sea, much prized from time immemorial. It was taken over first by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 709BC, then the Egyptians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, Alexander the Great and finally the Romans, when Julius Caesar gave it to Cleopatra. It continued to bounce like a football between the Greeks, the Ottomans and others until it was taken over by Richard the Lionheart during his crusades in the 12th century, in the name of the British and sold it to the Knights of Templar.
Cyprus being formerly British, I had to get used to driving on the WRONG side of the road. It took me a while as it was my first time, and on several occasions during the first few days I found myself on the right side of the road after making a left hand turn through an intersection. It was quite humorous actually to watch the aghast faces and gaping mouths of other motorists through the windshields of the little cars I was barrelling toward, as I peered down at them from my 2.5m tall beast.
In 1878, with the opening of the Suez canal, the Brits needed to protect their interests and by 1925 turned the island into one of their colonies. In typical “divide and conquer” mentality the Brits hired the minority Turks to run the police force, fostering resentment among the Greek population. The Cypriots developed clauses in their Constitution to guarantee the Turks sufficient representation in government, even though their share of the population was only 18 per cent.
Between 1967 and 1973 the Turkish and Greek residents of Cyprus maintained an uneasy balance, with power often switching from one side to the other. The Greek majority favoured uniting with the Greek mainland and resented the broad constitutional rights given to the Turkish minority. By 1974 hostilities broke out in earnest. After a lot of bloodshed, particularly of Turks, Britain, Greece, and Turkey were forced by the Cyprus constitution to get involved. After yet more gunfire, the island was eventually divided down the middle and the UN came in to manage this “green line”.
The capital of Nicosia/Lekosia (Greek name/Turkish name) is a historic town surrounded by fortress ramparts. The “wall” dividing the city is more a hodgepodge of buildings converted into a wall. In places many buildings were torn down to create a space, or buffer zone, actually administered by the UN.
So if you walk into this historical city, things seem increasingly quiet and dilapidated as you approach the central, dividing wall. The wall is a dead end with no through-traffic. Smashed cars and bullet-ridden walls remain as they were 30 years ago. It is an amazing document to times gone by. Too bad there are large signs everywhere declaring all types of photography strictly prohibited!
I compare it to an open wound, after someone has slashed it deep with a knife. It heals moderately over time but the scar was still very visible and sore. During my two months’ stay in this last divided capital or city in the world, I enjoy walking along the wall on both sides to compare them. The ‘evil Turkish north’ has been under embargo for the last 30 some years. The Greeks, as an official EU member, constantly use whatever Veto rights they have to frustrate any endeavours of the Turks in the north. The north is obviously much more poor than the south, but the people seem generally more content and happy. They are more peaceful and giving.
Every Sunday when I stroll through the Turkish part of the city, at least five children wave at me with a smile and proudly boast quite possibly their only known word in English: “Hello!”
While on the Greek side, however, no one shows me the slightest interest. I am just expected to flow cash out of my pocket. In fact, I feel that they would really prefer I wasn’t here at all. They seem endlessly bitter that half the island was “taken away” from them, perhaps perceiving even me as some hostile foreign intruder.
And a foreign intruder I must seem, with solar panels on my roof and parked so close to the buffer zone. Remember, I’m getting my internet from the Turkish side. It was not possible to get a 3G sim card on the Greek side without a residential address or 500 Euro deposit.