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The world’s last divided capital. Episode 3: The Green Line

18 February 2013 Cyprus, travel stories 3 comments

Views of Nicosia Green Line

Today, my steps will wonder through the more gloomy side of Nicosia… It’s the Green Line, the fortified and militarized area that is under UN control and which divides Nicosia in two. Although tension is long gone in most of Cyprus, in this area you can still feel it in the air… even though you do not see fully equipped soldiers, but merely remains – bombed houses, walls with bullet holes, barricades, barbed wire…

I have told you from the beginning, but now I really think it’s necessary to say a few things about how it got to this… such a small island, such a strict division…You can be the most nationalist Turkish person and still cannot deny that Cyprus is a Greek island. Even if it never had the splendor of great civilizations such as those of Athens, Sparta, Minor Asia (Anatolia) or Crete, Cyprus was part of Ancient Greece, even when it was under Assyrian, Egyptian or Persian ruling. Moreover, numerous Greek fortresses from Minor Asia were under Persian ruling and that didn’t make them less Greeks than their brothers from peninsula.

After Alexander the Great, Cyprus was given to Egypt but to a profoundly Hellenic Egypt led by the Greek dynasty of Ptolemaeus. The island will be taken over by Romans in 58 B.C. and its first Roman consul will be the famous Cicero. The Cypriots had no less than 600 years of Pax Romana, the longest period of peace from the troubled history of the island. Assaulted by Arabs, the island remained in the hands of the Byzantines despite the destruction of many towns, being occupied only by the Catholic crusaders from the West led by the English king, Richard Lionheart. It shall be given to a noble family from the West called Lusignan which attracted the Catholic power on the island. Orthodox Greeks started to persecuted, families from the West colonized the island, thus many Greek monks took the mountains as a refuge place. Crusaders preferred the fields and the coast, making a huge fortune with the Trans-Mediterranean commerce.

In the end, Cyprus fell under the ruling of Venice, but its Golden Age had already set… Cyprus was preparing for war. Although surrounded by a Muslim world, Cyprus continued to remain strong. Around it, empires and kingdoms much larger and stronger had long fell under the blows of the Half-Moon Empire– Palestine, Egypt, Byzantium, Serbia and Bulgaria. In 1570, a huge Ottoman army attacked the island and despite the strong and heroic fight, the large fortresses Nicosia and Famagusta were conquered. The island was occupied, the Latin Church was forbidden, the Catholics were killed and the ones surviving were either sold as slaves (the men), or added to the harem of the winners (the women).

The Orthodox Church was restored to its former rights and the Greek peasants were given the land of the Western landlords. In exchange, 20,000 Turkish colonists were moved on the island, especially in the North. Thus, Cyprus became an island with two different cultures.

The Ottomans ruled Cyprus until 1878. The Ottoman ruling was an indolent and corrupted one and the island was led to poverty. In 1821, when the Greek Revolution took place, the archbishop was executed (just like the Patriarch of Constantinople and many other church representatives), but the movement of the Greek awakening flourished.  In 1878, England obtained the right to rule Cyprus. Why was treacherous Albion interested in a poor and God forgotten island? The answer is simple: England took over all the strategic areas from the route to India. Have a better look at the map: Gibraltar – Malta – Cyprus – Egypt (including Suez) – Yemen – Oman, the entire route towards India was a British one! The British Axis needed Cyprus!

The Greeks saw the British ruling as a step towards the union (“enosis”) with Greece. In 1915, during the WW1, England offered Cyprus to Greece in exchange to join the war. Greece refused the offer and such occasion never occurred again. Great Britain withdrew only in 1960 after assuring that two sovereign parts will be kept on the island (both in the South and North) and power will be divided between Turks and Greeks. Even though the Turkish represented only 20% of the entire population, they got 30% of the administrative positions, 33% of the Parliament and 40% of the army.

The first president of Cyprus was archbishop Makarios who, despite his religious garments, had Socialist views.  USA and Great Britain were suspecting the birth of a new Cuba in the Mediterranean, thus the archbishop was not one of the favorite figures of the Western world.  Despite everything, Makarios continued to support the idea of enosis, that union desire that made him popular among the Greeks and not so loved by the Turks. In 1967, a military coup d’etat of far-right extremists abolished monarchy in Greece and aligned the country to the dictatorial regime of Southern Europe – Salazar’s Portugal and Franco’s Spain. Cyprus turned from a sister country into an enemy.

In July 1974, the military representatives of Greece and CIA planned a coup d’etat targeting the removal of archbishop Makarios and the island unification with Greece. The coup d’etat was not very well done – archbishop Makarios managed to stay alive and fled the island, while the leader of the right wing, Nikos Sampson, declared himself president of Cyprus.  Five days later, after a number of violent anti-Turkish acts, Turkey sent its troops in Kyrenia. In a matter of days, 37% of Cyprus was taken over by Turkish troops, thousands of Greek Cypriots were killed while others fled in the South, leaving behind all their assets. A week later, in front of the public outrage generated by the deplorable failure in Cyprus, the military regime was overthrown in Athens. In December, archbishop Makarios was president once again… But he was the president of only Southern Cyprus. North of the Green Line was now ruled by the government of Rauf Denktas and under the protection of Turkey, Rauf created the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

For 29 years, almost nobody was able to cross the Green Line. On April 23rd of 2003, the North-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktas announced the opening of the border and the possibility that every Cypriot may pass when and how desired between 6 AM and midnight. The Southern Republic was paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. Thousands of Turks crossed the Green Line that night and were shocked to discover the wealth from the South, but only a few Greeks put their feelings aside and visited the poor Northern side.

Today, there are many more Turks to go on the other side than Greeks visiting the North. Thousands of Turks have applied for Cyprus citizenship which is now an EU country and thus no surprise that even more Turkish people cross daily to the South for work. It’s needless to say that the Greeks don’t do that very often.

The two countries are displayed like in a mirror – in both cities you can find remains of the horror and terror period – as in any war, there are no angels and demons, but only devils. In spite of the blame thrown from one side to the other, both the Greeks and the Turks had their share of killing, destroying, torture and raping… Perhaps some more than others, but this is an irrelevant aspect now… And the sad part is that wounds seem unable to heal, at least not in the South.

The two areas are separated by concrete barriers (painted either in the Greek or Turkish colors, depending on which side you are looking from), by barbed wire, metal cans in which oil used to be kept…  The border is strange, abnormal and as you get closer, you cannot help the feeling of burden in the air. If up until that moment, the streets are packed with people and voices, once you pass by a certain corner, human beings seem to vanish and it’s only cats that are ruling the streets among the abandoned and shattered houses. Other houses, despite the new coat of painting still look like abandoned ones…Who could live 10 meters away from the Green Line?

Theoretically you could walk by, but take no pictures… Despite this warning, I “caught” a few interesting images and didn’t have any problems although no one is allowed to take any pictures. Along the city or better said through its middle, there’s a sort of wall that has nothing to do with the rigorous Berlin wall… it is nothing but a bunch of concrete blocks, barbed wire and metal cans that go through yards, over houses and gardens… It is the area where you are not allowed and where even today you have huge chances of getting shot.

The frontier checkpoint from Ledra Street is a bit more relaxed though …

At the end of the street, you bump into a corner with pictures of some Greek demonstrators, holding the pictures of their missing loved ones, the flags of Greece and Cyprus and a cabin under a house… The policeman with a bored look on his face has a quick look at your passport and asks when you intend to return but in his voice you can sense the reproach …”what are you doing there?” On return he will check your bags to make sure you haven’t brought any strategic products from there such as yogurt, milk, watermelons…They look away if you brought Turkish delight as only the Turks know how to make a good dessert like that.

You pass by a corridor in warm colors- blue sky, silhouettes of colorful people, it is very cheerful, but behind all these are abandoned buildings and on them still visible bullet marks. I am in the green line and nobody touched any of these remains for 35 years! When I reach the Turkish border, I find the ones here that are all smiles as I get stamped the paper allowing me to go in and which I know I’ll be left without when going back to the Greeks. There won’t be any proof that I have crossed the Green Line.

Somewhere, in the Western area of the city, the Turks made a concession…

The Catholic cathedral Saint Cross is situated on North-Cypriot territory, but the entrance is only through the South. All the cathedral doors are blocked, except the front entrance. All around the church, almost stuck to it are concrete barriers, barbed wire and metal cans…This is the place where the green line is narrowed to the extreme. A part of the street is in the South, the other in the North, behind a wall not higher than 1 meter just like the fences of a stadium meant to keep away the crowd. Behind I see a ruined building with its old Greek sign – Kafeneion Spitfire…Spitfire were the British aircrafts in WW2… A name that instantly reminds you of war! And what an unusual feeling… in this café nobody has drunk a coffee in 35 years! Although in front, it is parked a car from the South, the café is in another country… This is so surreal and tragic at the same time!

Another surreal image, this time in the North: somewhere not far from Ledra Palace, there’s a playground nicely done and well taken care with swings and other attractions for children… a very high fence rises… there is Southern Cyprus on the other side… a very firm kick of the football might make it disappear forever.  Above the playground, a military observation point where United Nations acronyms are written. When I passed by, the place was empty, but usually there must be an armed soldier. In the background, behind Southern Cyprus you can distinguish the flags sprayed on the mountain. One cannot deny the other side as it is so visible!

If you ever reach Cyprus, do not miss Nicosia.  Go back and forth and try to imagine what happened in 1974…

Accommodation in Nicosia – South or North from the Green Line

There aren’t too many hotels in Nicosia. What is inexpensive is generally of bad quality and the rest are only expensive hotels. This is in the South as in the North are even less accommodation places. Have a look on booking.com, you may get a bargain. We stayed in the house of some nice Romanian family who read on the blog that I wanted to go there and invited us in their home. I thank them for that!

Warning – access to Northern Cyprus

The Republic of Cyprus does not acknowledge the Northern-Cypriot frontier checkpoints as being legal– ErcanAirport and GirneHarbour (Kyrenia).

Theoretically, if you entered Cyprus through these frontier checkpoints, you cannot go to Southern Cyprus. Practically, it is hard to verify, especially since forbidding the access of EU citizens on the territory of an EU state is strictly prohibited.

Most probably you’ll be allowed entrance but with the cost of having the Greek frontier guard treat you poorly. So, it is preferable to enter through Southern Cyprus.

Passport for Northern Cyprus / Southern Cyprus

Both Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus can be entered by using only the ID card if you are an EU citizen, and by passport if you are not. South Cyprus is part of Schengen agreement, so, if you can travel visa-free in France or Germany, you can do the same in South Cyprus. North Cyprus follows the rules of Turkey except those for EU citizens which can enter freely.

Images of The Green Line – between Greek and Turkish Cyprus

Views of Nicosia Green Line: last divided capital

Green line

Greek frontier checkpoint – Ledra Street

Green line: The greek side

Green Line: The road towards North

The road towards North

Green line photos

Above the colored screens

Green line

Green Line: Ledra Street

Turksih frontier checkpoint – Ledra Street

Green Line: Turksih frontier checkpoint

Green Line: Turksih frontier

Green line pictures

Green line

Green line: Turkish side

A normal street that becomes a dead-end (Turkish area)

Green line photos; Saint Cross Catholic Cathedral

Saint Cross Catholic Cathedral

Green line

Surrounded by barbed wire and a barrier of barrels

Green line: Holly cross

Green line: Spitfire café

Spitfire café situated in the North…the car is in the South

The Green Line – Turkish side

The Green Line – Turkish side

Green line

Green line: turkish side

Let’s use the swing… a few steps away from the border

Green line

Green line: Turkish Ledra streets

Two steps away…Ledra Street in the North

Green line: McDonald’s!

And in the South….the ones here have McDonald’s!

 

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    My name is Cezar (where the nickname "Imperator" comes from) and I have travelled to 105 countries around the world. In this blog, I would like to share with you stories, memories, travel tips & tricks and news to help you plan your journeys !

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