Cyprus / Political Unrest / Travel

Straddling the Line in Nicosia

Soldier w barbed wire FI

“After the Berlin Wall came down I visited that city and I will never forget it.
The abandoned checkpoints. The sense of excitement about the future.
The knowledge that a great continent was coming together.
Healing those wounds of our history is the central story of the European Union.”
–David Cameron, Prime Minister

Many of us remember the day the Berlin Wall fell. The world was astonished and jubilant. We were working in London at the time, and coworkers from all over the globe began telling their “Wall Stories.” Many had visited East Germany before the Wall fell, and told sobering tales of passing through a checkpoint to observe life on the other side. Some had family in East Germany and were giddy at the prospect of their safe passage to freedom.

Until that day there were two politically divided capitals on the globe. Now there is only one: Nicosia, Cyprus.

* * * * *

Two years ago we journeyed to Cyprus – a beautiful Mediterranean island nation with a turbulent history. We’d read about Nicosia (known in Turkish as Lefkoşa) – described as a “charming walled city with a lovely historic area” … and the “only divided capital in the world.

Since we’d lived in Berlin and knew the significance of a wall dividing a city, we were intrigued by these conflicting images and wanted to check it out for ourselves.

Last Divided Capital

The “Green Line” is Born
The people of Cyprus are a fascinating melange of cultures primarily from Greece and Turkey. However in 1974, serious disagreements between the two factions lead to a military crisis. The result: a country divided between Turkish interests in the north and Greek in the south. Families were driven from their homes, forced from one side to the other depending upon their nationality.

An army general drew a line across the entire Cyprus map in green crayon, and the “Green Line” was born. It became the term for the UN occupied buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish areas. This jagged green slash now serves as an open wound in Cyprus, running though the center of fields, villages, and in this case the capital city, creating a derelict “no man’s land” between the two.

Sandbagged Wall

Dividing Nicosia
Nicosia was cut in half at the charming Old Town; barriers were erected, sandbags piled on top, and barbed wired stretched from one end of the city to the other. Not until 2003, when tensions eased a bit, was a checkpoint installed – the Ledra Street Crossing – that finally allowed people to cross back and forth.

Approaching Ledra St Gate

Today, many flags fly over Nicosia, highlighting the conflict.

Now, nearly 40 years later, Nicosia/Lefkoşa residents live with this reality every day, with no end in sight. However it appears that the younger generation of Nicosia is not on board with this division – if the graffiti is any indicator.

No Borders

One Cyprus

We stood beside this man on the green bench, just 50 feet from the Ledra Street checkpoint, watching Cypriots – both Greek and Turkish – cross from one side to the other. We found ourselves wondering if he was waiting for his old friend to cross over for a game of chess … or maybe a visit with his granddaughter.

Man on Peace Bench

“Love recognizes no barriers.
It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls
to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
–Maya Angelou

We pondered the word above his head …and we didn’t cross the line that day. Perhaps sometime in the near future it won’t even be necessary.

Peace … and more Peace,
Terri

If you’re like us, you’re curious about the UN Buffer Zone. Our talented blogging friends at Doublewhirler lived in Cyprus and wrote a fabulous post about the abandoned Nicosia International Airport trapped inside the buffer zone. Check out their excellent blog.

This concludes our series on Cyprus. Please enjoy the other posts in this series:

Cyprus: Revolving Door of the Mediterranean
Celebrating Epiphany in Cyprus

Habana Restaurant
Photo Credit:
1. Public Domain photo by SPC Brian Chaney via Wikimedia Commons.

53 thoughts on “Straddling the Line in Nicosia

  1. Terri I had no idea about the ‘green line’. Thank you for this most thought provoking post. The photo of the gentleman sitting with the peace sign above is fantastic.

    • Sue, we were the same – just not aware of the situation until we started researching our journey to Cyprus. As James and I say to each other, “Were we living under a rock?” :) We were both gobsmacked – even more so when we saw it up close and personal. Thanks – the photo of the man just says it all. ~Terri

  2. I don’t know why I didn’t know about these divisions in Nicosia. But now I do. Thanks for an interesting post with lots of information. By the way, I love the Peace photo — man on green bench , et al. Nice!

    • Thank you Rusha. We were as surprised as you when we first read about it. For us, we think world events sometimes have a way of slipping away from us if we have no connection to the people or location. That’s one of the things we love about traveling is that now we tune in to news from around the world much more. ~Terri

    • Thank you Bronwyn. When we saw the man sitting on the bench we both looked at each other and mouthed, “Oh Wow” … that just sums it all up, doesn’t it. I think the seriousness of the conflict has eluded many – us included until we did our research. ~Terri

  3. Thanks for these posts about Cypress – I just caught up with the other two. It’s our next stop after South America. An old school buddy of Don’s has offered us the use of his Larnaca “villa” for 2 months. Yay!

    • Alison, that’s great you’re going to be in Larnaca for two months! I think you’ll love it. Cyprus has a good bus system for visiting the other cities so that should be fun. And the people of Cyprus are wonderful. Can you tell how envious I am? :) When will you be going? ~Terri

  4. Greece and Turkey have a long history…I thought it fascinating that the countries did a mostly involuntary population exchange in 1923…all the Muslims in Greece were sent to Turkey and the Christians in Turkey were sent to Greece. I wasn’t aware of this current division in Cyprus but it does follow a pattern between the two countries. Thanks for your interesting post.

    • Great observation Suzanne. From my research, scholars of the region and people involved in the conflict have also noted a pattern. It really made an impact on us, seeing the situation up close and personal. And as you know so well from your journeys – travel is a great teacher! ~Terri

    • Thank you Catherine! We were also surprised when we started doing our research for our journey. And then seeing it in person really brought the stark reality of the situation home. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

    • That’s interesting Anita because I too was amazed by the Berlin Wall – the people, stories … and art. When it started coming down I was surprised and thrilled. When we lived in Berlin we flew out of Templehof Airport (used for the Berlin airlifts), and now it’s closed! So I feel like we captured a little bit of that history. ~Terri

  5. Hi Terri and James – commenting again as I’m not sure you got my other comment on this post as it’s still awaiting moderation, and also a comment I made on another blog (to thank a new follower) has disappeared entirely so I’m a bit puzzled and wondering if WP has gone wonky. Again.
    Anyway thanks for the Cypress posts. We’re going there after South America!

    • Hi Alison, I’m not sure why your comment was awaiting moderation! You’re right – I think things do go a little wonky every once in a while! We’re thrilled that you and Don are heading to Cyprus … and totally jealous! :) ~Terri

      • We go April 5 and return May 28. Can’t wait! Except we have all this wonderful stuff coming up in SA first. Never been to Cypress – so looking forward to it.
        Alison

  6. Wonderful post—it is easy to forget this quiet conflict that has endured for 40 years with no signs of progress towards reconciliation. Thanks for shining the spotlight on it (and for the shout out!)

    • Thanks so much … and you’re welcome! We love your Abandoned Airport post and hope everyone reads it. When I was reading the history of the peace process it sounds like both parties have gotten close to the peace table – then something reverses the progress. That must be so frustrating for all involved. ~Terri

  7. Thanks so much for these posts on Cypress. I learned so much from them. On another topic, last night we watched Rick Steve’s show on Ostia Antica and I immediately thought of your post. It was great to know exactly what he was speaking of. :)

  8. We visited Cyprus a couple of times many years ago. One one of these occasions we hired a car and travelled around the island. A trip to Nicosia was a must and we were impressed by the modern city until we came across the border area. There were places where you could look across to Famagusta. At that time we were told it was uninhabited though we weren’t certain about that.

    People told us stories of how Paphos was bombed and how neighbours and friends of Turkish origin had to pack up and flee to the north. Really sad. We’ve known people who have been to Northern Cyprus and the scenery is supposedly lovely.

    • Hi Dorothy! We heard similar stories when we were there – confirmed by residents we spoke with. And the photos of the Buffer Zone are really heartbreaking – abandoned homes, cars, baby strollers, etc. Several of the people who visit our blog have been been to the North – usually entering from Turkey – and say it’s beautiful and laid-back. So glad you stopped by. :) ~Terri

  9. I’d heard about this but was unaware of the real significance. Reading your posts is like going back to school but with amazing teachers. Thanks a lot.

    • Thanks Steve. We were equally unaware until we started researching our trip – then we were stunned! And then seeing it for ourselves really brought the reality home. Travel sure does help us connect the dots in this world. ~Terri
      And Happy Birthday – trust me, 40 totally rocks! :)

  10. I sure hope that crossing the line will no longer be necessary in the near future! Cyprus is really the perfect frustrating example of bad politics, disastrous influences/directives by allied powers and selfish actions of governments, legal and illegal. My father was called back into military action, along with thousands of young men, during that ridiculous coup orchestrated by the Greek military junta (sponsored by the U.S.) in 1974; fortunately he came back safe after Turkey retaliated with the occupation of North Cyprus… not so for those who endured the atrocities, displacement and ethnic cleansing that followed. A peaceful solution/unification in Cyprus would be a giant step towards peace and prosperity in the Aegean and perhaps the start of collaboration -as opposed to animosity- between Greece and Turkey… Here’s to the younger generation and the hope it brings to their tiny big island and the world!

    • Excellent points Lia … and isn’t it amazing how we all keep encountering this kind of sad situation as we explore the world. We experienced a similar state of affairs when we lived in Khartoum, Sudan – a great divide between the people in the North and South – which eventually lead to the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan. I agree … here’s to the younger generation. May their tolerance prevail! :) ~Terri

  11. Sad. I feel for people divided. But in some countries, an invisible wall (to the eye anyway) is being stacked brick by brick dividing the people according to their race and beliefs. It is just as polarizing or maybe more so for at least everyone recognize a line, can see a physical wall. While the invisible one shifts, disappears and reappears according to the convenience of the explanations/excuses. I should know for I lived in one. Sigh… Interesting post.

    • Thank you. Your point about “invisible walls” is excellent. As long-term travelers we’ve observed that these barriers seem to be present around the world – whether they’re based on race, religion, language or some other factor. As with the Berlin Wall, in Nicosia we were surprised to encounter an actual physical barricade. So glad you stopped by. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. All the best, Terri

  12. Terri & James, a thought-provoking post. In 2007, my cousin and I travelled to Cyprus. Our first day was spent in Nicosia and then we crossed into Lefkoşa for the afternoon. Like you, we were also uncertain about many of the details surrounding the division. (The visit didn’t shed much light on the complicated situation either. I still remember the signs on each side attesting to the crimes the other side committed. It was difficult to get a balanced perspective, if indeed there is one.) We had positive experiences interacting with people we met on both sides of the divide, and it was fascinating seeing how the communities looked different. One of these days, I’d love to reflect on that experience through a blog post. Here’s to a future without ‘sides.’

  13. Why don’t they just chuck those Greek and Turkish flags away and keep the pretty Cypriot one, and all get behind that? So easy to say, isn’t it? Why is heritage so important- surely it’s life NOW that matters. Love thy neighbour! A joke, surely?
    I didn’t realise the physical barriers were still in place, Terri, though I was aware of the ongoing division. What a mess we make of this world! I always wanted to visit Northern Cyprus. Kyrenia looks beautiful in the brochures.

    • Great points Jo! I particularly like like your observations on heritage vs. life NOW! Living here in the US we know only too well how people use flags to identify themselves with a cause – and how inflammatory that can be. Several people have commented about the beauty of Cyprus – both North and South. I’m hopeful that the future holds a Cyprus with no Wall. ~Terri

  14. Hello! I had no idea of this situation in Nicosia. It’s very sad but it might be much more difficult than it seems. What is your opinion? Do you think the youth will take control of the situation one day (soon)?

    • Great question Virginia. The tensions between Greece and Turkey go back a very long way over many generations. Fortunately, the youth of Cyprus have had access to more international forums and broader-based ideas than previous generations, and consequently seem to be embracing tolerance. It’s a joy to see. :) ~Terri

    • Thank you Chris, but we can’t take credit for it. It’s a photo that’s in the Public Domain, taken by a US Department of Defense employee SPC Brian Chaney, and located on Wikimedia Commons at the link below. (The photo credit is at the end of the post.) As I explained in our “Dodging Bullets” post, sometimes we just don’t have the photo we need to tell part of a story, so we turn to WikiCommons, an online repository of free-use images, for great art. So in this case, SPC Brian Chaney thanks you for your kind words. :) ~Terri

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