Cyprus / History / Political Unrest

Nicosia: Where “Going Green” Isn’t Good

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We had read about Nicosia – a beautiful walled city with an interesting historic area … and the only divided capital in the world! We were intrigued by these conflicting images, so yesterday we visited to check out both aspects.

Cyprus gained its independence from Britain in 1960 and became a country in its own right, with a population both Greek and Turkish. However, in 1974 there were some drastic, far-reaching events. Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus, establishing Turkish Cyprus. An army general drew a line across the 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.

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Nicosia (known as Lefkosia to the locals) was divided in half at the old town, and barriers erected. Not until 2003, when tensions eased a bit, was a checkpoint installed – the Ledra Street Crossing – that finally allows citizens to cross back and forth after 30 years.

Now, 37 years later, residents live with this reality each day, with no end in sight. We had hoped to cross the border to the Turkish side, but we were warned that we may not be allowed to re-enter the Greek side since we aren’t EU Citizens. That could really put a crimp in the trip!

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So, as we were wandering Ledra Street, looking for the checkpoint, I grabbed James’ coat tail and said, “Hold on, dude.”

“What?”
“That’s the entrance!”
“Entrance to what?”
“Another country!”
“Oh.”

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So we didn’t visit the Turkish side, but we did see the wall, complete with barbed-wire and sand bags, and the checkpoint between the two cities. And while the checkpoint was low-key and wasn’t on high alert, it was serious – IDs were checked and bags inspected on all people re-entering the Greek side.

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The Inspectors took particular interest in any shopping bags with prohibited Turkish leather goods. There were a lot of unhappy Greek women who had found a bargain on the Turkish side, only to have it confiscated or taxed when they re-entered.

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Since we lived in Berlin, we’re tuned in to divided cities, and it’s fascinating to see them in action. It appears that the younger generation is not on board with this division – if the graffiti is any indicator.

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Cyprus became a member of the EU in 2004. Turkey has applied for membership, and hasn’t been approved. If they are admitted in the future, one of the conditions is that they give up claims to any part of Cyprus. This stalemate is another example of a difficult and unresolved problem that most people know very little about, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.

Peace … and more Peace,
Terri and James

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