“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, former UK 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Love recognizes no barriers.
It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls
to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
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,
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.
Last updated May 30, 2019