It’s on the 22 of February that we arrived in the port of Girne/Kyrenia in Cyprus after a night on the ferry. We arrive on the island after having stayed three months in Turkey, eager to discover a new country. Cyprus is made of two folks, the Turkish Cypriots in the north and the Greek Cypriots in the South. Before you could see mosques and orthodox churches in the villages, side by side, these two cultures living in peace. But the people in power decided otherwise!
In 1974, answering a coup d’état organized by the Greek military dictatorship to take control over Cyprus, Turkey invaded the northern part of the country and established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Since its creation this state is not recognized by any country except Turkey and the Southern Cypriots still call it the “occupied area”. During the separation the Cypriots were forced to exile, the ones of Greek culture to the South, and the ones of Turkish culture to the North. Many towns and villages until that mixed were emptied from a part of there inhabitants. The vestiges of this mix are still visible on each part of the island and take the form of many abandoned buildings, or churches transformed into mosques.
The border opened step by step since 2005 and Cypriots can now move freely to each side, but for the United Nations the island officially remains a conflict zone. All along the border called the Green Line, a buffer zone controlled by the United Nations has been created despite that there are no fights. Nowadays there are only two villages that remain mixed and we crossed one called Pyla located inside the buffer zone. In this village you can see a mosque and an orthodox church, and on the village square a Greek café next to a Turkish one. One inhabitant of the village tells us with great enthusiasm “Here international! No problem!”. And added to the areas controlled by the United Nations, the ones controlled by the Greek Cypriots and the ones by the Turkish Cypriots (which means more or less controlled by Turkey), there are as well two British zones kept since the independence of the island from Great Britain in 1960. Quite a mess for such a small island!
The only two first things that really surprise us compared to Turkey when we arrive in the North part is that people drive on the left and that there are much more English inscriptions. We decide to visit the Dipkarpaz peninsula. The coastal road we take is beautiful if you take away all the hotels and residential areas. The invasion of English and Russian tourists is definitely not a success for Cypriot nature and culture. There are as well hundreds (thousands?) of hectares reserved to ultra-rich constructions.
The reasons that make this little island so attractive are numerous, and one can easily understand why tourists come to visit or to invest in real estate: three hundred days of sun per year, you can cross the island in about three hours, the houses are cheap and the infrastructures follow the European standards.
Before coming to Cyprus, we were picturing Greece and its small traditional villages. But no! Most of the old part of the villages got destroyed by the 1974-war or with the time, and one mostly see concrete buildings built one on top of the other. The cities sometimes have vestiges of the old times but are mainly made of new and quite ugly constructions. Cyprus is often assimilated to Greece because their respective cultures have the same roots, and in fact the Greeks often wanted to make the Enosis, which means to rally Cyprus to Greece. In reality many Cypriots would like to take their distances from Greece, at an economic level for example but not only. The Cypriot language, closer to ancient Greek than the modern Greek, is a indicator of this cultural differences.
The island because of its strategic location between Europe, Asia and Africa, between the Eastern and the Western world, got influenced by many cultures. Moreover, until 1960 the Island was a Great-Britain colony, hence the left driving and other British influences of a dubious interest. A question often asked by people who don’t know the island is to know if Cyprus is really a country or just a region linked to Greece? Cyprus is indeed a country and is part of the European Union. All of this form a kind of a bizarre aggregate standing at the cross of many roads, hard to understand from a first impression.
During our stay we spent a lot of time in Nicosia. This town, capital city of both sides, is very atypical. It is the last capital in the world that is split in two by a wall and the contrasts found on the island are very noticeable there. Inside the old town you can cross the border, only by foot, to go from the North to the South. You switch then from small streets usually pretty messy, empty as soon as the sun goes down, to the beauty of Europe and globalization, clean streets with McDonald’s, Starbucks and restaurants for tourists. As a general fact the influence on South Cyprus of the capitalist world, of Europe and especially the United Kingdom is very clear. There are a lot of big clothes companies, everybody speaks English, everything is more organized.
We noticed as well that stealing and cheating is not a major issue in Cyprus, and even if the evolution of our societies seems to change this little by little, people still look like they trust each other and we often see houses with open door. Actually Cyprus is like a big village where everybody knows everybody, with all advantages and problems it entails. We have met very quickly the alternative scene and network a lot thanks to the very kind people of Utopia, an associative café. Cyprus remains quite conservative and religious but opens himself to the alternative movements. Since several years now the eco-villages are growing, parties different from the mainstream clubs, parades with music are organized or lunches with donation are proposed. The European influence has most likely something to do with this. These movements are still small now but they are supported by motivated people.
Now in all this, is there really any chance to see both zones reunited after 40 years of separation? The trend seems to indicate small hope but we are afraid that the process would take too much time. Since several years now Cypriots can finally cross the borders and thus create links with each other. Mustafa Akinci elected end of April 2015 at the head of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is in favor to reunification. But well, Turkey has military forces on the island much stronger in both number and power, and Erdoğan the current president of Turkey does not seem to be willing on giving up Cyprus. Today there are about 30,000 Turkish soldiers and only 9,000 Turkish Cypriots.
There is a big propaganda on each side of the country supported by a long military service, 24 months for the South and up to 15 for the North. New generations, who are not born with the old cultural mix, have as a general matter not the same sensibility, respect for the other folk and see them as strangers. Cypriots we have met told us they was propaganda at school where each side accuses the other of committing atrocities, whereas the responsibility is much more shared than they want to make believe. We noticed as well that many people don’t cross the border by principle, some because of the memory of the invasion and many to protest against the fact of showing your passport or ID to travel in your own country. And on top of sending soldiers, Turkey follows a classic invader pattern by sending Turkish civilians in Cyprus, some kind of settlers that will step by step transform the Turkish Cypriot culture and wander them away from their old brothers from the South. It is difficult to imagine a quick reunification, but in 20 years, when two sides will be too far away from each other, will it really possible to go back?
Will ouzo ever be friend again with the baklava?