Sitting in the Eastern Mediterranean is the beautiful island of Cyprus. Kilometers of glittering coast line, hundreds of hectors of broad fields sitting against the backdrop of dramatic mountain ranges. For visitors this island can be paradise. But if Cyprus is being blessed by its geography, many would say it has been cursed by its location. At a key crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the island has always been a stopping-place for armies crossing by. Each time the people of Cyprus have been caught in this path, they were forced to change their identity. But the bloodshed is not all ancient history. The former British colony, Cyprus became independent in 1960’s. “Tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority came to a head in December 1963, when violence broke out in the capital of Nicosia. Despite the deployment of UN peacekeepers in 1964, sporadic intercommunal violence continued forcing most Turkish Cypriots into enclaves throughout the island” (CIA, World Fact Book). In 1974 the battle lines were drawn back again. This time, Cyprus’ populations of Greek and Turkish people were led against each other. The violence has left deep scars on the landscape of the island. Today, Cyprus is divided. North against South. Muslim against Orthodox. Turkish against Greek.
Major events/changes during the last 100 years of Cyprus history
July 1974, a sudden and bloody conflict broke out, when the Greek military coup tried to unite Cyprus with Greece. Famagusta – the old tourist quarter of the island, which used to be the most popular European place in the 1960’s even for Hollywood actors too, such as Bridget Bardot or Elizabeth Taylor – was in the crossfire of the 1974’s conflict. In order to protect its people on the island, Turkey responded to the threat with force, thus an emergency evacuation was needed within only a few hours, just before the Turkish and Greek armies met on Famagusta. Greek Cypriots went to the South, Turkish Cypriots escaped to the North. By the time negotiations started between the two parties, Turkey had taken control of the Northern part of the island.
The United Nations set up a buffer zone between the two sides, which is also known as the Green Line. Now, this zone is a permanent dividing line across the whole island, designed to keep the Turkish and Greek sides apart.
To the South, the Republic of Cyprus lies, giving home to the Greek Cypriots. This country is part of the European Union, and recognized internationally. However, to the North, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is located, giving home to the Turkish Cypriots, and no country accepts its sovereignty. Only Turkey.
In the evacuation, thousands of people were displaced. Those, whose home town trapped in the buffer zones, as well as those, who used to live on the “opposite and wrong side” of the island. Four decades later, in 2012, these touch of the sudden violence still lie untouched.
The Green Line runs through the capital Nicosia, making it the last divided Capital in the world. When entering to the capital, on the surface a mix of ancient walls, traditional people and busy streets can be seen – just like in any Mediterranean country. But, no need to look far to see the scars of the division. Keeping peace in Nicosia is equal to 1,000 strong UN armed force – a constant reminder of the Turkish-Greek conflict. Each side flies its flags.
The roots of the Turkish population in Cyprus is aging back to the 16th century. It was the Ottomans who brought Islam to the island. Back then Nicosia’s churches were converted into mosques. Today, the center of the Turkish Cypriots and most of the Muslim population of the island is on the Northern part of the capital. By contrast, the Southern half of Nicosia is the home to the Christian Greek Cypriots, forcing the two different cultures to live side by side.
The political efforts to put an end to the conflict have failed to find a way forward, resulting the segregation and the isolation of the island. In 2008 the UN made public that there are more than 2000 people who are officially registered as missing in the conflict. Today, however, there is relatively low-tension level, the borders, barriers and breaks have strong affect on not only the Cypriot culture, but also on the economic development of the whole island.
Republic of Cyprus can trade freely, only by being a member state in the European Union. The North, on the contrary, can only trade with the rest of the world though Turkey resulting a great difference between the two sides’ developments.
Barriers to progress have not changed much in the last half-century though, there are signs of people reaching out to bridge the gap between the two cultures.