Europe
3:17 am
Sat October 13, 2012

Cyprus' Divided Capital A Last Vestige Of War

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 4:32 pm

There is one corner of the European Union where a kind of war still rages.

Nicosia, on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, is the last divided capital city in Europe. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, taking over the northern part of the island — including half of the capital.

History teacher Maria Chrysanthou says she's blunt with students who ask her if the two sides of Cyprus — one Greek-speaking and Christian, the other Turkish-speaking and Muslim — will ever be united.

"I'm not optimistic at all, unfortunately," she says. "I was optimistic in 2003. I thought something was going to happen."

In 2003, the Turkish North relaxed border restrictions for Greek Cypriots. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had drafted a plan to unify the island.

The following year, however, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the plan in a referendum. Then Cyprus entered the European Union — without the Turkish-speaking North.

Chrysanthou grew up in Nicosia, which is divided by a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone called the green line. She lives less than 500 feet from it.

"So I can actually see to the other side every day," she says, "and I can hear the [muezzin], when he summons people for prayer."

The island of Cyprus is a little smaller than Hawaii. To get from Greek-speaking Nicosia to the Turkish side, you must go through a checkpoint and show your passport.

In 1974, thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to flee their homes in the North. Turkish Cypriots were also forced out of the South. Many homes in Nicosia are still abandoned, says Anber Onar, a Turkish Cypriot artist.

"All you need is life in them," Onar says. "You can hear the church bells because we're right on the border right now."

Onar grew up in the Turkish side of Nicosia, which has now been settled by Turks who moved here after the city's division.

Burak Halil, a Turkish Cypriot tavern owner, says Nicosia's division means fewer customers for the juicy lamb kebabs he grills every night. He says the Greek Cypriots are his compatriots, and he likes spending free evenings on their side of Nicosia, eating at taverns.

Greek Cypriot artist Simoni Simonides lives near the green line dividing her city. Last October, she joined Greek and Turkish Cypriots who took over the buffer zone — something like occupying an occupation.

Members of Occupy the Buffer Zone, as the effort was called, camped on the border for nine months.

"So we were cooking and eating all together every day," Simonides says. "We were sleeping next to each other in the next tent, and there wasn't even the issue of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot. It was all past that."

Occupy the Buffer Zone ended in June. Now it's back to a stalemate, a way of life here because the border that divides Nicosia, Simonides says, has also divided people's hearts.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Finally, to a corner of the European Union where a kind of war still rages. Nicosia, on the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus, is the last divided capital city in Europe. Joanna Kakissis explains.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, taking over the northern part of the island, including half of the capital, Nicosia. Today, the tavern called Kathodon on the Greek-speaking side, a bouzouki player strums a well-known ballad. A waiter places a plate of pork souvlaki in front of Maria Chrysanthou, a history teacher. She says she's blunt with students who ask her if the two sides of Cyprus - one Greek-speaking and Christian, the other Turkish-speaking and Muslim - will ever be one.

MARIA CHRYSANTHOU: I'm not optimistic at all, unfortunately. I was optimistic in 2003. I thought something was going to happen.

KAKISSIS: In 2003, the Turkish north relaxed border restrictions for Greek Cypriots. Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan pushed a plan to unify the island. But the following year, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the plan in a referendum. Then Cyprus entered the European Union without the Turkish-speaking north. Chrysanthou grew up in Nicosia, which is divided by a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone called the Green Line. She lives less than 500 feet from it.

CHRYSANTHOU: So I can actually see to the other side almost every day. And I can hear the hoja when he summons people for prayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

KAKISSIS: To get from Greek-speaking side of Nicosia to the Turkish side you must go through a checkpoint and show your passport.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

KAKISSIS: In 1974, thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to flee their homes in the north. Turkish Cypriots were also forced out of the south. Many homes in Nicosia are still abandoned, says Anber Onar, a Turkish Cypriot artist.

ANBER ONAR: And all you need is life in them. And you can hear the church bells because we're right on the border right now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Onar grew up on this side of Nicosia, which has now been settled by Turks who moved here after 1974. On a recent evening, Onar talks to a Turkish man frying tiny fish on a small gas stove outside his house. Children play in the courtyard.

BURAK HALIL: (foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Burak Halil, a Turkish Cypriot tavern owner, says his Nicosia's division means fewer customers for the juicy lamb kebabs he grills every night. He says the Greek Cypriots are his compatriots. He likes spending free evenings on their side of Nicosia, eating at taverns like Kathodon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT SIZZLING)

KAKISSIS: Greek Cypriot artist Simoni Simonides lives near the tavern, which is near the Green Line dividing her city. Last October, she joined Greek and Turkish Cypriots who took over the buffer zone, something like occupying an occupation. They camped on the border dividing Nicosia for nine months.

SIMONI SIMONIDES: So we were cooking and were eating all together everyday. We were sleeping next to each other in the next tent. And there wasn't even the issue of Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot. It was all past that.

KAKISSIS: Occupy the buffer zone ended in June. Now, it's back to stalemate, a way of life here, because the border the divides Nicosia, Simonides says, has also divided its people's hearts. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.