The history of Northern Cyprus is a complicated one, and that remains the case today. From the seventh millennium B.C.E. through the mid-twentieth century this region has been settled/ruled/conquered by many peoples including the Khirokitians, the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Greeks [Alexander the Great], the Romans, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the British – just to name a few. Since mid-century, Cyprus has been an island divided: the Northern one third [approx.] Turkish, and the Southern two-thirds Greek.
The line of demarcation that separates the north from the south and divides the capital city Nicosia, was drawn, as the story goes, by a general who was leading the peace forces in 1964. He apparently used a green crayon to draw the cease-fire line on the map, and since then the area has affectionately been known as the Green Line [not to be confused with the Baghdad Green Zone]. It is administered by the U.N. In our hotel in Limassol we ate breakfast every morning with U.N. Peacekeepers from the German Army. This “Green Line” is where we passed from south to north and back again.
We passed through the Green Line at Ledra Street by foot, and it made me think of Checkpoint Charlie as we approached. We passed through passport control to leave the Republic of Cyprus, then found ourselves in the Green Line, an area of bombed out, decaying buildings propped up by teetering scaffolding. We then passed through passport control to enter the north, or as they call it, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is important to note that only Turkey recognizes the north in this way.
The difference between south and north is stark: the south is full of all of the trappings of western-style capitalism [it has been a member of the EU since 2004] including [and not far from the Green Line] a Starbucks and McD’s. They are even building a Chop’t for those who know what that is. Step into the north, and you are immediately transported to another culture. Venti Caramel Macchiatos are replaced with Turkish coffee, Greek Euro-Pop in half-tones with Turkish music in quarter-tones and the calls to prayer in the distance, Orthodox Christian churches with Mosques, Euros with Turkish Lira [Türk Lirasi]. But these cultural differences are no more or less sharp than in many other places on the globe.
If the world is stupid enough to think that dividing capital cities is a good thing, think Berlin, and the impact that division had on its people. No amount of cultural or religious difference is worth the negative impact a divided city has on the unity and quality of life of the people. To Cyprus, Greece, the EU and Turkey: Culturally diverse groups live in harmony across the globe – it is time for Nicosia to join them.