Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And Off to Nicosia...

I left Volos yesterday at 6:15am for the Athens airport. From there it was a short flight to Cyprus, where I'll be until Saturday. And now, here I sit in Nicosia, Cyprus's largest city, trying to collect my thoughts enough to share with you a bit about how moving it is to be here.

First off, this place is physically beautiful. Imagine Florida, flat and arid, with the occasional mountain plopped down in the middle of nowhere. Now populate that land with a huge variety of people (Greeks, Turks, Sri Lankans, lots of European tourists, Indians, etc) all situated in cities that look like a run down version of Springfield, MO and you'll have Cyprus in mind. It's totally strange, but cozy.

I can't for the life of me figure out how to feel here. Let me tell you why.

Cyprus has one of the most mixed up, tragic, and bloody histories of anywhere I've ever heard of. It's got an amazing location for trade being placed right in the middle of three continents, so everyone has always wanted a piece of it. It's been owned by the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Brits (most recently). I'm sure there are more that I'm leaving out. It gained its independence from the British in 1960 and became an independent nation populated by Turkish and Greek Cypriots. They lived mainly in peace together until 1970 when Greece tried to reincorporate it into their fold. As a reaction, Turkey invaded and split the country in half in 1973. They ethnically "cleansed" (the most ironic word to use)the northern half of the Greek Cypriots, keeping the north for themselves. Lots of people died. Lots more were made homeless.

For a long time, nobody could cross the dead zone which divided the two halves of Cyprus. The line which divides them, by the way, runs straight through Nicosia, the city I'm staying in, so I really get to see its effects. There are checkpoints open now so tourists and native Cypriots can cross from north to south (though they still can't stay on the opposite side overnight), but it's still very messy. You see, in an attempt to repopulate the northern half, which now had a low population due to the "cleansing" (which actually resulted in the death of some of my professor's family, though all he'll say about it is "we won't dwell on these things," and I'm glad for it), Turkey rounded up many of its homeless and threw them in Northern Cyprus. Since they're not native Cypriots but Turkish citizens, they're not allowed in Southern Cyprus.

During the years after the invasion, Cyprus (which is actually only Southern Cyprus) got lots of foreign aid and began to flourish economically. North Cyprus, which is Turkish, got nothing, so they're very impoverished. We went through the checkpoints today and saw the Turkish side. It looks like a wasteland with gypsies and children who play in the dirt. Horrible. And since most of its inhabitants are Turkish citizens who were transplanted from their homeland, they can't go to the south at all. They're stuck in the mire.

The whole thing is a huge mess. I can't figure out what to do, how to feel, how to act, how to think. All I kept thinking to myself today as I saw Turkish citizens standing on the walls with razor wire fences looking down at the land they are told they aren't allowed to touch was, "This is not how we are supposed to live. This is not how things are supposed to be."

So yes, Cyprus is a beautiful place. It's fantastic and has an amazing culture. But I'm still unsure about it all. It feels like living in limbo.


Anonymous said...

I didn't make it to Cyrus while I was in Greece last summer, but would liek to see it.

Latesa said...

It sounds similar to Israel with the West Bank and Gaza....

Checkpoints. *sigh* I hate those things. They are terrifying and I wasn't even the "enemy."