One of the places that I was determined to visit in Cyprus was the capital Nicosia. I thought I might hire a car and drive there but I changed my mind when I saw daily coach trips advertised as a much cheaper option. With an eye for a bargain I signed up for the tour.
What a mistake that turned out to be. One of the first to be picked up we spent a tedious hour driving around Paphos collecting up everyone else.
Eventually however we hit the highway and were on our way. The coach had an informative guide who entertained us with a commentary about the history of Cyprus which came to the story of the Turkish invasion and the current partition of the island into Greek South and Turkish North.
This was an interpretation from a firmly Greek Cypriot point of view in which the Turks were always the bad guys and villains but every story has two sides to it so I researched it later. This is my neutral interpretation…
- During the thousand year Byzantine Period beginning in 330AD the Greeks moved to Cyprus
- Ottoman Empire and the Turks take control of Cyprus and suppress the Greeks in 1571
- 1832 and the unification of Greece and Cyprus aspires to Unity
- 1887 Russo-Turkish War, Turkey loses and Britain acquires Cyprus
- 1914 Turkey joins the WW1 on side of Germany and Britain annexes Cyprus
- 1955 Greek Cypriots want Britain out and a union with Greece. This is the last thing that Turkish Cypriots want
- 1955-59 a terrorist war in support of Union and the Turks support Britain
- 1959 An independent Cyprus. No union with Greece but Cyprus is one country
- 1974 a failed Greek backed coup d’état with objective of Union with Greece
- Turkey invades Cyprus and the country is partitioned and divided and remains so today. Northern Cyprus recognised by only Turkey. All of Cyprus (north and south is in the European Union as one country (very confusing). Creek Cyprus no longer aspires to Union with Greece. Diplomatic talks continue to resolve the division issue.
- More Turks than Greeks were killed in the troubles
- More British troops than Freedom Fighters were killed in the troubles
- The UK Government paid out millions of pounds in compensation to Greek Cypriots who fought a guerilla war against Britain
- No compensation has been paid by Cyprus to the families of murdered British soldiers
As I said there are always two sides to a story and in this case there are three but the lesson for anyone who wants to make a claim for anything is that if you are going to sue anyone sue the British Government because we are real pushovers!
I wanted to see Nicosia because only recently I had visited a previously divided city – Berlin. It is said that Nicosia is the only remaining divided city in Europe but I am not certain that this is true because I recalled visiting Belfast in Northern Ireland which has a massive wall dividing Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists and the gates are closed every night to keep people apart.
Belfast and that is what I call a wall…
We arrived in Nicosia about mid morning and I was immediately disappointed. I am not sure what I was expecting but this wasn’t it. It is a grubby sort of place, grey, boxy and falling apart and in need of a lot of attention, an awful lot of attention. Anything worth seeing is neglected and deteriorating. A bit like Coventry. In 2017 Paphos was awarded European Capital of Culture status and I wondered why, ten minutes into Nicosia and I understood exactly why.
We made straight away for the border where we needed passports to cross to the Turkish side. Not so long ago it was said that if anyone visited Northern Cyprus and had their passport stamped then they would not be allowed to visit the South or anywhere in Greece ever again. I don’t think this is the case anymore but I was relieved when they didn’t stamp the passport because later today I wanted to return to Paphos.
Kim at the border crossing…
Stepping over the border there was an immediate change of culture which was impossible to miss. From Europe we passed into Asia with minarets, souks and bazaars, a constant call to Muslim prayers and a completely different atmosphere. The border is called the Green Line and this is because green is a neutral colour, not the blue of Greece or the red of Turkey. That is how sensitive people are about the partition issue. I understood straight away why the Cyprus problem is so difficult to resolve.
The Green Line is rather like the London Underground District (Green) Line that separates north London from the South, the red of Arsenal from the blue of Chelsea.
An example. The city map that we had been given in the south had no street details for North Nicosia. We got hopelessly lost and I showed the map to some local people who claimed complete ignorance about their city geography and refused to help. I think it may have been because the Greek Cypriot map referred to it as an area under Turkish occupation. Not very smart of me to show it to them and expect any sort of assistance because they are a bit touchy about their status.
We groped our way back to the border and stopped for lunch before crossing. It seemed to me that most people in northern Nicosia were not especially happy people.
Back in the south we had two dreary hours to wait for the coach. We walked the walls, found the rather impressive Liberty Monument and the less than impressive City Cathedral and came to the Museum about the struggles which warned that it wasn’t really for British people who might be offended by the content so we walked on; strange really because after dodgy Russian investment the Cyprus economy relies heavily on British tourism. Rather unnecessary in my opinion, it could have been worse they could have had the Russians!
We weren’t disappointed to meet the coach for the return trip to Paphos. We dined at a cheap kebab taverna later. We had walked eleven and a half miles.
Kim joins the line of Cypriots released from seventy years of British oppression. It isn’t often that I get defensive but I really don’t think so, without the British Cyprus might still be part of the Ottoman Empire or worse still, the Third Reich!