My weekend trip to Cyprus on the first weekend of August was totally unexpected and spontaneous, and until I did some research online while on the train to the airport, I’d had no clue that Cyprus was a divided republic with its capital, Nicosia, being Europe’s last divided city.
By divided city, I mean like how Berlin used to be with two sides, east and west. In Nicosia’s case, you have the Turkish-occupied side in the north and the free Greek side in the south. After you land at Larnaca Airport, you’ll need to make your way by car or bus to Nicosia – you’ll always be on the Greek side.
The easiest way to cross over to the Turkish occupied side is to walk down Ledra, the pedestrian-only shopping street. I decided to go the Shacolas Observatory to get a bird’s eye view of the occupied side before continuing down the rest of Ledra to the crossing point.
After spending less than half an hour and €2.50, I was satisfied and ready to go to Turkish-occupied Cyprus. I didn’t realize that I was approaching the crossing point because of all the motorcycles.
It turned out to be a (peaceful) protest. The demonstrators were all affected by the Turkish invasion. In 1974, the Turks forced people out of their homes at gunpoint. The newly homeless had to start over with nothing but the clothes that they were wearing. None of them are permitted to move back into their homes, but they can cross to the Turkish side if they so desire.
Since it was perfectly peaceful, I decided to ask some of the protesters about their cause.
They were happy to talk to me, and two told me that I was the only one who bothered to ask. Since they had closed the crossing in protest, I figured that their grievance had something to do with it.
About 40 motorbikers of the Cypriot Motorcycle Federation and other supporters closed the border crossing because it is the ONLY place in the EU where people are required to show identification to cross.
Police supported the activists, who had planned it for that day and weekend to commemorate the two martyrs killed protesting the Turkish occupation. The demonstrators had stayed for over two hours before proceeding to another checkpoint in the city – Europe’s last divided city.
To begin the educational conversations, they gave me one of their leaflets. They have a website, but it’s only in Greek – http://isaaksolomou.com
However, talking to Elena was most enlightening. She was one of the few female activists there, and she was so passionate. I’m so grateful to her for her patience with me as I had known nothing about the subject before stumbling upon this.
With her permission, she permitted me to share this shot of the two of us.
She was also happy to let me publish her answers to a few questions that I had to spread the word about the problem of divided Cyprus.
Her words, before she answered my questions for you, were to “thank [me] once again for trying to understand the situation on the island and trying to inform other people about it. It doesn’t happen very often[.]”
Here are the questions and answers I had emailed for her to answer for everyone. 😀
1) How old were you when the Turks invaded and forced you out of your own home at gunpoint? What do you remember most?
I was actually born three years after the invasion of 1974.
My husband, though, was six years old when they had to leave their house, and his memories are still very vivid in his mind.
He remembers seeing the boats coming from the sea of Kerynia; they lived in Karavas, a village by the seashore as well, so they were able to see the boats bringing Turkish soldiers holding guns.
His parents decided to leave the house before the soldiers would enter the village. They were hiding for a couple of days in some bushes in a bank of a river, and they would not come out until the ceasefire. Then, since Karavas village was taken by the Turks, they moved to my mother-in-law’s village in the mountains on the north side of the island which remained free. They’ve never seen their house since then.
2) Do you ever go to the Turkish side? Why/why not?
People often refer to the Greek side and the Turkish side in Cyprus. The right thing to say though, is that the north part of the island that covers 37% of the Republic of Cyprus’ s territory is still occupied by Turkey since 1974.
And imagine, Turkey was to enter the EU, violating one fundamental principle, that is illegally holding land that does not belong to her, land, that according to Protocol 10 of Cyprus Accession into EU, is European soil.
There are also Resolutions of the United Nations stating that that the so called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is an illegal state and since 1983 that they declared it; no country besides Pakistan recognizes it as such.
Therefore, I am not willing to give any recognition by exhibiting my passport to visit an illegal state that is governed by a puppet cabinet of Turkey that caused this problem on my island, and above all, why visit my land if I am not able to move freely and live wherever I want as a free person?!
3) If you could tell the world one thing about your cause, what would it be?
One thing I want to say to the world is that it is about time the human race should stand up for principles. All people deserve to have the same human rights no matter what colour they are, what nationality they are, or what religion they are.
We, the native people of Cyprus, demand to have all the rights that any democratic country in the world would have, the right to be independent and decide for our future, the fundamental principle of democracy that the majority decides, and above, the all the right to be able to live freely in our land.
If Hollywood stars can understand and ask for Tibet to be free, why can the say the same thing for Cyprus?
FREE CYPRUS FROM THE TURKISH ARMY NOW!
Thank you, Elena!
The overwhelming sentiment is to unite Cyprus, and I truly hope that Cyprus will be free from the Turkish army one day.
When you are in the north side, you are, for all intents and purposes, in Turkey. I’ve never been to Turkey nor Greece, but that is how both sides feel, and although I didn’t feel as if I were in danger or anything while in the north side, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I returned to the south side.
Would you like to see
what I saw on the other side?