- -  Day # 175  + +

EU > Cyprus > Nicosia

Turkish North

Nicosia, CY (View on map)

After having a look at the Greek Cypriot side of the `Cyprus dispute`, the logical next step is to cross to the North side of the island to ask for some opinions there. So, off I go today, across the UN-patrolled Green Line that splits Nicosia and all of Cyprus in two. Welcome to the `Area under Turkish occupation since 1974` according to the Greek Cypriots ? or to the `Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus` (TRNC) as it is called on the other side of the dividing line.

Kerem (23):

..thinks it takes effort to realise that Greek Cypriots are not all as evil as they are sometimes portrayed
Crossing the border was almost impossible between 1974 and 2003. Before then, the neither side allowed citizens to travel to the other side. TRNC opened its borders to Greek Cypriots in April 2003, while the Republic of Cyprus shortly after stopped denying its citizens access to the occupied territories. In 2004, the entire island of Cyprus was allowed into the EU. As a result of the Turkish occupation of the North, deemed illegal according to the international community, the EU rules and regulations do not apply to the North until Cyprus is reunited as one country.

Seeing the other side
Nowadays, mutual access is a fairly simple procedure for people holding an EU passport. I present myself to the border post just West of the walled city centre of Nicosia. Upon handing in my passport to the unrecognised authorities, I get a small paper with a stamp. It allows me to stay in the North for 90 days, but for now, one day will be enough. It takes a few hundred metres to re-access the old city, which is quite different from the southern part of it. The city centre of North Nicosia may be built within the same city walls, but people look different, streets look different, signs are all in Turkish, cars are older and have a shorter code on their license plate: 5 characters instead of 6.

The Turkish flag, red with a white moon and a star, has been inverted to form the Turkish Cypriot flag, which has a white background and a red moon and star. Red stripes along the upper and lower end make the final difference from the Turkish flag. In the same way the South likes to display the Greek and Cypriot flags next to each other, the North likes to exhibit the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags in abundance. The biggest flags are not even made of tissue, they have been painted onto the mountains north of Nicosia. When driving into Nicosia from the South side, anyone straightly notices these huge flags in the background of the city scenery. At night, the same flags are shown in switching light patterns. They are impossible to ignore and provoke quite some discomfort with the Greek Cypriots.

History before the invasion
As written earlier, most young Turkish Cypriots would be happy to see the country unite again. Older people have strong resentments about the Greek Cypriots. These negative feelings date back a long way. First of all, Cyprus has a mixed history, during which both Greece and Turkey have marked their presence. Although the majority of Cypriots considered itself Greek rather than Turkish, the island had been under Ottoman (=Turkish) rule before it was annexed by Great Britain in 1914.

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the Greek Cypriot majority no longer accepted the British dominance over the island. Greek Cypriots set up paramilitary groups in an attempt to create an independent Cyprus, closely linked with Greece. Greek Cypriots formed paramilitary groups in an attempt to overthrow the British occupying forces. The Turkish Cypriots, feeling protected by the British presence, became victims of violent attacks by the Greek Cypriot guerilla movement.

Independence was finally achieved in 1960, but the battle had left Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots with divided opinions about how the island should be governed. Guarantees from Turkey, Greece and Britain were needed to create a constitution which safeguarded the rights of both communities, while Britain was allowed to maintain two military bases on the island.

Invasion by Turkey
In the 1960s, the Greek Cypriot leader Makarios attempted to adjust the constitution to the advantage of the Greek Cypriot majority. This measure was feared by the Turkish minority and led to violence between the two communities, which eventually lasted for over 10 years. Turkish Cypriots were put under pressure to leave the island and many did. In 1974, a military coup backed by the Greek army lead to the effective end of an independent Cyprus. Turkey asked for international support to protect Turkish Cypriots from ongoing violence committed by Greek Cypriots, but was not given any positive response.

As a result, Turkey sent troops to the North of Cyprus. Greek Cypriots, fearing the Turkish army, escaped to the South, or even to other countries. Turkish Cypriots originally living in the South felt like their rights would be protected by the Turkish army. They left to the North. Violence came to an end but the island was flooded with local refugees who left their houses to save their lives.

Turkish Cypriots were no longer welcome in the government of Cyprus and created their own administration in the north. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country which was and is only recognised by Turkey. According to international law, TRNC is nothing more than a part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey. TRNC airport is considered illegal and it cannot set-up trade relations with other countries than Turkey. Tourism could be a major source of income, but the country cannot be reached directly from anywhere but the South or from Turkey. The political situation has led to isolation and poverty.

Unification talks, which have gone through several rounds, have not yet resulted into major process. The latest proposal was made under supervision of UN Secretary General Koffi Annan. After all previous plans were considered unacceptable by the political leaders of Northern Cyprus, this time it was the Greek Cypriot community who sent the plan to the bin. The plan would confirm the right of Turkey to step in when civil unrest hit the island again, it would have the Greek Cypriots pay for the reconstruction of the North without necessarily compensating them for the expropriation of their property back in 1974.

Turks vs. Turkish Cypriots
Due to the 1974 invasion, the Turkish Cypriots now have to share their part of the island with an ever-growing number of immigrants from mainland Turkey. In fact, the occupied side of the Old City is even almost uniquely inhabited by Turks. Mehmet Ali (23) and Ali (22) are both Turkish. They tell me about the situation in the occupied area, and I soon learn that Turkish Cypriots and Turkish Turks are two distinctly different communities. Older Turkish Cypriots feel safe about the presence of so many Turkish on the island, younger people do not. They would much rather see the Turks go back to their own country.

Mehmet Ali and Ali invite me for a Turkish cup of tea, and explain me that all of old Nicosia is inhabited by Turks. If I want to meet Turkish Cypriots, I need to get to another part of town. The two communities barely mix even though they speak the same language and usually have the same religious background. Turks cannot apply for a Cypriot passport, issued in the South, only Turkish Cypriots can. Even people who were born on Cyprus after 1974 but whose parents are `settlers` from Turkey do not qualify for a Cypriot passport. They only have the option of obtaining a TRNC and a Turkish passport. Since TRNC is not a recognised country, the TNRC passport does not give access to any other country but mainland Turkey.

Mehmet Ali tells me that it`s easy to distinguish between Cypriots and Turks: `Cyprus is a small island, so everybody looks alike. If you see the size of Turkey, it`s not difficult to imagine that there are many different Turkish looks. The Turkish Cypriots first of all speak a lot better English and people from the older generation even speak Greek. From the looks, Cypriots usually look more fancier, their clothes are more expensive and they wear more accessories. Their shoes reach higher around their ankle than Turkish shoes do. Cypriot girls often have piercings and ear rings and they care a lot about how they wear their hair. Cypriot girls are not eager to go out with Turkish men, because they think the Turks may be after a European Union passport. Turkish men do not like to mix with Cypriot girls, because they are very independent. Turkish women are not, which is one explanation why you see so few women in the Turkish part of town.`

Mehmet Ali tells me that most Turks living in Cyprus are quite happy about the place. `It`s safer than Turkey and the economy is better than in Turkey mainland. Unfortunately, it`s also more expensive. Renting costs are high and they need to be paid in British Pounds, rather than New Turkish Lira, which is the standard currency here. Socially, living here is difficult because the Cypriots see us as immigrants and they don`t always accept us being here.`

About the division
Opinions about the Cyprus dispute differ greatly, and many people even prefer not to talk about it or do not want their name cited. Akay (21) from Turkey, who is studying at Nicosia University, thinks that TRNC should be united with Turkey `for historical reasons`. Akay also tells me that he thinks the South of Cyprus is an unsafe place, but he has been able to check because Turks are not allowed into the South of Cyprus.

Tumay (26), a Turkish Cypriot, thinks that the Turkish army has the right to keep occupying the North of the country: `The Greek Cypriots have treated us very badly in the past, and if the army wasn`t there, they would do the same again today.` Cihan (23) from Turkey thinks the best solution would be for the North to be an independent province of Turkey.`

Mohammed (25), born in Cyprus but a child of Turkish parents, thinks that a two stage solution would be best: `There should first be a loose federation, eventually followed by a reunification of the country. Most Cypriots don`t call the Turkish presence `occupation` like they do in the South, but it is clear that many of them are not happy about the Turkish army presence either. And its such a small island that the separation doesn`t even really make sense. How different are Cypriots from one another? I couldn`t really tell the difference.`

Both sides
Like the Greek Cypriots, most young Turkish Cypriots have few incentives to travel across the border. They have never been allowed to cross the border until recently, and they have no real incentive to go to the other side. Kerem (24, photo) tells that kids are taught that Greek Cypriots are their enemies from primary school onwards. `And after that, policitians will keep telling them the same. Unless they are sufficiently open-minded to find evidence that the negative ideas about Greek Cypriots may be outdated and/or even incorrect, they risk having the idea stuck in the head for the rest of their lives. At the moment, they can have a look for themselves and see what life is like on the other side of the border, that will already make a huge difference with earlier days.`

Kerem himself gets to the South every now and then to do shopping. `Some things are cheaper in South Nicosia, of they have higher quality. Some people found a job in the South and commute between North and South Nicosia. I think the passport control should be removed, because it doesn`t make sense. We are small enough an island to be one, even if older generations have bad memories of the past.` Beside his occasional shopping excursions, Kerem has visited most cities and places in the South. `I felt at home there, it did not feel like I was visiting another country. Also for traveling to other countries, I use my Cypriot passport to fly out of Larnaca or Paphos Airport in the South.`

Kerem has few flattering words for the Turks who migrated to Cyprus. `Many of them are poor and some just come over to steal money. I`d prefer if they couldn`t travel to Northern Cyprus as if we were one country with Turkey. If there`s anyone who needs to pass the border in an official way, it`s not Cypriots traveling from one side of their island to the other, it`s the Turks who come to the island who should do that. They are the ones traveling to another country, not us.`

General opinion
In the North, like in the South, there are as many opinions about the Cyprus dispute as there are people. That`s all about I can conclude from two days of research into a subject that is probably the most complicated one I have encountered since I started this trip. As an outsider, I would say that the North has the strongest incentives to support reunification. The younger generation in the North is starting to look around the fears of the old generation, while the desire to reunite the island is supported by outlooks of EU-membership, increased economic growth and the freedom to travel. But nothing comes easy after more than 30 years of isolation from the outside world.

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