If you’re geographically challenged, as I sometimes am, you may be wondering: where is Cyprus? The blue dot on the map below shows my current location in the eastern Mediterranean.
We are currently staying on the east coast of Cyprus in a resort area called Pernera. Notice the two dotted lines that cut the country in two. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Cyprus before arriving here.
We are only about 6 km (less than 4 miles) from these dotted lines on the map. So what do they mean?
These lines divide Cyprus into two parts. We are staying in the Greek part of Cyprus, and to the north of those dotted lines, which are formally known as the UN Buffer Zone, or the Green Line, is the Turkish part of Cyprus. This division was created in 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus.
I won’t pretend that I can cover all of the history of Cyprus here. However, to put all of this in context, I do want to provide a summary so you can have a better idea of this country’s long and complicated history. Sitting in the crossroads between the Middle East and Europe, Cyprus has been fought over, invaded and annexed by many different countries and regimes over the years.
There is evidence of humans being here on Cyprus back to 10,000 BC. Cyprus has a long history of Greek influence and rule going back as far as 1400 BC. Cyprus was also at times ruled by Assyria, Egypt, and the Roman Republic. In the Middle Ages, Cyrpus was part of the Byzantine Empire. Then there were the English (briefly), the Venetians, the French. In 1570 Cyprus was brought under Ottoman control.
During this time of Ottoman control many new immigrants moved to Cyprus (approximately 30,000), and these Turkish Cypriots, who were Muslim, were treated differently (and better) than the Greek Cypriot (Christian) inhabitants. There was much poverty and economic crisis during this time.
Talk of annexation with an independent Greece goes as far back as 1828, and while there were minor uprisings, nothing changed for Cyprus.
In 1878 after the Russo-Turkish war, Cyprus was leased to the British Empire. In 1914, Cyprus was formally annexed by the British. In the 1960’s Cyprus became independent. In 1974 there was a coup, and Turkey was afraid that Greece would annex Cyprus during this unstable time, so it invaded from the north, to protect the interest of Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots fled south (an estimated 180,000 people) and Turkish Cypriots headed to the north. Many people were killed in the fighting, and many people are still missing, their fate unknown.
It is important to note that the only government in the world that recognizes the north of Cyprus as a separate entity is Turkey. All other governments refuse to recognize the Turkish north as a separate entity. The UN has been trying to mediate talks between the two sides (Turkey and Cyprus), but the discussions have recently broken down. Forty years after the Turkish invasion there is still no solution for this “Cyprus Problem” as it is called.
So, why am I showing you all of these maps and giving a detailed history of Cyprus? Because I want to talk about the city of Famagusta. Don’t see it on the map below? Well, it is that large gray area. This formerly thriving city is now a ghost town, completely abandoned.
In 1571 when the Ottoman Turks invaded Cyprus, the city of Famagusta was conquered. All of the Greek inhabitants were forced out of the walled city, and and they settled in the outskirts of town. Eventually, this area outside (called Varosha) grew larger than the walled city itself.
In 1974 when the Turkish army invaded, all of the Greek Cypriots living in Famagusta fled to the south, ahead of the army’s arrival. To this day, they were never allowed back to their homes. In many cities in the north, the Turkish army allowed Turkish Cypriots to live in the now abandoned houses of Greek Cypriots who fled to the south. However, the city of Famagusta was sealed off by the Turkish army, and no one was allowed to return or visit, not even journalists. No one is allowed to live there.
This is a view from the roof of the cultural center where they give you binoculars to see Famagusta from a distance. The house on the right is to the south of the Green Line. To the north of that house is the line, and off in the distance along the sea, you can just barely see the buildings of Famagusta.
All of those tall buildings along the sea are vacant, part of the city of Famagusta which is now abandoned. This was no small village. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s Famagusta was a thriving port and resort city of 60,000 people which brought tourists from around the world. During the summer tourism months, the population would swell to around 90,000 people.
Turkey has tried to use Famagusta as a bargaining chip, hoping that the people of Cyprus will give in, and agree to Turkey’s terms in order to get their city back. That has not happened. Many Greek Cypriots from Famagusta live just south of the Green Line, in the cities of Deryneia and Paralimni, with their former city in plain view.
This whole concept of an army invading a town, residents fleeing and still not being able to return to their homes decades later, and a divided country are foreign to me, and make me very sad.
I’m glad that I’m here learning about different cultures, and understanding what other people around the world experience, both their joys and their heartbreak. It has been important for me to study the history of Cyprus to try and put some context around this ghost town and the suffering of people on both sides of this issue. It was important for me to learn that this conflict goes back centuries.
I hope in the future that Cyprus can come to terms with it’s split personality and form a country where Turkish Cypriots can live alongside the Greek Cypriots in peace. Naive as it may sound, that is my wish for this beautiful country and its kind people.