Cyprus' Divided Capital A Last Vestige Of War

NPR icon by Joanna Kakissis
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There is one corner of the European Union where a kind of war still rages.

Nicosia, on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, is the last divided capital city in Europe. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, taking over the northern part of the island — including half of the capital.

History teacher Maria Chrysanthou says she's blunt with students who ask her if the two sides of Cyprus — one Greek-speaking and Christian, the other Turkish-speaking and Muslim — will ever be united.

"I'm not optimistic at all, unfortunately," Chrysanthou says. "I was optimistic in 2003. I thought something was going to happen."

In 2003, the Turkish North relaxed border restrictions for Greek Cypriots. Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan an drafted a plan to unify the island.

The following year, however, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the plan in a referendum. Then Cyprus entered the European Union — without the Turkish-speaking North.

Chrysanthou grew up in Nicosia, which is divided by a UN-patrolled buffer zone called the Green Line. She lives less than 500 feet from it.

"So I can actually see to the other side every day," she says, "and I can hear the [muezzin], when he summons people for prayer."

The island is of Cyprus is a little smaller than Hawaii. To get from Greek-speaking Nicosia to the Turkish side, you must go through a checkpoint and show your passport.

In 1974, thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced to flee their homes in the North. Turkish Cypriots were also forced out of the South. Many homes in Nicosia are still abandoned, says Anber Onar, a Turkish Cypriot artist.

"All you need is life in them," Onar says. "You can hear the church bells because we're right on the border right now."

Onar grew up in the Turkish side of Nicosia, which has now been settled by Turks who moved here after the city's division.

Burak Halil, a Turkish Cypriot tavern owner, says Nicosia's division means fewer customers for the juicy lamb kebabs he grills every night. He says the Greek Cypriots are his compatriots, and he likes spending free evenings on their side of Nicosia, eating at taverns.

Greek Cypriot artist Simoni Simonides lives near the Green Line dividing her city. Last October, she joined Greek and Turkish Cypriots who took over the buffer zone — something like occupying an occupation.

Occupy the Buffer Zone, as the effort was called, camped on the border dividing Nicosia for nine months.

"So we were cooking and eating all together every day," Simonides says. "We were sleeping next to each other in the next tent, and there wasn't even the issue of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot. It was all past that."

Occupy the Buffer Zone ended in June. Now it's back to a stalemate, a way of life here, because the border that divides Nicosia, Simonides says, has also divided its people's hearts.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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