Cities cut in half

I was brought up in Cyprus, and was 9 years old when the island became independent. Archbishop Makarios’s name was known to me, and I was aware that he’d been exiled to an exotic sounding place called The Seychelles. The rival slogans of the Greek community and the Turksih community were familiar. My father was staunchly pro-Greek, and my mother had good Turkish friends. I think, looking back, that most of our British friends were spies! I returned to Cyprus this April. Its divisions pain me but are not surprising. I wandered along either side of the Green Line that separates the Greek and Turkish communities in Nicosia. Large oil barrels or sandbags close off short streets. Idle soldiers sit at vanatage points supposedly on guard. And then there are the crossing points where anyone with an i.d. card or passport can wander over. I choose the Ledra Palace Hotel crossing as I’d seen on the BBC that there was a cafe jointly run by Greeks and Turks sitting in No Mans Land. I popped in for a coffee and rejoiced at the sounds of Turkish and Greek being spoke at adjacent tables. The piped music was English! As I was given my very good latte I made sure to say thank you three times: in Greek, in Turkish and in English. I was staying in the northern/Turkish part of the city, but had a lunch date in the southern Greek half. Late in the afternoon, my hosts’ daughter took me to see the Greek side of the Green Line. She led me into a house (see image) which has stood empty since 1974. We crept upstairs, skirting rotten floorboards and peered out through sniper holes in the sandbagged windows. I was looking at the Turkish defensive positions, but it could have been the other way round. Later I went to lunch with an old Turkish friend whom I have known for 60 years. She told me that the next day she’d go and see her doctor, a Greek, whose surgery is in the Greek south. I shifted to Kyrenia, the town where I lived until I was nearly ten. Settling down to supper in the harbour, I asked the waiter where he came from: Pakistan came the answer. And the answer was the same at my next stop for coffee. The island is seeing some sort of net emmigration, and the vacancies are being filled by people from the Philipinnes and Pakistan glad to work on this lovely island. What strikes me is that the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots have much in common. Less separates them than divides them. The division of the island into two federations ‘works’…well just works! Each side is bolstered by the mainland states of Greece and Turkey, but the arrangement runs the danger of being backdoor colonialism. And in this divided state, each side can have fantasies about the other. Both the Greeks and the Turks I met asked me about the ‘other side’, even though there are no barriers to prevent them from crossing. Those who do cross over find that they are welcomed. To hear Greek voices strolling around ‘Turkish’ Kyrenia Harbour, or Turkish voices shopping on Ledra Street in Greek Nicosia gave me enormous hope for the future.