“Ο Κόσμος της Κύπρου” - The People of Cyprus.

At the junction of Lefkanos Street and Faneromenis, a mere stones throw away from the Church of Panagia Faneromeni, is a small taverna. It’s called Berlin Wall No. 2; the locals fondly refer to it merely as “Berlin”. Inside, above the bar, is a sign which tells the visitor that this is Checkpoint Charlie. Yet another sign tells us that Nicosia is the only city left in the world which is still divided. Not entirely true, Jerusalem comes to mind, but let’s put a pin in that for now.

Soldiers patrol the streets of Nicosia Old Town.

I go inside and order a Cypriot coffee. I meet Mylkos, a Greek Cypriot born in 1972. I strike up a conversation with him while he’s waiting for his souvlakia to be cooked. It’s lunch time and he’s ordered a variety of dishes to take home. I ask him how he feels about living so close to the Dead Zone.

“Nothing!” he replies. “I know we had a war which we lost. I know that my father lost property as a result of the Turkish invasion and occupation. I know that many lost their lives. But, this is how it is. This is how it has always been throughout my life. There’s good and bad everywhere and there are good and bad people of every race and creed. All that matters is that we have respect for each other. We all have one life to live so we must look forward and live it.”

His words make me feel like somebody has thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over me. I can’t deny the truth of what he has said. However, I find myself perturbed by his perspective. It’s not at all what I expected to hear. But, I can’t pursue my thoughts further with him because his food has arrived. He bids me farewell and leaves.

Taking his cue, I finish my coffee and pay my bill. The waitress smiles at me and I feel that she has something that she wants to add to the conversation. Too late, she’s called back into the kitchen. Another food order is ready to be served.

Coming out of “Berlin”, I turn right and head towards Ledra Street and the crossing point into the occupied north. This really is Checkpoint Charlie.

In front of the border crossing post (yes, you do need a passport to enter into the Turkish North and to come back into the Greek Cypriot South), is the Resolution Monument. It was created by the artist Theodoulos Gregoriou and erected in 1995. It’s a rather strange piece. A huge concrete ring on which are concentric circles made up of Greek letters. The letters are fashioned as old-style printing blocks. I try to read them, try to make sense of what appears to be little more than a random jumble of letters. I’m getting nowhere fast. At the centre of the ring are ten steel and concrete arrows. It looks like a giant has shot them into the bullseye of a target, thereby destroying the words within. Words whose letters are laying as the detritus of a bombardment.

The Resolution Monument by Theodoulos Gregoriou.

And that’s what the artist is trying to convey. The words which are depicted in old style printing blocks are from the First Articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The arrows bombarding the words are a representation of both the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the consistent trampling of every facet of human rights perpetrated by Turkey for centuries.

I think of what Mylkos said to me just a few moments ago,

“All that matters is that we have respect for each other. We all have one life to live so we must look forward and live it.”

Can we? Aren’t we supposed to learn from history? Isn’t the present also a good teacher?

I turn back towards Faneromenis Street, towards “Berlin”. I’m thinking of going back and trying to talk to the waitress. She’s a lot younger, maybe she has a different perspective. But, she’s nowhere to be seen so, I head down Faneromenis, past the church and to a cluster of little trendy cafes.

Nestled in the corner is an art shop and gallery. I’m always drawn to art so, rather than go and have yet another cup of coffee, I look in the window.

My attention is drawn to a sign in the window which tells me that Phaneromenis70 is a cultural centre and its current project is based on the presentation of views of Cyprus and Nicosia from anybody and everybody. Even tourists. Maybe even an aspiring photojournalist like me.

https://www.facebook.com/phaneromenis70/

Inside I meet Marisa, an Art Graduate of Edinburgh University. After some general chit chat about Phaneromenis70 and its mission, I ask her the same question that I put to Mylkos.

Marisa at work at Phaneromenis70.

“This is not what any of us wants. We are all Cypriots. But it’s the politicians and the church who see differences and want to perpetuate this division.”

Obviously, the church sees a difference. One side is Muslim and the other is Christian. It’s a huge difference which has caused countless conflicts since Islam was established some 1,500 years ago. As for the politicians, haven’t the Greeks and the international community been trying to find a solution to the “Cyprus Problem” for decades? Isn’t it Turkey which has remained intransigent throughout the last forty years?

“Yes but, the ordinary people of Cyprus could solve this problem if we were allowed to. If the politicians and the church didn’t interfere.”

I ask her how.

“I live in Kaimakli, it was one of the worst hit parts of Nicosia in the invasion. But I have just as many Turkish Cypriot friends as I do Greek Cypriot friends. And we all feel the same way. We all just want to get along and live our lives as one people.”

Again, I ask her how.

“Through trade, through conversation, through art (she waves her arm around the gallery as she says this), through just being able to mix as people.”

As we’ve been having our conversation, we’ve moved around the shop a little until, we are each on either side of a low display counter. It barely comes up to my knees and is no more than two feet wide.

“Marisa, I understand all that you are saying, and, in essence, I agree with you. Ordinary people can often resolve issues that those in power seem incapable of solving. But, the reality is that between you and, I there is a real and tangible barrier.” I gesture to the counter between us as I say this. “And, no matter how much you and I may want to shake hands and embrace as friends, this barrier prevents us from doing so. Now, before you tell me that barriers can be torn down and remind me of the Berlin Wall (I can’t help but smile as I say this. I hope that she gets my reference), may I also remind you that Erdogan, the president of Turkey, refuses to recognise that the nation of Cyprus even exists.”

We pause and it feels as though we have both recognised the tension that has developed between us.

“Erdogan, yet another politician, right?”

I smile as I say this. Marisa smiles back and she tells me that she can’t help but believe that the “Cyprus Problem” will be resolved and that it will be resolved by ordinary people.

A few days later, I visit Kaimakli. Here there are no barriers or borders separating the Greek Cypriot South from the Turkish Cypriot North. There is no military presence, no soldiers, no sentry posts. All there is the open expanse of the dead zone. A flat plain of scrubland.

Not too far in the distance I can see the new developments built by Turks on what was once Greek land. Further still I see a sight that greets every Greek and every visitor to Cyprus every single day and night. Carved into Pentadaktilos (Five Fingers), part of the Kyrenia Mountains in the occupied north, is the self-proclaimed flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. A state which is only recognised by Turkey.

It’s been there since 1984. Originally, it was made up of painted rocks now, teams from Turkey maintain it with coloured dyes. On 28th October 2003, the Turks lit their flag with thousands of lights. Not by chance was this date chosen by the Turks because, 28th October is celebrated by Greeks the world over. It is the date that, in 1940, the Greeks said NO (Ημέρα του Όχι – “Day of the No”)

to Mussolini’s Ultimatum.

Next to the flag is a quote ascribed to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It reads:

“How happy is the one who says I am a Turk.”

A Kemalism motto. The founding ideology of the republic of Turkey.

“Ne mutlu Türküm Diyene” How happy is the one who says I am a Turk.

Every time I see this, I ask myself the same question.

What type of mentality, what type of collective psyche, what type of people, would carve their flag onto the side of a mountain so that the people that they invaded and took that mountain from, have to look at it every single day and every single night?

At the end of the day, I have to face my truth. That truth is that; as much as I would love to be able to agree with Mylkos and Marisa, I simply cannot.

“ΔΕΝ ΞΕΧΝΩ” - I do not forget!
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